Adam Driver reportedly walked out of an interview with Terry Gross for her NPR show Fresh Air, a move that has prompted my entire Twitter feed to debate whether he’s a diva or cancelled or both. (The New Yorker profile didn’t help.) Which one is he? I say neither. Let me state my case.
According to the Daily Beast, Driver left the interview after Gross insisted on playing a clip of him in Marriage Story singing “Being Alive,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. Apparently, Driver had stipulated pre-interview that he does not like hearing recordings of himself; one can only assume that goes doubly so when you’re doing Sondheim out of nowhere in the middle of a relationship snuff film.
Gross played the clip anyway, and Driver bounced. Per the Daily Beast:
Danny Miller, Fresh Air’s executive producer, confirmed that Driver left during a break in the interview “while we were playing back a clip from the film.” The star actor recorded his end of the interview from NPR’s New York studios, while Gross was in Fresh Air’s base at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia.
“We don’t really understand why he left,” Miller said in an email. “We were looking forward to the interview—Terry thinks he’s a terrific actor, he was a great guest when he was on [Fresh Air] in 2015—so we were disappointed that we didn’t have a new interview to share with our listeners about Marriage Story.”
Indeed, Driver was on Fresh Air in 2015, whereupon he...told Gross he hates hearing clips of himself acting. Here’s what happened after Gross played a clip from Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young:
GROSS: So I should say, I just listened back to that clip, but you didn’t. You declined to hear it. You took off your headphones. Why don’t you want to hear the clip of your film or your own work?
DRIVER: ‘Cause I don’t want to hear the bad acting that probably was (laughter) happening during that clip.
GROSS: Does it throw you off to hear yourself?
DRIVER: Yeah, no, I’ve watched myself or listened to myself before, then always hate it. And then wish I could change it, but you can’t. And I - you know, I think I have, like, a tendency to try to make things better or drive myself and the other people around me crazy with the things I wanted to change or I wish I could change.
In fact, Driver’s repeatedly told interviewers he hates watching and hearing himself act, so much so that after he saw himself in the Girls pilot, he vowed to stop seeing his own films (though he has seen the Star Wars). Why? “Because I saw all the mistakes. The things that I wished I could change, but I couldn’t because it’s permanent,” he told Howard Stern in 2015, echoing what he said to Gross in 2015 and, I assume, what he’d have told Gross in this most recent aborted interview, if she’d merely asked him why he didn’t want to hear the Marriage Story clip on air instead of going ahead and running it. (In fairness to Gross, her team reportedly advised Driver to take off his headphones during the clip, but it does seem he asked in advance that she not play it at all.)
Storming out of the interview is diva-esque, yes, and it’s true that we should all be so lucky to get to be on Fresh Air or on any kind of press tour. On the other hand, Driver’s aversion to hearing and/or seeing his own performances, once they’re cemented into permanence onscreen, is not particularly strange, and actors like Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore have said similar things about avoiding their own films. There is something unnerving about putting something out there, onscreen or in music or literature, that makes you feel vulnerable and exposed and is now immutable.
In October, I published a book of essays, and in the months and weeks leading up to its publication I could not bring myself to read a word of it. During the writing and editing process I read and reread and re-reread every single page dozens of times, but once the book was sent to the printer, I could not revisit any of those pages without finding a sentence I wanted to rewrite, or an idea I found half-baked, or a confession I wanted to tear out and hide somewhere far from the actual book. I don’t know what it’s like to see myself in a movie, but I do know what it’s like to feel like something you created is now out of your control, and I understand the impulse to literally run away when you’re confronted with it.
Also, that “Being Alive” clip was the worst part of Marriage Story anyway.