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A near-death experience, the military and a 'secret' son: The peculiar life of Adam Driver.

When Adam Driver was 19, the direction of the wind saved his life.

He was a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, based at California’s Camp Pendleton, when a drill exercise went wrong. A mixup with coordinates saw a white phosphorus explosion, used to simulate a mortar attack, accidentally targeted towards his unit.

Were it not for the wind, the deadly chemical would have rained down upon them, burning them to the bone.

Gathering himself back in the barracks after the near-miss, a persistent thought needled Driver.

“I’m like, ‘The two things I want to do before I die are smoke and be an actor’,” he told NPR in 2015. “Smoke cigarettes and be an actor.”

He did both, but only one stuck.

Watch: Adam Driver stars in Netflix’s Marriage Story. Post continues after video.

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Driver, famous for his roles in HBO series, Girls, and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, most recently starred in Netflix movie, Marriage Story. And there are already talks that the 36-year-old may earn his second Academy Award nomination.

This is how he got here.

The rebel misfit.

Born in San Diego, California, on November 19, 1983, Adam Driver’s parents split up when he seven years old. After the breakup, he moved with his mother, Nancy, to her home town of Mishawaka, Indiana.

Because of that divorce, the plot of Marriage Story (which charts the crumbling of a relationship), felt “very familiar” to Driver.

“Just trying to wrap your head around your parents not being together anymore — and not only that but you’re moving to the Midwest. Like, the first time seeing my father cry, as we’re leaving,” he told The New Yorker. “It’s just all those very raw feelings that stick with you that you don’t articulate.”

Nancy remarried her high school boyfriend, a cab driver who became a Baptist minister. And the influence of the church loomed large over Driver’s life as a result.

Though he sang in church choir, stories from his adolescence paint him as a rebel and somewhat of a misfit, from climbing radio towers with his friends to dumpster diving for chips and setting things on fire (“Leaves. Clothes. Tires. Things like that, that you have to really douse,” he told The New Yorker.). He even spearheaded an after-dark teenage fight club behind his town’s function centre — the only rule was ‘no hitting in the balls’.

Listen: The episode of Girls that had everyone talking. Post continues after podcast.

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He’d rent movies like Predator and Total Recall and, yes, Fight Club, which he’d watch in secret at friends’ houses (his parents wouldn’t have approved). Then he and his mates would grab a camcorder and shoot their own action movies in a supermarket carpark.

School peers have described Driver as an entertainer — that much was clear even then. His performances in school plays saw his teachers encourage him to try out for prestigious performing arts college, Juilliard, which he did once school was over. He was rejected; in hindsight, he’s said, he wasn’t ready. But nor was he deterred.

After graduating high school in 2001, he packed his 1990 Lincoln sedan with his belongings — fridge, microwave and all — and headed west toward Hollywood.

Setting out for Hollywood; ending up in the military.

Adam Driver made it as far as Texas before his car broke down. He spent most of his money having it fixed, and when he finally arrived in L.A., used most of the rest hiring a real estate agent to find him a place – “a total f***ing scam,” he told The New Yorker. Broke, he turned around.

“I was in California for like 48 hours and had no money and had to drive all the way back. Which was embarrassing because I made a big production about saying goodbye to everyone in Indiana,” he told Rolling Stone.

A week before he’d left, his step-father had given him a brochure about the Marine Corps. The September 11 terrorist attacks had unfolded just months earlier and nationalism had settled thickly across the States. Driver felt it and recognised a sense of purpose, a challenge. He enlisted.

“It just seemed like a badass thing to do,” he told GQ, “to go and shoot machine guns and serve your country. Coupled with: ‘There’s nothing for me here, there’s nothing that’s keeping me here, there’s nothing that’s stopping me from going.’”

At the time, he was paying $200 to rent a room in the back of his parents’ house, and he’d only ever held odd jobs around town, from mowing lawns to working as a vacuum salesman and telemarketer for a basement-waterproofing company.

His time in the marines was formative. He’s spoken since about loving the structure, the clear hierarchy, the intimacy within a unit and being confronted with his mortality. (Chemicals exploding in the sky above you will do that…)

Despite the phosphorus incident and his determination to act, he hoped to be deployed. But a mountain biking accident cracked his sternum and saw him honourably discharged. It also paved the way for him to begin his acting career. This time, he was ready.

Breakthrough on Girls and a secret son.

After taking a second shot at Juilliard, Driver was accepted. It was there he met a woman named Joanne Tucker, who in 2013 became his wife and, in 2016, the mother of his son.

Adam Driver and Joanne Tucker at the 2019 Academy Awards. Image: Getty.
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By then Driver had become a star, but no one knew he was a father. In what he described as a "military operation", he and Tucker had managed to keep the birth of their boy secret from the public for two years before the back of his head was spotted in a relative's Instagram post and the tabloids pounced.

His own privacy had been lost back in 2012, with his role as Adam Sackler in Lena Dunham's hugely popular series, Girls. Driver was the first person to audition for the part of the perverse misfit carpenter/actor. He walked in carrying a motorcycle helmet, and Dunham and her team were starstruck — "even though we’d never seen him before," she told The New Yorker.

Three Emmy nominations followed. Then Broadway. And movies. Among them Lincoln, Scorcese' Silence, Paterson, and Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman of which he was nominated for the 2018 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Adam Driver and Lena Dunham in Girls. Image: HBO.

Driver often cringes when asked about his success, and deflects to his former military colleagues risking their lives. But he also acknowledges that, while nowhere near on the same scale, there can be meaning in what he does, too. He told GQ that someone once described acting to him as a service, a word that sat well with him.

"We don’t understand why we’re here, no one’s giving us an answer, religion is vague, your parents can’t help because they’re just people, and it’s all terrible, and there’s no meaning to anything.

"What a terrible thing to process! Every. Day. And then you go to sleep. But then sometimes," told the publication, "things can suspend themselves for like a minute, and then every once in a while there’s something where you find a connection."

Feature image: Getty.

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