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By Linda Buchwald
Since Broadway actors are arguably at the top of the professional ladder, you might think they've learned everything they need to know about performing. Often, however, Broadway is a master class, pushing actors to discover new things about their craft.
That's certainly what's happening to Adam Driver, who's making his Rialto debut in the Roundabout's revival of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, now in previews at the American Airlines Theatre.
Driver plays Frank Gardner, a charmingly shiftless freeloader whose love interest Vivie (Sally Hawkins) is dismayed to learn that her mother Kitty (Cherry Jones) is a prostitute. This being Shaw, that revelation leads to witty confrontations and surprising emotional turns. To keep up, the cast needs to master both the play's intricate language and the powerful feeling beneath it.
For Driver, who has appeared in several Off- and off-Off Broadway shows since graduating from Julliard last year, becoming a Shavian has been a welcome challenge. “It’s a total departure from characters I’ve played before,” he says. “It’s lean and the story is so clear. There’s nothing better than working on a play that’s by an amazing writer.”
After his audition, however, Driver wasn't sure he'd be working on the play at all. "I went in for the first time and totally failed, but fortunately enough, [director] Doug [Hughes] found something in there that he thought he could work with,” he recalls.
Though he now feels at home with the play, Driver says he's still learning to understand his character. For instance, he's latched on to some biographical similarities---Frank's father is a preacher, Driver's stepfather is a Baptist minister---and he's found things to admire in Frank's behavior. “The way he views life is so laissez faire," he says. "He understands people and is very frank about his feelings, and that kind of honesty is something that appeals to me."
He's also learning from his cast, which along with Jones and Hawkins includes the stage vets Edward Hibbert, Mark Harelik, and Michael Siberry. “They’re all so good that it’s so easy and fun to come to work," Driver says. “I learn so much from listening to Edward speak with the dialect and listening to Sally talk, so I've really tried to stay quiet as much as I can and just learn as much as possible.”
Driver frequently says he's "learning" about the theatre, despite his professional experience and Julliard degree. His humility may be partly inspired by his unusual journey to the stage. He was born in Mishawaka, a small town in Indiana, and though he was interested in acting in high school, he couldn’t fathom it as a profession. Instead, he signed up with the Marine Corps.
Ultimately, being a Marine convinced him to try acting. “We had a couple of training mishaps where things went awry," he recalls. "Suddenly, at nineteen, you’re very aware of what you want to do when you get your civilian life back, so it all comes into focus."
Now, as he adapts to life on Broadway, Driver has learned he's not the only student in the show. "One thing I do know is it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been acting or how little you’ve been acting---no one has anything figured out," he says. "They’re all Broadway veterans, but they come at it just as frustrated at times as someone who is very new to the game, and that is very encouraging.”
Linda Buchwald is an assistant editor at Scholastic. She blogs for StageGrade and her own blog, Pataphysical Science.