Driver's Seat

03.09.14

Adam Driver on Role-Play Sex with Lena Dunham on ‘Girls’ and Adam’s Stormy Relationship with Hannah

The breakout star of ‘Girls,’ who was recently cast as the villain in the upcoming ‘Star Wars’ film, discusses his character’s captivating arc on the hit HBO series, and the events that led up to Sunday night's explosive episode ‘Role-Play.’ [Warning: Spoilers!]

The great irony of HBO’s Girls is that the most layered, emotionally rich, and captivating character on the show is a guy. Much of the credit for this, in addition to the sharp writing by series creator Lena Dunham and her team, is due to the talents of Adam Driver. As Adam Sackler, the oddly handsome and deadly serious boyfriend to Dunham’s flighty Hannah Horvath, the towering 30-year-old is a force of nature, throwing his entire being into each line and gesture.

[Warning: If you aren’t all caught up on Girls stop reading now or forever hold your peace.

And the third season of the series has seen Driver’s man-child figure more prominently into the narrative. We see Adam get introduced to Hannah’s circle of friends, wherein he gives the conceited Marnie (Allison Williams) a harsh reality check; he forms an unlikely bond with the motor-mouthed Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) during a road trip; his sister Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) crashes at his and Hannah’s apartment, leaving a trail of chaos and cursing in her wake; and we see the aspiring actor land his first major role in a Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.

But in Season 3’s tenth episode, entitled “Role-Play,” the problems that have been brewing between Adam and Hannah come to a head after a ridiculous-hilarious-shambolic bit of role-play sex initiated by the aspiring writer (in a fantastic platinum blond wig). The affair leaves the future of Adam and Hannah’s relationship in doubt, since the newly minted stage actor dumps her at episode’s end.  

The Daily Beast spoke to Driver about how fun it was to shoot the role-playing scenes, Adam’s relationship with Hannah, and how his own Broadway experiences mirror his character’s. 

The role-play sequence between you and Lena looked like it must have been a lot of fun to shoot.

It’s always fun shooting Girls but that sequence, in particular, I tried to do a good job of staying focused but I just remember losing it so many times because I thought Lena was pretty genius in the way she plays it. It was really hard for me to keep it together because she’s so funny. The first time they meet at the bar when she was trying things out while we were shooting it I couldn’t stop laughing.

When Hannah and Adam are having role-play sex, she switches her backstory from being a hedge-funder’s bored wife to the popular cheerleader, and Adam stops and tells her she can’t “change the narrative” during role-playing. Was that improvised? 

That was scripted, and I think it’s pretty true to Hannah. One thing that’s always an undercurrent between them is that he feels she lives too much in her brain sometimes, and she thinks he lives too much in his body. With brain and body, it’s great if you have a connection between the two, but when separated, that leads to a lot of conflict. For obvious reasons, he’s desperate to have a carnal-blood relationship, and it’s another example of Hannah not living in the moment and not caring. Adam really respects people who commit to something—whether it be right or wrong—and follow through. I remember that being a stepping-stone for me when it comes to why he gets so aggravated. He always lives in the moment, and I don’t think she always is.

Hannah is very non-committal and living outside her own body a lot of the time, and Adam says something to Hannah during the role-playing that I think serves as a pretty decent metaphor for their entire relationship when he says, “You can’t just have part. You have to take the whole thing, or nothing.”

Yeah. In going back to the first episodes, Adam’s always been consistent in running full-force and exhausting it, and then trying to find something else to move full-force at. Whatever it is about him, I think he just doesn’t want to fake it. I relate to that in life—that doing the copied version is always less gratifying, and since this is where he’s at in his life and starting to care about something for the first time with acting, his sister coming in and out of his life, and being more of an adult. It’s the first time he’s articulated to himself that the work you put in is worth it, and that the end result is more gratifying because of it. He’s made to care more, and admit that he cares, and focus on the things that are most important. When Adam makes a commitment to something or someone, he means it. It’s not just words to him. Sometimes, even though Hannah is, ironically, a writer, she says things that seem non-committal, distracted, or not present.

Lena’s bandaged lingerie is hilarious. Were you guys just cracking up at that?

[Laughs] Yeah. I didn’t know what it was going to be until she showed up on set. I just learned what it looked like when we were shooting and didn’t see it beforehand. I just remember wandering around, coming in, and being very much surprised.

It’s the Girls version of Milla Jovovich’s Fifth Element bandaged get-up.

[Laughs] That’s a good way of putting it.

"One thing that’s always an undercurrent between them is that he feels she lives too much in her brain sometimes, and she thinks he lives too much in his body."

Adam had curbed his carnal urges for a while and been somewhat tamed, but it seemed like the whole role-playing thing triggered something in Adam where he reverted back to his animalistic side, and he maybe resented Hannah for it.

I’m not sure if he’s been tamed, but more that he’s grown a bit as a person. I still think he’s as aggressive as when we first meet him, but he’s just developed. And I don’t think he’s unaware of the fact that a lot of him growing as a person has been directly because of her. 

Why do you think Adam is even with Hannah at this point? What draws him to her?

As much as she challenges him, there’s an unspoken chemistry between two people that maybe on the outside seems to not make sense, and maybe they can’t make sense of it themselves—which I think is true of many relationships. And I just think that he loves her.

My perspective on it is that, in the early stages of the relationship, Hannah saw Adam at his worst. He degraded her and he really put her through the wringer, but she survived that and stayed with him anyway. She’s seen him at his most vulnerable and animalistic, and yet she still stuck around.

That’s true. He’s shown her the worst parts of himself and has developed—in no small part—because of her influence directly over the past three seasons. She challenges him and thinks about things in a completely different way than he does, which is always interesting. He can’t get away with anything when it comes to her, and vice versa. There’s something exciting about that conflict in him. Even though there’s a lot of arguing and it’s not easy, a part of him is excited by that.

The sex has gotten more intimate between them, too. During the series premiere, it seemed like he wasn’t treating her like a human being when they had sex. It was rough, and he was just using her to satisfy his own fetishes. But in the “Role-Play” episode, he tells her that now they make love, and says, “You have an old idea of who I am.”

He loves her and he’s prepared to put the effort in to make it work. It’s hard to grow with people sometimes. It’s a tricky thing about relationships because, as it goes along, you’re making a commitment to a person you haven’t even met yet. I feel this way with family, too—you go off and have some experience and come back and are desperate for them to treat you a different way. People always are desperate to have others acknowledge that they are different. One of the most fun things to play about Adam is, as much as he makes pretty bold proclamations about things he’s going to do or not do, in the back of his mind, he’s open to a better idea; open to the world.

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Dunham calls Driver a “kind and generous scene partner.” (Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO, via Everett, Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO/Courtesy of Everett Collection)

In “Role-Play,” we’re privy to a bit of Adam’s backstory for the first time when he admits to Hannah that he had a serious drinking problem and slept with older women at bars so he didn’t drink. Had you created a backstory for Adam?

I’ve never really gotten involved in the writing process or had ideas of where Adam should go. That’s been my own, private, fun thing of creating a life that starts before where you first meet him, and then being surprised by things the writers come to the table with. The writers always come in with something more interesting and subtle than my ideas about the character, which lean more towards melodrama.

He does break up with her at the end of the episode. Do you think there’s a future for these two? And are you signed on for Season 4?

I don’t know. I leave that in the hands of people smarter than me, and definitely more articulate. [Laughs] But yeah, I hope I’m coming back… unless they know something that I don’t!

Over the course of the last few episodes, we realize that Adam really does care about acting, and that his whole “I don’t give a fuck” attitude is a façade, in a way. But he does have a few interesting actor-ly rituals, including wearing his Broadway character’s jacket around the apartment and, like a fighter, not having sex before a rehearsal or performance. Do you have similar policies when acting in a play?

Nothing specific! The only comment to that is pissing my pants, probably. No, I don’t do that. Blind fear is really my only ritual.

Hannah’s inconsiderateness has really come to the fore this season. When her boss dies, Adam calls her out because she’s more concerned about when her e-book is going to be published, and then when she gets into an accident, she just texts Adam “car crash,” so when he arrives at the hospital he’s beside himself.

He can be pretty selfish himself, though. He does things that mystify her, too, which I think is true of all relationships. But I can’t really comment on how selfish Hannah’s being. I think that’s a question better suited for Lena.

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Adam also gets a male friend, finally, in what seems like a potential first. How do you think this has affected his dynamic with Hannah? It seems like now he doesn’t have to lean on her as much.

Yeah, just having another person to bounce things off of, especially when you’re going through something as intimate as performing in a play. With that, you have to be very private and intimate with people in a short amount of time and suddenly, for the first time in his life he’s not sharing everything. Adam has a different place to put that energy and it’s not all directed at one person. He has a friend to balance it out more, which is healthy.

The Broadway audition scene on Girls must have given you flashbacks. Do you remember your first big audition?

There have been so many auditions where I’ve felt like I was gonna crap myself. I’ve always trained myself to not like what it is I was auditioning for and not get excited—not mean, but just to prepare for it not to work out. That’s always seemed to be a weird way of going about it. But I’ve had a lot of strange auditions. In one, in particular, I remember I had to be a superhero-horse and I even neighed in the middle of the audition. I don’t think that wound up getting made. They were superheroes that were part-animal, I think? Maybe it would’ve turned out to be very good, but I was definitely confused about what I’d chosen to do with my life. [Laughs] 

When Adam lands his first big Broadway role, in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, he runs over to the bathroom, shoves a paper towel in his mouth, and screams at the top of his lungs. Do you remember how you reacted when you landed your first big role?

Getting into Juilliard was the first big thing for me. By the time I got into Juilliard, I was working at a Target distribution warehouse. It didn’t make anything, it just shipped things, and my job was just to stand there and look at the security codes on the back of trucks and see if they would lock, and check them in. I was twenty-something and going to school. I was already planning on leaving, going to New York, and living in the streets if I had to because that’s where, in my mind, acting was happening. And when I found out I got in, that was a pretty surreal moment. I feel like there was jumping involved. And Mrs. Warren’s Profession was a big deal for me. It was my first play on Broadway, and the idea of doing a play on Broadway was pretty crazy for me. It was with Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins. It’s also a Shaw play, actually. 

Patti Lupone warns Hannah about the perils of dating a struggling actor, saying that he won’t be there for her as much, he’ll be consumed by the role, and that he’ll potentially hook up with his cast mates. Do you remember it being tough to keep relationships afloat back when you were a struggling actor?

What is a struggle is that acting isn’t a place where you go to work and you do that thing. There aren’t set boundaries, like an office, where you go and work. For me, the work is always on my mind. I’m constantly thinking about the role, and there’s an infinite amount of questions you can ask yourself about a character to the point that it’s hard to find the boundaries of when to not work. I’m not speaking about anything personal, but I think it does lead to not quite being in the moment, or being self-involved. It’s constantly gestating, so there’s a tendency to ignore the things that are happening around you because you want to focus on what you’re trying to do. I haven’t been doing this that long, and I feel like the more I learn that absolutely the things in life that are more complicated are more valuable than acting. Living life is more important than actually doing the work. Life is complicated, and shitty, and great. That’s obvious. But I’ve learned that when I have to stop living life to put all my energy and focus into this one thing, it suffers.