Adam Driver Hates Watching Himself Onscreen, and He's Not Alone Among Actors

5Arep_awards1_W - Publicity - H 2020
Donut, iPad: Adobe Stock. Marriage: Wilson Webb/Netflix

Faux modesty, real pain or something in between? In the wake of the actor's exit from a radio interview, The Hollywood Reporter polled such top names as Renée Zellweger, Jamie Foxx and Laura Dern for their thoughts.

At its simplest definition, an actor’s job is to entertain. But if actors are not entertained by the sights or sounds of their work, the situation becomes anything but simple.

Adam Driver found himself at the center of one of awards season's most fiery debates ­— at least on Twitter — after it was revealed by The Daily Beast that he exited a Fresh Air interview with NPR's Terry Gross after it was floated that they listen to a clip of him singing "Being Alive," the Stephen Sondheim tune he belts out in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story. Driver has repeatedly said he’s not a fan of engaging with his work (he even told Gross that same thing in 2015) and, just weeks prior, The New Yorker published a lengthy profile about the ubiquitous 36-year-old, that described his displeasure with the practice as a “reluctance that amounts to a phobia.”

After the news hit, a line formed in the sand. On one side, Driver found supporters, like Monica Lewinsky, who touted his “self-care,” and the other side counted critics who labeled him a precious artist. (“Take the headphones off and promote your movie,” tweeted on-air talent Soledad O’Brien.) Though it’s not a unique issue actors face — athletes, musicians, dancers, directors, writers and so on — all can be faced with consuming their past works in some way or another, but Hollywood stars may be the only ones so confronted with their artistry everywhere, from screens of all sizes in all types of venues to street corners by overzealous fans.

During awards season, most don't have a choice as ceremonies feature clip reels as part of the presentation of acting categories. Some actors would say it's a small price to pay to win awards and industry acclaim, but those who don't like it still must put on a happy face when cameras cut to them watching themselves. At the recent SAG Awards, Renée Zellweger had to watch a major moment from Judy when, during the best actress presentation, a clip was played of her singing Judy Garland’s classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the finale of the Rupert Goold-directed film. A few weeks earlier, the Oscar nominated star told THR that she must “work up to” seeing her performances reflected on screen. "I don't watch it for a good, long while," said the actress, though she revealed that she had watched Judy during a cast and crew screening early on. "Making the movie was such a shared experiment, so that felt right to me," she said. "But I can always find something that I had wished I had done differently or pushed in a different direction."

When he presented his star with a trophy at the recent Palm Springs International Film Festival, Goold said actors don’t get enough credit for the courage it takes to do the job, especially the big ones that requires risk, vulnerability and great leaps of faith. "I believe in the fundamental bravery in actors,” he said. And it’s no wonder those in the profession have such a hard time viewing their work and not picking apart their choices. “When you’re an actor even the most failsafe choice is only a whisker away from calamity,” he added. 

THR previously polled close to 50 actors for their take on the viewing experience, and the results are almost split down the middle. Kristen Stewart says she "obsessively" watches once or twice to close the experience and as a way to inform her future work as an actor and director; Jason Momoa falls in the "no" category ("I don't need to see it," he says); Nicholas Hoult describes it as a painful process like "listening to your voice on a voicemail but with the picture as well"; Mahershala Ali says the first two times are rough but by the third he can "just take in the story" rather than critique himself; Chris Pine says it's gotten easier with age but "it used to be very painful"; and Armie Hammer says he'll watch at the premiere to be nice, but otherwise it's a pass.

"I love movies so much and I love watching them, but if I'm in it, I can't watch the movie and enjoy it because I'm a self-abusing narcissist who's like, 'Why am I doing this? What am I doing [with] that?' " explains Hammer. 

Also declining is Jamie Foxx, star of Just Mercy, who says "a lot of times I don't. Sometimes I will watch it after it's already out and things like that but most of the time, it's a no." On the opposite end is Laura Dern, Driver's Marriage Story co-star. She's received career tributes at the Palm Springs and Santa Barbara film festivals and instead of picking herself apart, she told THR she looks at it more like a walk down memory lane.

"I've grown up doing this, so it's like looking at a yearbook," she explains with a smile, with Marriage Story director Baumbach chiming in, "I'd be happy just to watch Laura Dern clip reels all night."

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.