Adam Driver Talks Wearing a KKK Hood for 'BlackKlansman': "It's Your Job to Tell the Story"

AUSTIN HARGRAVE
"I remember having an impression that this is an unbelievable story. As soon as you start reading something, you can't help but start working on it a little bit. It's like, "Can I pull it off?" Driver said of starring in 'BlackKklansman.'

The first-time Oscar nominee, who is working on 'Star Wars: Episode IX,' also breaks down Spike Lee's "unpredictable" directing style: "If you have impulses, he wants you to follow them."

Adam Driver has earned his first Oscar nomination for his performance in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. He plays Flip Zimmerman, the officer who helps black detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrate a Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Now busy working on his next film —­ J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode IX­ — Driver, 35, spoke with THR about Lee's shooting style and the first time he put on a KKK hood.

What was your impression after reading the script for the first time?

I remember having an impression that this is an unbelievable story. As soon as you start reading something, you can't help but start working on it a little bit. It's like, "Can I pull it off?" The character's journey became clear to me, this idea of identity. He had this work ideology to self-maintain because he has to protect who he is. Then he is confronted by someone who actually challenges that idea and that maybe it will actually make him better at his job if he does take it personally.

Did you have a most memorable moment on set?

I feel like for everyone, because it was such a large group of people, [it was when characters were] cheering on scenes of lynching in Birth of a Nation. Everyone felt uncomfortable, but that gets lost in the minutiae of working on something. You are working on your character, so you can't think about how it feels. It is not your job to feel anything, it's your job to tell the story. Putting on a KKK hood, you feel like you understand what that is, but then when you are wearing it, what it represents is so far from everything I believe in that it doesn't feel right.

How would you describe Spike Lee's directing style?

He loves to work fast and is a big believer in momentum. In those two weeks of rehearsal, we hash out everything we want to say and then on the day of shooting he just wants to go. He wants to work fast, and if you have impulses, he wants you to follow them even though you think they may not make logical sense. That is what I love about his movies — they are so unpredictable because of that.

What has been your favorite moment with an audience?

Cannes was pretty special. It is a non-American audience. A lot of the actors didn't know what those last few moments [of the film] would be, so when that hit as hard as it did, it was really tangible. I didn't stay to watch the movie, and I came in right at the end and didn't know that it was going to cut to Heather Heyer. Everyone was taken aback, and that feeling was tangible. 

This story first appeared in a February stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.