'Paterson' Director on Why Adam Driver Was "the Guy" to Play His Bus-Driving Poet

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Jim Jarmusch (left) and Adam Driver at a New York screening for 'Paterson'

The 'Star Wars' and 'Silence' star shifts gears to play a poetic New Jersey bus driver in Jim Jarmusch's indie drama.

Jim Jarmusch had been thinking about making Paterson ever since he took a day trip to the New Jersey city of the same name about 20 years ago. The idea for his indie film, which is set to hit theaters Dec. 28, first came to him while visiting the hometown of one of his favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, whose work is featured in the film.

"That’s when I first started having a few ideas of making a film there about a working-class poet — it was just the very beginning," Jarmusch told The Hollywood Reporter before a New York screening of Paterson at Manhattan's Landmark Sunshine Cinemas. The drama follows Adam Driver's Paterson, a poet who shares a name with the city in which he is a bus driver. "I wrote the script and then was trying to find Paterson and I asked if I could meet Adam Driver and that was it for me."

Driver, the star of HBO's Girls and of big-screen feats Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the upcoming Martin Scorsese epic Silence, shifts gears for this quiet character study. The film courses Paterson's day-to-day life over a week's span as he drives his daily bus route, comes home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and walks their dog, Marvin, played by the late English bulldog Nellie, to the local bar at night. 

During his free time, he pens poems in a secret notebook and the words are narrated by Driver and written across the big screen throughout.

"He was the guy," says filmmaker Jarmusch (1984's Stranger Than Paradise; 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes; 2013's Only Lovers Left Alive) of what Driver brought to the introspective role. "What I love so much is his intuitiveness. He doesn’t act ever, he reacts. So he became this character and then reacted in whatever scene he could in it."

To fit the part, Driver took a course in Queens to learn how to drive a bus and studied the work of one of Jarmusch's other favorite poets, Ron Padgett, who composed Paterson's three poems in the film.

"Jim told me that he went to Adam and said, 'Here are the poems that are going to be used in the film,'" Padgett told THR at the Dec. 15 screening, where Driver was on hand to introduce the film with a humble wave and nod. ”And Adam said, 'Oh, yeah, I know.' Adam had brought along my 800-page volume of Collective Poems and said, 'I’ve already read all the guy’s other work.' Adam is a very quick study and it was flattering to me, but I realized he has a really terrific work ethic."

He added, "I think it’d be easier to learn to drive a bus than to read all my poems!"

The Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and also screened at the New York Film Festival in the fall. Driver has already picked up the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's best actor prize, and THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg projects he is a possible threat to the frontrunners of the best actor awards-season race, which includes Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Ryan Gosling (La La Land) and Denzel Washington (Fences).

When introducing Paterson at the screening, Jarmusch used the first two lines of the Frank O'Hara poem "In Memory of My Feelings" to describe Driver's performance. "My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent; and he carries me quietly, like a gondola, through the streets," he quoted.

"Somehow it really struck me," he added of the words. "Maybe you’ll get it after you see my movie."