By Brady Rhoades
Actor Adam Driver learned valuable lessons as a Marine. Time is precious; it’s remarkable what you can accomplish in one day. Self-sacrifice. Moral courage. Teamwork.
What he didn’t discover in the military is his artistic side, a side that has propelled him to roles in “Star Wars, The Force Awakens,” “Lincoln” and “J. Edgar,” among others. In life-or-death situations, the quality you most desire in a comrade is not artistry. It’s their commitment, their competence, their courage.
But what happens when a warrior goes back to civilian life?
What Driver discovered is that, for veterans, especially those suffering from traumatic injuries, civilian life can turn into a life-or-death situation, as well.
Enter the arts.
“Self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder,” Driver said.
That’s why Driver, who’s working on a movie with Sylvester Stallone about a veteran of the Afghanistan War who’s a quadruple amputee, has created Arts in the Armed Forces.
Arts in the Armed Forces performs theater for all branches of the military at U.S. installations domestically and around the world. The core program consists of published contemporary American plays and monologues presented by theater-trained professional actors and actresses. They choose plays that feature diverse themes, ages, ethnicities and experiences to create a complex and unique experience for audiences.
After each of the group’s performances, the actors interact with the audience via a question and answer session as well as a more informal mingling period.
The goal is not simply to provide an enjoyable evening, but to use the shared experience of live theater to open up conversations capable of bridging the divides between military and civilian, service member and family member, the world of the arts and the world of practical action.
Adam Driver was not born to privilege.
The young man from San Bernardino, California, has worked for—and earned—everything he’s gotten.
He rose to prominence in the supporting role of Adam Sackler in the HBO comedy-drama series Girls (2012–2017), for which he received three consecutive nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He made his Broadway debut in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. In 2011, he returned to Broadway in Man and Boy and made his feature film debut in J. Edgar.
Driver has appeared in supporting roles in a wide range of films, including Lincoln, Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis. He starred in While We’re Young and won the Volpi Cup for his role in Hungry Hearts, as well as several best actor awards for his performance in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson.
Driver gained worldwide attention and acclaim for playing the villain Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015.
Like many of his generation, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks left Driver saddened, outraged, and wanting to defend his country.
He was 18; he joined the Marines.
“September 11 happened and all my friends were like, ‘Let’s join the military’, and I was the only one who actually did,” he said.
Driver adapted to Marine Corps culture. The Marines provided structure and a sense of unity he had not experienced. Driver trained hard, and looked forward to deploying with his friends.
But Driver injured his sternum in a mountain biking accident before deploying. He attempted to overcome his debilitated state by training harder than before, but after two years of service with no time in the field, he was medically discharged.
The discharge depressed Driver, but it was time to readjust to civilian life.
He never forgot his comrades, however.
Or the lessons he learned.
“You miss the rigor, the discipline, the camaraderie … I think you become very aware, probably more than average people your age, that we’re all going to die. You’re aware of your own mortality, and also of how much you can accomplish in a day. Time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it.”
When he returned to the United States, he attended Juilliard and studied drama. He graduated in 2009 and began acting in Broadway and off-Broadway plays while toiling at odd jobs to pay bills.
He soon made inroads into cinema, and the rest is history.
What’s next for Driver?
He’s reportedly signed onto a movie with Sly—Sylvester Stallone. It’s a true story of an Afghanistan veteran who is a quadruple amputee. Sgt. Travis Mills’ recovery after losing all his limbs to an improvised explosive device is the subject of a best-selling memoir titled, As Tough as They Come, and the movie.
Driver reportedly will play the 82nd Airborne soldier, while Stallone will direct and play Mills’ father-in-law.
Meantime, Driver continues to give back to military families.
Most recently, he was a willing messenger for the Folds of Honor Foundation.
Cue to a Budweiser commercial that has captured the nation’s attention—Budweiser works with Folds to provide scholarship money to military families—and Driver trucking through a rural area, no buildings anywhere, but plenty of road and trees, to visit Hayley Grace Williams, daughter of veteran John.
Hayley is finishing her schooling to become a nurse. She is inspired to serve by her father, an Army veteran who severely injured his back in a training exercise. In 1990, Williams watched his unit deploy to Operation Desert Storm from a hospital bed. He has two steel rods and six screws fusing his spine; his mind is another story.
“He feels as though he wasn’t there for his buddies when they needed him,” said Hayley.
He works as a bus driver, part-time. He can’t work full time because he’s in too much pain. And the family can’t pay the tens of thousands of dollars for Hayley to finish nursing school.
That’s where Folds of Honor, Budweiser, Driver and the commercial come in. Driver parks at the Williams’ home in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania, and delivers the news: Hayley got a scholarship.
Driver comes face to face with John, and says, “I felt so guilty that I didn’t get to finish my service.”
Says John: “You’re probably the first person that ever understood, truly understands.”
Hayley doesn’t have to worry about the costs of school. Before you know it, she’ll be a nurse.
“This means everything,” she says.
The family—and Driver—cry tears of joy.