Before Adam Driver and Corey Stoll enter the room to promote the star-filled family comedy-drama This Is Where I Leave You, a studio rep warms a table of journalists they’re allowed one Star Wars question.
“If Yellowjacket fought a Sith Lord, who would win?” I suggest.
Driver – who’s currently shooting J.J. Abrams new Star Wars reboot (and reputedly is a Darth Vaderish Sith), looks quizzically at Stoll. “Yellowjacket is the character I play in Ant-Man,” he tells him.
No bites. Fine. We’ll save the serious question for later.
Brothers in sci-fi and fantasy (Stoll also stars in FX’s mutant vampire series The Strain), Driver and Stoll play at-odds brothers in This Is Where I Leave You, alongside fellow siblings played by Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, and mom Jane Fonda – a dysfunctional family forced to live together while they sit Shiva for the deceased dad.
The comedy by Canadian-born director Shawn Levy (Night At The Museum) saw the rep cast spend their entire shooting in close quarters in a Long Island house, the better to capture the claustrophobia of the plot.
“In terms of getting to know each other, the way the set was organized was pretty far away from base camp, and we really just stayed on-set, stuck together,” Stoll says. “Luckily there happened to be some of the coolest people in the world in the house.”
Driver – best known to fans of Lena Dunham’s Girls as the commitment-phobic Adam – plays the youngest brother Phillip, a directionless slacker. This is in contrast with Driver himself, an ex-Marine seriously committed to his craft. In a recent GQ interview, he admitted he “made a lot of people cry” in Juilliard theatre school for lack of commitment.
“I think that was a specific time in my life,” Driver says. “I grew up fast, you were responsible for things not typical for 18 or 19 year olds, people’s lives for example. It ages you. Believe it or not, it’s very different from acting school.
“When I got my freedom to be a civilian again, there was tunnel vision in my pursuit of acting. It’s not appropriate to yell at people. People are people. I can’t force my way of military thinking on them.”
At the same time, Driver says his medical discharge gave him a point of empathy for the aimlessness of the ne’er do well kid brother he plays. “Sure, I know what it’s like to not know what you’re doing next. You’re a lance corporal and someone at a Starbucks who went to college is telling you move. And you’re angry. ‘I’m a lance corporal and that means nothing.’ That was relatable to me.”
Whatever the mix that pushes him forward now, Driver is in demand (he can also be seen at TIFF in Hungry Hearts – which just nabbed him an acting prize at the Venice film festival – and While We’re Young). Director Levy moved the rest of the cast’s schedules around to make it work with his shooting schedule for Girls.
“Shawn made it all work,” Driver says. “He called Jason and Tina and asked if they’d be willing to shoot on weekends to accommodate the schedule shift, and they said yes.”
Someone suggests that both his character in Girls and in This Is Where I Leave You could be characterized as a------s. He begs to differ. “I love both of those people. (On both jobs) I couldn’t wait to show up to work. I don’t think anybody’s interested in playing characters that are well-fed and well-rested anyway.”
So what about those big-budget movies? Does acting school prepare you for them?
“It totally prepares you,” Driver says. “Watching J.J. Abrams and (writer) Larry Kasdan, what they’ve written, from the very beginning, it’s all about story and character. There’s loss and friendship and universal themes.”
Says Stoll: “Acting school taught me never to see myself as above the material. It can be easy to say it’s about the supernatural fantasy sort of world so I don’t need to take it as seriously. But I’ve had more conversations with Peyton Reed, the director of Ant-Man, about the script and about character than any independent movie I’ve ever done.”