Diva or self-care icon? Adam Driver walkout prompts debate

Some say that Driver was simply practicing self-care and making his well-being a priority when he walked out of an interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air”; others argue he's not doing his job.
Image: The Stars And Filmmakers Of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker At The Global Press Conference
Adam Driver at a news conference for "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" on Dec. 4 in Pasadena, Calif.Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney

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By Gwen Aviles

The actor Adam Driver walked out of an interview with NPR's "Fresh Air" rather than listen to a clip of himself from a movie — prompting an online debate about whether the move was a display of self-care or of self-importance.

Driver was at NPR's offices in New York this month for an interview promoting his new Netflix movie, "Marriage Story," while the host Terry Gross led the conversation from the show's studio in Philadelphia. In the middle of the interview, Driver left after a clip was played of a scene from "Marriage Story" of him singing Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive," according to The Daily Beast, which first reported the walkout.

In a statement to Variety, Daniel Miller, the executive producer of "Fresh Air," said the show's team didn't "really understand why he left," adding that Driver had been a "great guest" when he first appeared on the show in 2015.

"We knew from our previous interview with Adam Driver that he does not enjoy listening back to clips of his movies (that isn't unusual, a lot of actors feel that way)," Miller said in the statement. "So Terry invited him to take off his headphones while we played back the 20-second clip, and that our engineer in New York would cue him to put his headphones back on after the clip ended (we also did this during our 2015 interview)."

After the clip played, however, Miller said he was informed by the engineer that Driver had left the building.

When the news first broke, many were quick to call Driver a diva and argue that he was not effectively doing the job of promoting his work.

"Star Wars star Adam Driver is such a diva!" celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton tweeted. "He didn’t have to storm off from this NPR radio interview!!"

Another person tweeted: "How do you get through years of embarrassing mask work at juilliard and yet be so precious you can't listen to yourself next to terry gross?!" (Driver graduated from The Julliard School in 2009.)

Others argued that doing press is part of Driver's job as an actor and that journalists are not required to let interviewees "dictate" the direction of their work.

"He doesn’t dictate how the intv goes, or what the audience should hear. It’s her program, which includes — hearing the actor, acting," the journalist Soledad O'Brien tweeted. "And he’s doing press around said acting. Take the headphones off and promote your movie."

Yet some say that Driver was simply practicing self-care and making his well-being a priority, with many pointing out that it seemed "strange" the program didn't opt to splice-in the recording in post-production given that Driver's refusal to watch himself has been documented.

"Good for adam driver. I also walked out on "fresh air" 20 years ago ... same with an onstage interview last year," activist and television personality Monica Lewinksy tweeted. "SELF-CARE IS ALWAYS AN OK CHOICE. especially if the interviewer has violated an agreement."

"Adam Driver respectfully declined to listened to himself act in his last interview with Terry Gross due to anxiety," LGBTQ activist Charlotte Clymer wrote in a series of tweets. "Mental health should be accommodated like any other disability."

Driver has been vocal about his aversion to watching or listening to himself perform in several past interviews, including the 2015 interview with "Fresh Air," during which he stated that he "always" hates his past performances upon playback and becomes fixated on his perceived mistakes.

"Then I wish I could change it, but you can't," Driver said at the time. "And I think I have, like, a tendency to try to make things better or drive myself and the other people around me crazy with the things I wanted to change or I wish I could change."

Driver also told The New Yorker earlier this year that he hid in a greenroom to avoid watching himself during a screening of Spike Lee's "Blackkklansman" and that he became nauseated during a premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

“I just went totally cold because I knew the scene was coming up where I had to kill Han Solo, and people were, like, hyperventilating when the title came up, and I felt like I had to puke,” Driver said.

Another person tweeted: "Let’s all follow the example set by #AdamDriver. When you set boundaries for your health — mental or physical — and someone violates those boundaries, walk away. Taking care of yourself is not immature or selfish. It’s top-tier self-care."

Driver, whose third and final "Star Wars" movie, "The Rise of Skywalker," opens worldwide on Friday, isn't the only actor who doesn't watch their own work. Maggie Smith, Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp are also uncomfortable watching their work and actively avoid doing so.

Dr. Jenny Williams, a New York-based psychotherapist and former actor who works with creative people, says actors face unique challenges and may have a difficult time grappling with fame, which is why it's important for them to find coping mechanisms to bolster their mental and emotional health.

"Adam Driver leaving the interview could be viewed as an act of self-care or protection," Williams told NBC News. "Many actors I've worked with avoid watching themselves because, to them, it's triggering. Because acting is a precarious business, there are so many factors out of an actor's control, but actors can manage triggers through avoidance and through focusing on their craft."

Though Driver has earned critical acclaim for his recent performance in "Marriage Story," garnering Golden Globe and SAG nominations for best actor, he has been subject to increased scrutiny in recent weeks. Last week, Driver was the subject of criticism after news circulated online that he enrolled in the Marine Corps when he was 18.

"You all have to remember that Adam Driver is an ex-Marine. In his many interviews he's mentioned what he experienced at Juilliard after he left the Marines," one person tweeted. "Respect people with anxiety because a lot of us have them."

Gross has been criticized in the past for her direct interview style when it comes to probing uncomfortable topics. Some questioned the way she interviewed Allie Brosh about suicide when the author was promoting her book "Hyperbole and a Half," as well as her recent interview with Lizzo, during which Gross questioned the rapper about her body.