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Adam Driver fills big screen in Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

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Adam Driver lost a lot of weight to play a priest in “Silence,” a 17th century-set drama by Martin Scorsese. (Courtesy Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures)

Though Adam Driver is best known for his roles in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and on TV’s “Girls,” the fast-rising actor also has in powerful roles in two of 2016’s very best films: Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” which open Friday.

“They’re very different things,” says Driver, during a recent phone interview. “The physical boundaries are different. Their physical life and what they do with it is different.”

His poet-bus driver in “Paterson” lives in a “well-worn groove,” while the spiritual journey of “Silence” was more complex.

It sounds serious. But the phone call drops, and when Driver returns, asking where the conversation left off, he follows with a flustered exhale, then laughter, saying, “It’s hard to listen to myself talk about this stuff. That’s some pretentious actory stuff!”

He settles in talking about director Scorsese, who, after having made “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “GoodFellas” and other American classics, might be an intimidating presence.

“I would have been fine with complete dictatorship,” Driver says, “but he’s very good at demystifying himself, and whatever idea you have of him.”

“He wants to hear your ideas, wants you to surprise him,” he continues. “Also he’s discovering it for the first time himself. He doesn’t come in with the right answer.”

In “Silence,” which is based on a novel by Shusaku Endo, Driver plays one of two 17th century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield is the other), who travels to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). There, Catholicism has been outlawed, and the pair find themselves struggling to spread their faith while facing persecution.

Driver, who was raised in a religious environment, found doubt to be the key to his character.

“You never figure it out,” he says. “Regardless of where you are in your life, you never have the right answer. It’s a constant re-examining. It’s liberating, but also terrifying. What this movie kind of says is that it’s fine if there’s a little forgiveness.”

Driver, who served as a U.S. Marine until an injury to his sternum earned him a medical discharge, was asked to lose weight for his part; in the movie he appears emaciated and exhausted.

“It forces you to be economical with your energy,” he says. “When you do eat or drink coffee, you have energy for your scenes, but because you’re so tired, you just have energy to listen. It’s a great place to be in. I imagine it would be difficult to play a 17th century Jesuit priest well-fed and well-rested.”

Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issey Ogata
Written by Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Rated R
Running time 2 hours, 41 minutes

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