Peter Bart: How Many Screen Vehicles Can Adam Driver Steer?

Adam Driver
Adam Driver in this year's "Marriage Story", left, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" and "The Report" Netflix/Disney/Amazon Studios

In case you haven’t noticed, Adam Driver delivered memorable performances this year as a newly divorced husband, a government whistleblower, a zombie fighter and a Star Wars warrior (in a Kylo Ren mask). I missed his Broadway opening (Burn This).

Indeed, at 36, Driver has appeared in 25 movies in the seven years since he first loomed tall as the befuddled lover on HBO’s Girls. Three of his movies are now in theaters, and he cleaned up this week at the Gotham Awards.

Driver clearly wins applause for versatility, but will he pay a price for ubiquity? “The great thing about acting is that you never figure anything out,” Driver told Rolling Stone.

Hollywood’s stars, and their agents, have struggled with this question for generations: At what point do actors become so overexposed that they are too familiar? Leonardo DiCaprio, a savvy star, shut down for a couple of years after The Revenant. Matt Damon got pretty quiet after his run of Bournes (he’s presently starring in Ford v Ferrari), and Eddie Murphy downright disappeared until this year’s Dolemite Is My Name.

George Clooney had a busy spurt in 2013-2015 (Monuments Men, Tomorrowland, Gravity), then went quiet. “Have you seen too much of me lately?” he wryly asked me one day at a screening (his smart revival of Catch-22 was on Hulu this year).

“I periodically warned my clients about overexposure,” Sue Mengers, the great agent, once told me. “Of course, I’d only told them that when I couldn’t get them work.”

Tom Hanks in 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures

The issue of over-familiarity presented itself anew in reviews of the new Tom Hanks movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in which he’s cast (or maybe miscast) as the ever-friendly Mister Rogers. A.O. Scott of the New York Times apparently has seen so many Hanks movies and interviews that he’s convinced Hanks’ presence is not believable as the shy, soft-spoken children’s TV host.

“Hanks is a natural extrovert, as friendly as a Labrador retriever,” Scott wrote. In his view, that’s not Mister Rogers.

Arguably, when critics believe they know stars better than their directors, problems ensue. Hanks has been a busy actor, but also a superbly re-invented one. Critics used to complain he played a predictable party dude in movies like Bachelor Party or That Thing You Do! (which he also directed). But when Hanks tried his hand at “serious” material like Bonfire of the Vanities, he  “lacked enough toxic spirit,” according to the Times review.

Seeking to become both a toxic dude and a party dude, Hanks switched agents as well as roles. The “new” Hanks was in evidence in Philadelphia, Cast Away and Forrest Gump.

Bored with questions about his re-invention, Hanks prepared a “survival guide” to deal with the “celebrity mule train” (the interview circuit). His advice: “Prepare a list of obvious answers and keep saying them, over and over again,” he told Entertainment Weekly.

But just don’t do it so often you become ubiquitous.

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