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Minnie Driver Receives Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award

Minnie Driver slowly removed her sunglasses at the Cinequest press conference, and quietly said, “I don’t want to force my bloodshot eyes on you.”
She had worked until 3:30 a.m. before traveling to San Jose to receive the Maverick Spirit Award at an event scheduled later in the afternoon. “I’m really happy to be here. Exhausted but happy,” stated the London-born actor.

When asked if she considered herself a maverick, Driver thoughtfully replied, “I don’t lie in bed going, hmmm, I’m a maverick, somewhat of a pioneer.”

But the talented actor and singer-songwriter acknowledged she does not fit a particular mold, noting that Hollywood frowns on Renaissance individuals who excel in multiple areas. Driver addressed how her creativity informs all her interests: “All my acting, my writing, my singing, my cooking, my surfing, my yoga comes from the same place.” She also serves as the spokesperson for Oxfam (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief).

After studying at the renowned Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Driver worked in local television and theater before making her feature film debut in Pat O’Connor’s CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (1995). Memorable roles followed in Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s BIG NIGHT (1996) and Barry Levinson’s SLEEPERS (1996). She referred to George Armitage’s GROSSE POINT BLANK (1997) with John Cusack as her favorite, “an amazing, improvisational experience.” Driver’s breakout performance in Gus Van Sant’s GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) earned her Oscar and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Best Supporting Actress. She has been heard but not seen in animated films such as TARZAN, the English-language version of Hayao Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE, and currently is lending her voice to David Silverman’s THE SIMPSONS MOVIE.

“It’s great! You don’t have to wear make-up or anything,” Driver said about working in animated features. “You’re really only relying on your voice, on one aspect of what you do. It cuts away all the fat and gets right to the meat of it.”

When asked “What drives the Driver?” she answered, “I played music my whole life and I was a singer before I was an actor.” Her first album, Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket, was released in 2004 and her second will be released this summer. When praised for her singing in Joel Schumacher’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Driver whispered, “Don’t tell anyone. It’s not me singing. I’m not a bel canto soprano.”

Driver also admitted that she made up the accent of opera diva Carlotta in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Her mother speaks five or six languages, and Driver compared speech to music, saying, “It’s musical, and I love listening to people speak. An accent finds a character for me. Everything is an accent to me in America.”

Meryl Streep’s performance in Michael Cimino’s THE DEER HUNTER and Angelica Huston—whom Driver described as “vibrant, connected and great in Hollywood”—have been sources of inspiration. But she credits her family and friends as her greatest mentors.

“My dad always said, never make a movie that you wouldn’t pay $10 to see—but back then he said $5.50,” Driver joked. “I’ve never actively pursued keeping my name in the spotlight. You just have to look for good work.”

Later in conversation at the California Theatre, Cinequest co-founder Kathleen Powell and the audience posed more questions.

Q: What do you most look for in a character?
Driver: It really has to be on the page. It’s the breadth of interest, the flaws and the fascinations. It has to speak truthfully.

Q: What do you bring as an artist?
Driver: Your imagination and your willingness to look stupid and your preparation. Acting is truthful playfulness.

Q: What was your most challenging role?
Driver: THE GOVERNESS. The character was so complex, and she was so young. I’d never done a love scene before, which was really weird. I don’t recommend it.

Q: Do your characters stay with you?
Driver: No, I think parts of me stay with the characters. It’s therapy. I wouldn’t take characters with me, because there’s not enough room. In Hollywood, you’d better have a real understanding of you.

Q: How do you prepare for a role?
Driver: Sometimes it's physical stuff like gaining or losing weight. I mostly read the script and ring the writer up a lot. You invent the stuff that you don’t know. You imagine it. Much of it is very instinctual. I don’t have a method, really. My method is just to love the character.

Q: What do you look for in a director?
Driver: You do really want a captain of the ship, and someone sure of the coordinates that we’ve set for this ship. Directors must help actors fit into their vision rather than force them. You need them as a third eye.

Q: How did the Oscar nomination for GOOD WILL HUNTING change your life?
Driver: People take you more seriously. It opened doors, and people will meet with you. And it can turn your head a bit. You’ve got to have good family and friends to bring you back to earth.

Q: What advice do you have for young actors?
Driver: Never do a film with “water” in the title. Ever.

Q: How would you like your career to be remembered?
Driver: I would hope people wouldn’t be able to pin it down. That it was varied.

Perhaps Driver best summed it up when she confidently proclaimed, “I think I’m more maverick than I ever was. It’s fun being maverick in your life.”
Susan Tavernetti

Photo credit: Craig vonWaaden

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