For Minnie Driver, Acting Is a ‘Delicious Escape’

Photo: Mark Williams

Amelia Fiona Jessica — a.k.a. Minnie — Driver is perhaps best known for her breakout role in Good Will Hunting (1997), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Since then, she’s acted in dozens of films and TV series, including a starring role in the ABC sitcom Speechless and an Emmy- and Golden Globe–nominated one in The Riches; as a singer, she’s released three albums; and earlier this year, she started her own interview-based podcast, Minnie Questions. Now Driver, 52, is also an author, having just released a memoir in essays, Managing Expectations (May 3).

The Cut talked to Driver, who splits her time between London and L.A., about this new collection, which explores the “delicious escape” of acting, and how she forged her own path in Hollywood.

Why “Managing Expectations”? 

“Expectations” is a really dangerous word. My mother always would say that the word should be buried in a hole in the back garden. It’s impossible, in a way, the expectations that other people have of us, and that we have of ourselves. They’re often based on the most bananas narratives. The expectation that you’re going to be able to make a living, that you’ll be able to keep doing that, that you’ll be a good lover and partner to your spouse, a good mother. It’s a weight that we put on ourselves. Nonetheless, we do it.

The title came from, Well, if these awful things are going to be here, I have to figure out how to manage them.

What, for you, has been a really difficult expectation?

The expectation of maintaining a career over 30 years — it’s astonishing, given the awfulness of my business, where youth is a premium. The expectation that one can carry on getting work, it’s like you’re expecting to keep winning the lottery over and over. I’ve been sitting here this morning thinking, Oh my God, I’m never going to work again! My son and my boyfriend rolled their eyes and left the house because they were so annoyed by it.

From the outside, you just see when it does work out. But so much of being an actor is things not working out. It’s 99 percent rejection, and the other one percent is what you see on the screen. But once you start attaching things to that — like a mortgage, a beautiful child, food on the table, people depending on you — the idea that something as ephemeral as continuing to be chosen for this talent show, and that’s what’s supporting you financially … it becomes more and more insane as you get older. It doesn’t feel safe. It becomes, “Why didn’t I get a master’s and teach at a nice university?”

You write that from an early age, you wanted to “pretend to be somebody else.” Is this still what inspires you in your acting career?

I can only speak for myself, but I have noticed it in other actors I’ve known — there’s a fundamental schism that exists in someone who is interested in exploring other people as a job. There has to be a certain amount of discomfort with who you are in order to want to go and be all these other people. And there’s freedom in being other people — being people who are terrible, who are more mentally stable, who are more beautiful, who are uglier, who are more interesting, more timid.

By pretending to be other people, in a way, it puts off the work you need to do on yourself as a human. But the weird thing is, if you allow yourself to be humbled by it, and not become entitled by the fame, it’s actually the way that you do learn about yourself. It’s extraordinarily revealing. It’s a delicious escape, and a way into something a bit deeper.

How has your relationship with the media evolved over your career?

I would be parsed by them … “she only eats a salad for lunch.” Which, within it, somehow has the inference that somehow I am anorexic, and I have an eating disorder, because that’s a more interesting narrative. Parts of you would be taken and threaded into a narrative that would then become truth. And that stayed — before the advent of social media, where there was absolutely no recourse — the way the media presented you was the truth. And the disempowering feeling around that, particularly as a woman, was often egregious. And yet I was told, time and time again: “This is the deal that you made.”

Tell me about hearing from a producer for Good Will Hunting that you weren’t “hot enough” for the role. 

When a producer — a man or woman or nonbinary person — distills an actor down to what they perceive as their sexiness, it’s so dismissive of that person. And by the way, that is something that has not changed — there are still just times when people are like “she’s too old” or “she’s too tall.” I’ve always thought about how things get distilled. There’s this notion of one part of you being “the thing” that will block all these other aspects of who you are. That’s a huge frustration as an actor.

I certainly had insecurities growing up. That I was not gorgeous. I was not super pretty. The idea that that was the currency I was then meant to pursue, and I was meant to try and find ways of making myself prettier. I thank God that I didn’t do a ton of stuff that I could have then gone and done … It could have been way more damaging than it was. I had such a lovely family going, “Fuck that. You’re gorgeous on all these levels. And if one person doesn’t think that you’re pretty enough, fuck it.”

It was devastating. To be told at 26 that you’re not sexy when you maybe just got over all your teenage angst, and started to think, you know, Maybe in the right light and the right shoes and the right dress, I’m all right.

You had a relationship with Matt Damon, your co-star in Good Will Hunting, that generated a lot of headlines. You’ve said before that it was mischaracterized. What was the truth of that, for you?

Here’s this bumbling human, trying to do this thing. And suddenly this exterior thing starts happening, which is fame, paparazzi. Young people are so ill-equipped to deal with these things, which snowball: falling madly in love and then breaking up with someone.

When you break up with someone, the best thing that you can do is not see them. But when you break up with someone who themselves has just become famous, it is unavoidable that you will see them everywhere. And it is a particular kind of torture.

My best friend, Alex, was the most hilarious person to go through that with. She was like, “Oh my God, there’s another billboard — don’t go out there before you’ve had coffee with rum in it!” God, what a fucking nightmare! But also it will always be this lovely, beautiful romance. And that’s what never really got reported in the press.

Don’t get me wrong, there was drama. But there was also my dad holding my hand at the Oscars, just being like, “What an extraordinary moment!” And “I’m not going to let you miss this, I’m going to pinch you and make you keep remembering that this might never happen again.”

In the book you recount how, once, during an audition for a chocolate commercial, the director asked you to act like you were having an orgasm, and you walked out. How do you decide where to draw the line? And how do those decisions affect your career?

There was so much that I never questioned, because I thought that this is just how it is. I, along with everybody else, at the beginning of Me Too and Time’s Up, realized just how much had been appalling that I sanctioned for myself, and that other people would sanction. Now, I’m trustful that there are mechanisms that prevent what is essentially a form of abuse. I was sitting in a room with, conservatively, 20 men and no women, on a stool (as was every woman who came through there), pretending to have an orgasm … a small one, and then a big one. I don’t think I would be put in that position today.

I’ve been making a lot of films with young actors. I see how different things are, and also how much it is the same. It is so much about developing your own voice in order to have a conversation about how you’d like things to be handled differently on a set, for example, or with publicity. Women still have to make sure that their voices are quieter and less emotional than the boys. I hope that evolves.

For Minnie Driver, Acting Is a ‘Delicious Escape’