When Marriage Story star Adam Driver walked out of an interview when asked to listen back to his performance, he became the subject of much online criticism. But, as celebrities including Jameela Jamil and Matt Haig have pointed out, our reaction to Driver’s actions reveals a problem with how we interpret public displays of anxiety.
Adam Driver is all over the news at the moment thanks to his starring role in Marriage Story, a comedy-drama film which recently landed on Netflix. The film, which sees Driver star alongside Scarlett Johansson, follows the story of a married couple going through a long-distance divorce. In one particular scene, Driver sings a rendition of Steven Sondheim’s Being Alive – and it’s quickly become a favourite of those who watch the movie.
So much so, in fact, that in a recent interview Driver did with NPR show Fresh Air, host Terry Gross went to play the clip of the star singing the song from the film. The only problem? Driver famously does not like watching any of his work back because it makes him feel anxious. And, despite the fact that he expressed displeasure at the prospect of Gross playing the clip, she went and did it anyway, leaving Driver to walk out of the room instead.
Since then, Driver has received a considerable amount of backlash for this decision to leave the interview (Piers Morgan has, unsurprisingly, thrown his hat in the ring). However, many have since defended Driver’s response, with The Good Place actor Jameela Jamil nailing the real problem with people dismissing Driver’s discomfort and anxiety.
“Seeing so many snide tweets about this,” she wrote. “If the man has anxiety or a phobia then let him do whatever he needs to do. Being a famous actor doesn’t mean you don’t have mental health needs just like everyone else. He wasn’t rude to anyone, he was just anxious.”
Author and mental health advocate Matt Haig agreed, confronting responses which had touted Driver’s actions “rude”.
“The lame coverage of Adam Driver ‘storming out’ of a radio show shows the amount of stigma that is still there around anxiety,” he wrote. “I can remember similar shaming coverage of Stephen Fry’s stage fright two decades ago. We haven’t come far.”
He continued: “Anxiety is not rudeness. Acting to prevent anxiety is not rudeness. Let people think you are rude, if they must. But don’t make your health worse to appease ignorant people.”
The thing is, Driver has repeatedly shared how listening back to his old performances makes him uncomfortable, including in a 2015 interview with Terry Gross where he detailed the effect reviewing his work has on his wellbeing – so why is it so hard for people to understand that?
“I’ve watched myself or listened to myself before, then always hate it,” he told the host. “And then wish I could change it, but you can’t. 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.”
If there’s one encouraging thing about this whole situation, it’s the number of people who came to Driver’s defence – and shared their empathy with his situation.
“Y’all need to leave Adam Driver alone. He experienced some mental discomfort during an interview and removed himself from the situation,” read one response. “He took care of himself in that moment. He didn’t insult or offend or hut anyone. We shouldn’t stigmatize mental health like this.”
“Re Adam Driver and Fresh Air,” began another. “You know what the least interesting thing in the world is? Your opinion about the validity of someone else’s anxiety.”
It may be difficult for people who have never dealt with anxiety to understand, but the mental health condition manifests in many different forms – and it’s important we understand that all types of anxiety are valid and respect how people deal with them.
“Anxiety is an often oversimplified and misunderstood mental health condition and as Adam Driver’s reaction shows it can often rears its ugly head in many different forms,” explains Jo Love, a mental health advocate and director of the Speakers Collective. “Being unable to listen to one’s own voice may seem trivial and hard to comprehend to most, but anxiety and perfectionism often go hand in hand.
“Adam’s reluctance to listen to his work is his perfectionism focusing solely on his flaws and he expresses a burning desire to “change it” but since he can’t it results in crippling anxiety.
“It can be enormously difficult for those who haven’t experienced this to understand or sympathise, as perfectionists such as Adam often appear to have it together on the surface, but underneath the thin veneer of perfection lies deep turmoil that may both drive and result from the pursuit of perfection. Perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect.”
If Driver’s situation proves anything, it’s the need for us to work on our ability to accept that anyone of any position, gender, race or ability can deal with mental health conditions – and accept that that’s okay. At the end of the day, we’re all human – and as Christmas approaches, it’s a good time to remember that.