If you go to the movies, this United States Marine veteran’s face is probably a familiar one. Recently, he appeared in the most popular film franchise in all the world, playing one of the most iconic villains in bad guy history.
His name is Adam Driver.
To active and former service members, however, his profile isn’t all that’s relatable. His story is too.
Because it’s an incredible adventure from being on the brink of deployment, to a broken back, to being broke then, to pursuing his ultimate dream. And actually realizing it.
This is how he starts off telling it (the rest of the TED Talk follows the text):
I was a Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company, 81mm Platoon out in Camp Pendleton, California. I joined a few months after September 11 feeling like most people in the country did at the time, filled with a sense of patriotism, and retribution, and the desire to do something — that coupled with the fact that I wasn’t doing anything. I was 17, just graduated from high school that past summer living in the back of my parents’ house paying rent in the small town I was raised in northern Indiana called Mishiwaka. I could spell that later for people who are interested. Mishiwaka is many good things but cultural hub of the world, it is not. So my only exposure to theater and film was limited to the plays I did in high school and Blockbuster Video, may she rest in peace. I was serious enough about acting that I auditioned for Juilliard when I was a senior in high school, didn’t get in, determined college wasn’t for me and applied nowhere else. Which is a genius move. I also did that ‘Hail Mary’ LA acting odyssey that I always heard about of actors moving to LA with like seven dollars and finding work and successful careers. I got as far as far as Amarillo, Texas, before my car broke down. Spent all my money repairing it. Finally made it to Santa Monica, not even LA, stayed for 48 hours wandering the beach, basically, got in my car and drove home, thus ending my acting career.
So. 17. Mishiwaka. Parents house. Paying rent. Selling vacuums. Telemarketing. Cutting grass at the local forage fairgrounds — this was my world going into September, 2001. So after the 11th, and feeling an overwhelming sense of duty, and just being pissed off in general at myself, my parents, the government, you know, not having confidence, not having a respectable job … my sh*tty mini fridge that I just drove to California and back. I joined the Marine Corps and I loved it.
I loved being a Marine. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of having done in my life.
Firing weapons was cool. Driving and detonating expensive things was great. But I found I loved the Marine Corps the most for the thing I was looking for the least when I joined, which was the people. These weird dudes. Motley crew of characters from a cross-section of the United States that on the surface I had nothing in common with. And, over time, all the political and personal bravado that lead me to the military dissolved, and for me the Marine Corps became synonymous with my friends. And then a few years into my service, and months away from deploying to Iraq I dislocated my sternum in a mountain biking accident, and had to be medically separated. And for those who were never in the military might find this hard to understand but then being told I wasn’t going to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan was very devastating for me.
It’s a very clear image of leaving the base hospital, on a stretcher and my entire platoon was waiting outside to see if I was okay.
And then suddenly I was a civilian again. I knew I wanted to give acting another shot. Because, again this is me, I thought all civilian problems are small compared to the military, I mean what can you really bitch about now? It’s hot. Someone should turn on the air conditioner. You know, ‘this coffee line is too long.’ I was a Marine. I knew how to survive, I would go to New York, become an actor and if things didn’t work out I’d live in Central Park and Dumpster-dive behind Panera Bread.
The entire conversation, here: