By his own admission, Adam Driver was way too young when he first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's musclebound military man fight an intergalactic hunter in John McTiernan's 1987 action classic, Predator. "Predator was part of my DNA when it shouldn't have been," the 39-year-old actor tells Yahoo Entertainment with a laugh. "The whole ending is a f***ing masterpiece! From the minute that he falls off the waterfall to the very end, [action movies] can't get better than that."
Fast-forward to 2023, and Driver is headlining his own version of a sci-fi survival action movie, 65. Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods — the duo who dreamed up A Quiet Place — the Sam Raimi-produced yarn follows Driver's alien pilot, Mills, whose spacecraft crashes down on a prehistoric Earth. With all of the ship's cryogenically-frozen passengers dead, Mills has to make it off-planet before he's eaten by hungry dinosaurs or obliterated by a climate-altering comet. The high-concept combo of forest-based set-pieces, giant reptiles and a well-armed leading man makes 65 play like a cross between First Blood, Land of the Lost and, of course, Predator. Not that Driver would ever dream of comparing himself to a genre icon like Ah-nuld.
"That's a massive compliment, but I think we're in totally different categories," he says modestly when the names of Stallone and Schwarzenegger are invoked in relation to his own action hero turn. "I wasn't thinking like, 'This is where I walk on set and just crush protein bars and intimidate people.' It was more exciting for me that this movie did have big set-pieces and laser guns, but my character's anger and aggression is coming from a place of real pain. That grounded the character for me."
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The directors, on the other hand, have no qualms about labeling Driver as one of Hollywood's last real action heroes. "Adam might as well be Tom Cruise for us," says Woods. "He is a great action actor. He does all of his own stunts, and he loves incorporating stunt work into the physicality of what the role demands as part of the character's arc."
Beck adds that Driver's 65 character was equally inspired by Sigourney Weaver's pioneering turn as Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise — particularly in James Cameron's Aliens, which hit theaters at the peak of Schwarzenegger and Stallone's ’80s run. Much like Ripley in that 1986 film, it's revealed that Mills is facing a future without his beloved daughter, whose illness might kill her before he returns with the funds to pay for much-needed medical care.
"There was this quiet nuance that Sigourney was able to funnel through amidst the Stallones [of that time]," the director explains. "We had that in the back our minds in terms of writing Mills. He has to play somebody who can take care of business and go toe-to-toe with these dinosaurs, but he's also grappling with grief and loss. We wanted both of those aspects to be present in his journey, and see him evolve as he's trying to survive against this landscape." Beck and Woods even gifted Mills with his own Newt. It turns out that a young girl, Koa (Araina Greenblatt), survived the crash and follows the pilot on his perilous jungle run.
If Predator reflects the kinds of action heroes Driver rooted for growing up, 65 reveals the action hero he hopes to be himself. "When you get older, a whole different world of movies comes into your diet, and what I love about a movie like this is the diversity and the scale," he notes. "This movie doesn't let the spectacle get in the way of the characters. They're not ciphers of human beings — they're hopefully nuanced people that you're rooting for."
Driver's attitude about heroism went through a pronounced shift after his pre-Hollywood stint in the military. The San Diego-born actor enlisted in the Marines in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and served for two years before receiving a medical discharge after a serious mountain biking injury. To this day, he continues to support military causes, and founded the non-profit group, Arts in the Armed Forces, in 2006. (The organization dissolved in February.)
Prior to enlisting, Driver's perception of the military was largely shaped by hyper-masculine action heroes like Schwarzenegger's Predator character. But when he became a Marine himself, he discovered the image of the purely "aggressive" and emotionless soldier is largely inaccurate. "Even the toughest guy, when you really come down to it, can be emotionally available," he says. "The stereotype is that [soldiers] are inaccessible and that's total myth."
During his time as a Marine, Driver also came to understand that the men and women serving in the military are, at heart, just people — something he says that civilians don't always understand. "They've decided to do this heroic thing that they would not view as that," he explains. "They have the same exact problems [as everyone else], they're just people in this extraordinary circumstance."
"I feel like civilians tend to look at them as these uber-disciplined types, and there's that element, but they're also capable of more emotion than that," Driver continues. "That's why it's even more important for there to be spaces for people post-deployment. We live in an acronym-heavy world, but they are people like anyone else who have chosen to do this extraordinary job, and it's hard for people to not look at them as a stereotype."
65 is playing in theaters now