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The film, set in the 17th century, follows two Jesuit priests from Portugal on an arduous journey to and through Japan in search of a missing mentor rumoured to have repudiated his faith under fierce pressure from anti-Christian government authorities.
Scorsese has been trying to make the movie for almost 20 years. Now he has the financing. And his cast is coming together: Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira, the vanished possible apostate; Andrew Garfield as one of the two young clerics, Sebastiao Rodrigues.
And Driver, perhaps, for the other priest, Francisco Garrpe?
“And we talked about Silence a little bit,” Driver said. “He told me about his relationship with the project and asked what did I get out of the script. And the theme, the anguish of faith, is something that I understood.
“I was raised in a religious household, as Baptists” — Driver’s father and stepfather were ministers — “so I understood the concept of guilt. Not that you have to be raised around religion to understand guilt. But I understood the themes and the story, but also definitely thought of it as a metaphor towards any kind of faith, towards any relationship, or anything that you’ve committed your life to.
“At the end of the evening, I didn’t know if I had the job. I thought it was just a meeting. But then he said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I do.’ And that was kind of it.”
“Meeting her was also surreal because she’s a legend,” Driver said. And then he walked home: downtown, across the Brooklyn Bridge, to the apartment he shared with his wife, Joanne Tucker, whom he met when both were in the theatre program at Juilliard.
A year and a few weeks ago, the Indiana-raised kid who enlisted in the Marines after high school and then got accepted into Juilliard to study theatre showed up as one of the principal players in a little release called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Driver will be back as Kylo Ren, son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, grandson of Darth Vader, in December 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII. His turn in Scorsese’s epic Silence has garnered raves. His quiet and shambling collaboration with Jim Jarmusch, Paterson — about a bus driver in Paterson, N.J., whose name is Paterson and whose quiet passion for poetry fills his soul — is a gem.
One of the toughest scenes for the actor to do was one in which he and Garfield are huddled against a sea cliff, hiding in fear, watching as three Japanese converts to Christianity are strapped to crosses as the waves of a rough ocean lap up and over them, leaving them to drown.
“They are getting crucified, and Andrew and I are sitting watching from a ledge,” Driver said. “It was hard to control the emotion of it. It was beautiful, tragic, sweeping — my language is sentimental — but it was at the same time heroic, the story, but also enraging.
“There was just a lot of my own relationship to religion (in there) and how sometimes I feel like it dilutes issues and sometimes it empowers communities of people to put good into the world. And at the same time, just because no one has the patience to understand a culture and would rather meet it with judgment as opposed to interest and curiosity, there were a lot of complicated feelings going on at the time. Plus, we were just really hungry and emotions were high.
“That was the scene where I thought I was on the verge almost of losing control.”
Did Scorsese let drop the names of some of the other actors he had considered for Silence if he had been able to make it 20 years ago, or 15 years ago? Javier Bardem, Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio Del Toro were actors whose participation had been reported way back when. What about Scorsese’s go-to, Harvey Keitel, or Robert De Niro, even?
“Oh no, we never asked,” Driver said with a laugh. “Probably because I’d be like, ‘Well, if he thinks about those other people, I’m out of a job.’ Yeah, right. ‘They would have been great. You, on the other hand . . . ’ ”