By Hannah Stephenson, PA
Minnie Driver, award-winning actress, mother, singer, podcaster and now author, is contemplating the fear she still harbours about securing the next job.
While Driver – who rose to fame in Nineties movies Circle Of Friends and Good Will Hunting – has lived in California for 26 years, dividing her time between her luxurious trailer home in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a pad in London, she still fosters those classic insecurities.
“But then I stood on the beach a couple of weeks ago, with a guy who’s got two Oscars who was saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if I take time off, I’m worried I’m not going to get a job’. So I know this is endemic to actors,” she says. “You think you’re never going to work again. And you have to hustle – well, I do, anyway.”
London-born Driver, 52, has found other strings to her bow. She has a podcast, Minnie Questions, interviewing famous names including Jeremy Clarkson and Tony Blair, and has now written her first book, Managing Expectations – a cracking memoir written as a collection of essays, full of laugh-out-loud happenings, acerbic observations and one heart-breaking story at the end.
Her career has not always been on an upward trajectory, the actress muses from her London home, where she is dressed down in a white T-shirt, minimal make-up and serious glasses.
After her first successful movie in 1995, Circle Of Friends, for instance, she hoped it would lead to a string of film roles, only to find herself having to do ads for dog food and deodorant to keep the wolf from the door. Faking an orgasm in a chocolate ad audition was not a high point in her career, she recalls. (And she didn’t get the job.)
She acknowledges there were times when she was considered difficult, saying no to doing something (doing a retake of the fake orgasm, for example).
“You speak up – they won’t hire you. You don’t speak up – you actually feel the good part of you begin to erode,” she writes.
Her resilience, though, is likely to have been strengthened by her unconventional childhood. She and her sister Kate were the product of an affair between her mother, fabric designer and couture model Gaynor Churchward and her father, businessman Ronnie Driver, who was already married to another woman with whom he had another child.
“They ran it differently in the old days of mistresses, wives and other families,” Driver recalls. “Looking at it now, it feels pretty unbelievable but when you’re a child, it’s just your story. You don’t know any different.”
After 16 years in the relationship, Driver’s mother, Gaynor, left – at the time a judge decreed that to retain custody of her girls she needed to be married, so she found a man and did just that. Moving to a tiny cottage in Hampshire, Minnie, then six, was hostile to her stepfather, who she blamed for the upheaval.
“I have vivid memories from two-years old to six, when my parents split, then post that it was very difficult to move from London and Barbados (where her father had a house) to this tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere, with a stranger who walked into the landscape, my mother’s new husband. We must have been reeling for a long time but as a child you don’t question it. You just got on with it.”
In one essay, she recalls being so vile to her father’s new girlfriend at his house in Barbados that he sent the 11-year-old Minnie home early, with a stopover in Miami, where she wandered aimlessly around a swanky hotel alone, adults wondering what she was doing there minus parents, before catching the connecting flight.
These experiences probably made Driver more resilient, she agrees.
“I look at the trajectory of my life and there might have been some emotional moments of being a bit unbalanced but I didn’t end up with serious mental health issues, with an eating disorder, having to take any prolonged medication. I definitely was made stronger by all of the experiences.
“I managed to build a life 7,000 miles away from a family that I actually really like on my own. It turned me into a pioneer of my own life.”
It is this feisty, determined side of Driver which resonates in the book in so many of her stories, any sense of self-pity soon swiped away by her stoic, positive mother who wouldn’t tolerate complaints about life being unfair.
Her relationship with Good Will Hunting star Matt Damon became tabloid fodder – particularly when Damon infamously announced on Oprah that he was single, before Driver knew things were over. She notes that her Oscar nomination was robbed of its joy because of her co-star, who arrived at the event with his new girlfriend.
Today, she holds no hard feelings and says she would love to interview Damon on her podcast. “I love him. He was a huge inflection point in my life, that film was a huge inflection point in my life and full of so much more than the drama of the way it ended.
“Now, when I run into Matt, I’m always very happy to see him. We shared a moment in time.”
Her 13-year-old son, Henry, from a previous brief relationship, remains her number one priority. He wanted to go to school in England and loves the cold, the damp and the humour, she explains. Hence her frequency in London.
But she looks back on that fame spotlight and reflects: “I don’t think I’m very good at being famous.
“But being an actor and being able to go and make films or TV shows that I love, fame has settled down to this manageable place. I’m well known but not to the level that I can’t go to Waitrose and do my shopping.”
Her mother felt one should never wallow when things don’t work out, and shake off any hardship before getting up and back into life – which makes the final chapter of the book so heart-wrenching, as news of her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer left Driver literally on her knees in front of her supermarket shopping trolley.
I just finished the chapter “Daffodils” of @driverminnie ‘s book. 😢 I only knew her mother Gaynor through instagram comments and messages we shared, and she was lovely, sweet, thoughtful, with a great sense of humour. Here she is, wearing a shawl I made her. pic.twitter.com/AiXe8iJ3Qf
— Mona Schmidt (@mona_schmidt) May 13, 2022
“Mum died in the middle of writing the book,” Driver recalls, tears not far from the surface. “It really derailed the book. When she died, all I could write about was her dying, which wasn’t fit for public consumption. But I wrote my way out of it until I felt I’d got the story out.
“My lovely partner (American documentary filmmaker Addison O’Dea) said, ‘Why don’t you write something fun and wonderful, a palette cleanser, because that’s what Gaynor would have told you to do’.
“It’s utterly bewildering to be in the world without your mum,” she continues, “and I wonder if I will ever get used to it, because I’m not the same person since she died.
“I do not look at life the same way. I feel different about living, having watched her die in an incredibly galvanising way. My heart will always be broken but she always said a broken heart lets in more light, so you have to use it.”
O’Dea, who she has been with for four years, has clearly been a beacon of light. They met at a party and later he helped her during the California fires, which threatened to raze her little town to the ground.
Together, they delivered gasoline and other provisions by boat to the small community on the Pacific coastline – with coastguards in pursuit. Her home was saved, thanks to the vigilance of her neighbours, she reflects.
While Driver and O’Dea have no plans right now to tie the knot, she says: “He’s more of a husband than any man I’ve ever been with. He’s such a wonderful person, clever and kind, an amazing stepfather figure for my son, a really interesting, good person.”
She surfs and swims in the Pacific Ocean most days when she’s in Malibu, and says the location and the people in her community are the reason she has felt able to stay in Hollywood.
“I stay because of my connection with the ocean, to nature and to being outside,” says Driver. “It’s the place where I feel peace.”
Managing Expectations by Minnie Driver is published by Manilla Press. Available now.