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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Chatting with Actress and Singer Minnie Driver

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge Minnie Driver plays Feinstein’s at the Nikko Sep. 11-13. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FEINSTEIN’S AT THE NIKKO
  • Photo courtesy of Feinstein’s at the Nikko
  • Minnie Driver plays Feinstein’s at the Nikko Sep. 11-13.

When you think of Minnie Driver, you most likely think of her Oscar-nominated performance in Good Will Hunting, opposite Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Or maybe you contemplate her memorable turns in The Circle of Friends and Grosse Point Blank or even her hilarious cameo in GoldenEye, where she plays a lounge singer who can't sing. While the British actress — most recently seen on San Francisco-based sitcom About a Boy  is proud to have these iconic roles in her back pocket, she actually can sing and has proven it with three albums: Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket, Seastories and Ask Me to Dance. Driver will soon be demonstrating her singing chops with a three-night stint at Feinstein's at the Nikko. SF Weekly spoke to Driver about her upcoming shows, why she loves San Francisco, and what she really thinks about Damon and Affleck today.

What can you tell us about your upcoming Feinstein's at the Nikko shows?

The last record, Ask Me to Dance, was a collection of covers from meaningful moments in my life. I tend to tell the stories of why I chose the songs in between the songs to give them context, because we were interested in making a record that wasn't karaoke, that was actually meaningful songs synthesized through our band. So it's pretty cool. We usually switch it up with the material I wrote. But we'll play a lot from the album.

Your first night falls on Sep. 11. Will you be doing anything special to mark the 14th anniversary?

Ever since 2001, we've always tried to do something life-affirming on that date, my family and my group of friends, something that celebrates life, so I'm really glad that I'm playing music on that date. I feel that it's a way that we all connect with healing and also with celebrating, and it's a direct way for a lot of people for feelings. And it's really nice to be playing in San Francisco again. It's been ages.

Do you have a particular memory that still stands out from Sep. 11, 2001?

Only that I was in England, so it was 2 p.m. when the first plane hit. I was sitting at a restaurant with a friend of mine, and my brother, who worked for a news agency at the time, called me probably 30 seconds after he saw the satellite feeds. I remember saying it out loud at the restaurant and then there was a moment of silence and then everyone went back to eating. It wasn't real yet, because I was in England, and then of course it was. It will never cease to be a defining moment in all of our lives. It's interesting when you see what's going on in the world. I don't know how far we've come from that in terms of dealing with terrorism. Maybe it's made our community stronger or made us be nicer human beings or kinder to each other. 

Yeah, chance would be a fine thing. When you released your debut album, Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket, I was delighted by your voice and your songwriting abilities.

I really love doing it. In a way, I think it's much harder to be accepted as a singer-songwriter. I was asked a few times by major labels to sign deals, but I wasn't going to be able to write any of my material. You're forced to be fashioned as they see fit rather than allowed to be a singer-songwriter, so my singing remains on a much smaller level. There are tons of people who still don't know that I sing and write, but it's such a big part of who I am as a person. Anyone who knows me thinks of me far more as a musician than as an actor, weirdly. 

Since you started as a musician and only later dived into acting, how was it that your acting career took off first?

The band I was in had split up, but I was really about to sign another deal with EMI at the time, actually, which was the year after I made The Circle of Friends. I wasn't trying to get acting gigs. I was focusing on music and playing out a lot. I had just taken these meetings in Los Angeles. I had no money, my agent paid for my ticket and came with me and there was no one who knew who I was or had any interest. I think it was because I wasn't desperate. It's like the date that you don't care about is the one that's dying to see you again.

Then the films blew up and some sane adult said, 'You should really go with the flow of what's happening. You know you should go down the path of least resistance. Don't just dig your feet in and say you've got to do this, because you'll always do this anyway.' And they were right, because I never stopped playing music. It's just that my job became something else. I really love acting, it's fun and great and awesome, and I've made a really good living at it for a long time, so it really worked out.

Although you've acted in many films since, you're still mostly associated with 1997's Good Will Hunting. Are you proud of that?

Yes. It's so hard to even have one film that people have liked in a career, much less one that's deemed a classic. That's pretty freaking amazing, I think. That is not something that's easily accomplished. When they have the 100 greatest movies of all time, our movie is always on that list. When you think how long they've been making films for, that's a pretty extraordinary accolade. I still think it's the best movie Matt Damon's ever made, and he's made some really good stuff, but I still think that's far and away the best. So for all of us, it's a beautiful moment.

Did you expect Damon and Affleck to end up blockbuster actors?

[Laughs] Yes, I did, because they wrote that movie because they wanted to be famous actors, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. They didn't want to be famous writers. They wanted to be famous actors, and that's exactly what they've become. But it never surprised me. They're extremely ambitious and very smart. And bar Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, I think they've made some really sane choices. They were ambitious and smart, so I didn't think they were gonna disappear anywhere.

So you didn't think that they sold out? 

It's such a funny thing, the notion of artistry and money and commerce and all of those things. Yeah, it's like artistry up to a point. If you're offered a shitload of money, it's hard to say no to. There are so few actors that when given half a chance wouldn't go and make these huge movies. If someone said, 'You could make really interesting lower budget movies that you'll have massive accolades for or you could do big blockbusters,' I'm sure they'd choose the latter.

I was offered a couple of blockbusters that I said no to. But now I sort of wish I'd said yes. I think, why was I fucking standing on my high horse of 'No, I'm not going to make Maid in Manhattan' or whatever it was. No, it was The Wedding Planner — that's what I turned down.

That's interesting. The role went from you to Jennifer Lopez.

Right. But at that time, I think I shouldn't have been so bloody snooty. I should have taken a few more of the big things that came my way. But it doesn't really matter.

That's hilarious. So the role went from the actor who can sing to the singer who can't act.

[Laughs] Talk about parlaying whatever it is you've got into something gigantic. But I would never want to live a life that much in the public eye and always have to think about what you look like and wear, but she's built for that. Amazing! Not my cup of tea, but amazing.

Speaking of being built, you have always appeared athletic, so I was surprised when you were recently trolled about your looks on Twitter.

I think it was one of those things where someone said something, and my mistake was reacting to it. If I had just let it slide, then the press wouldn't have made it a story. So I learned a good lesson. I have a lovely body. It's great and healthy and athletic, but I just got into it with some troll who called me old and out of shape. But I learned from it. You just do what your mom always said and ignore it. You don't sink to their level, but you carry on being happy.

You were able to take a piss of yourself in one very memorable AbFab episode in 2003.

We laughed a lot doing that. It was the idea of how far are you willing to make fun of yourself, and I said there really isn't a limit. We were talking about the worst things you could do, and so we thought about Winona Ryder and the ignominy of shoplifting and getting caught like a thief, and just how awful and tawdry that would be if the revelation was that I was from Indiana and a klepto, and they said, 'Let's do all of that.' When you read so much that isn't true about you, it seems kind of funny to just present it as if it's potentially true. It's another way of saying, 'Fuck all the stuff that gets written.' I can say that I'm just as bad as all of this, and maybe it's true, maybe it's not, but it's definitely funny. In England, no one minds if you take the piss out of yourself. It's really welcome.

Your last sitcom About a Boy was set in San Francisco. What does this city mean to you?

I almost moved to San Francisco about 10 years ago, because I genuinely love that city. I come up and go to the ballet, the opera, the symphony and the theater. It's a diverse city. It's still divided, but I feel like there is a much more genuine feeling of community up there.

Working on About a Boy was lovely. Creator Jason Katims was from the Bay Area and always wanted to set the show there. I loved it. I loved playing a crunchy English hippie who found my way to San Francisco. She never would have been able to afford that apartment, though. That was the only issue I had with it, but I'm glad she got to live in a beautiful Victorian two-bedroom house.


Minnie Driver, Sept. 11-13, at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason, 415-394-1111.
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