Minnie Driver on Harvey Weinstein: Cat fights and cabals
It’s Monday morning in London and Minnie Driver has had a rough night. She was crying on the phone to her partner, the filmmaker Addison O’Dea, who is many time zones away, in California. She misses him. She misses her son Henry, who is away at boarding school.
That loneliness and the grief at the death of her mother – who passed away last year – all seemed to come together in one tearful phone call.
“I’ve got a huge amount of things going on,” she says. “I’ve written a book, I’m just about to start filming a movie. And he [Addison] is making a documentary.
"But I just had this feeling of ‘we’re all scattered to the wind, so what’s any of it worth?’ I was thinking about my mother having died and it makes me feel like there’s no point if we’re not all together telling each other that we love each other every day.
“And I said all this and he, so gently and so strongly, just said, ‘hold on, hold on, hold on’.”
O’Dea has always been “like a lighthouse” for Driver. They met in an extraordinary period at the end of 2017, when personal tragedy and natural disaster came together for her.
It began one night in December of that year. Her boyfriend at the time – an old friend from childhood – was lying asleep in bed beside her at her beachside home in Malibu, when the sound of a text message disturbed the peace. What followed was a dump of texts, sexts and photographs from a woman who this man was also having a relationship with.
It was “quite dramatic”, Driver recalls. “I mean, she [the other woman] is as mad as the March wind but she did me a huge favour. Even though it was awful, it’s better to know, and I’m glad to know. I was about to buy a house for him and his children and my son to all live in together. It was awful but I don’t think I’m that special, in that I think this shit happens to everyone.”
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She rang her sister for consolation and went back to work on the sitcom she was starring in, feeling chronically incapable of playing anything for laughs.
Then, in the following days while she sifted through the rubble of the relationship, searching for retrospective clues, a friend called her and told her to turn on the news.
A fire, which had started in nearby Simi Valley, had become an inferno which was roaring its way down the coast, toward her home. A mandatory evacuation of Malibu followed, but Driver, whose house had somehow survived the blaze, remained behind.
There was no electricity and no way to get proper food supplies to the house, unless they were brought by boat. The only person who she could think of who might be up to the task was Addison, who she had met a year previously, and who, with his experience filming in disaster zones, might be up to her “outrageous request”.
A few days later he was guiding a boat laden with snacks across the water toward her home. That night she told him the whole story of the end of her relationship and they struck up a friendship, which turned into a relationship.
“There was the decimation of the relationship and then the decimation of my home, potentially. Literally out of those ashes comes this other thing, which is a person who is like a beacon. And who is the complete antithesis of everything that I’d ever experienced, particularly around male relationships.
“It’s a relationship unlike any other I’ve had. And so how can I fault all of that pain if it brings you this love and this knowledge? How can I say it was bad?”
In conversation, and on the page, Driver is bracingly honest and reflective. Hard-won knowledge is one of the main themes of her ferociously forthright and funny memoir, Managing Expectations, which deals with her childhood, her rise to fame, and some of the key moments from her life and career.
It’s the story of a woman who faced down Hollywood ogres like Harvey Weinstein, had her heart broken in the white hot spotlight of international attention, and had a child on her own. It’s also a kind of riposte to all those commentators who think she underachieved in a career arc that has run from leading lady to a respected, if no longer A-list, character actor.
“Don’t you realise how unimaginative and toothless it is to call me what I am?” she writes. “You’d really do far more damage sneering at me for what I’m not – for all the things I have tried so hard to be and have so far failed at. Honestly, ask me like, three questions about myself and I’ll give you proper ammo for a more interesting assassination.”
And so I begin by asking her about her peripatetic childhood – she was raised in Barbados until she was seven – and the influence her mother, a model and fabric designer, and her financier father had on her.
The book begins with chapters which explore the breakdown of her parent’s relationship, the tension she felt with her mother’s new partner (which resulted in her being sent away to boarding school) and her father’s girlfriend – she felt he had chosen “bikinis over blood”.
Did all of this family tumult impact how she viewed herself and her relationships with men?
“I mean, it’s the nature versus nurture question. It’s hard to know how much I came into life with and how much was made. I was an articulate, truth-telling kid who would just never let anybody get any peace.
“I try not to spend too much time judging it because I know now I’ve been in all these relationships that didn’t work. It is hard to judge. They were doing the best they could. And sometimes that wasn’t that great, but it was the best they could do.”
Performing, which she did even at school, was “all to do with filling these other holes I had in my life. I couldn’t name what those cracks were when I was a little girl. It was a vocation too, though, a bread-and-butter. It fed me in such a specific way.”
She went to drama school in London but was the only person in her graduating class without an agent.
A friend blagged her a meeting with an agent and she began to make inroads as an actor, gaining slots in commercials – she memorably describes storming out of one where she’d been asking to recreate the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally – and her first major film role.
That film, Circle of Friends, was an adaptation of a Maeve Binchy coming-of-age story, which was filmed in 1995 in Kilkenny.
Driver recalls local women knitting her jumpers to cover up her ample chest. “Oh god. I still have 10 of them. They were like, Oh god, love, here, cover up your chest. You’re going to catch a chill and something worse. People were so worried about my apparent virginity.”
The biggest star in the film is Chris O’Donnell and while Driver did a decent job of the Irish accent, O’Donnell delivered one for the bogus brogue hall of shame. Driver says this was down to their different experiences of Ireland.
“He was the big American star. He stayed at the golf course. We were all in the fantastic bed and breakfast outside Thomastown. The landlady would come to the door and be like: ‘There’s soda bread in the back and some soup. Help yourself to milk.’ We [she and O’Donnell] lived very different lives in that movie. And his accent was part of his whole golf course experience.”
Her career gathered momentum over the following years. She starred alongside John Cusack in the black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank and voiced Lady Eboshi in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic Princess Mononoke. Driver later said she was interested in “the challenge of playing a woman [Lady Eboshi] who supports industry and represents the interests of man, in terms of achievement and greed”.
At the time, she was already in the process of being cast for Good Will Hunting and came up against the film’s now notorious producer, Weinstein. She watched as women navigated the atmosphere around him.
“There were always girls on his lap. Girls that I knew. There was always a strange cat fight around the roles and vying for his attention. I wanted to say to them, ‘don’t play this game’ and I did say that.
“There was a cabal around Harvey Weinstein. I was not, for whatever reason... I did not look the way that he thought a hot, sexy actress should look.”
In fact, he called her “not f**kable” but the director Gus Van Sant and co-writers and stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck advocated for her and she got the part.
She delivered an incredibly affecting performance as Damon’s love interest in the film and the famous, wrenching break-up scene was given added emotional resonance as life imitated art.
She and Damon fell madly in love on the set. She left her Irish agent in America – Clare woman Hylda Queally – to move to Damon’s agent. Driver calls it “one of the top three mistakes of my life” and says she doesn’t think Queally has “ever forgiven me”.
And then, a little over a year later, after the film had come out, Damon asked Driver to leave him alone in their New York apartment. She flew to California and, while it has been reported that Damon “dumped” her by revealing he had a new girlfriend in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Driver says she actually got the news from a magazine rack which featured rows of gossip titles with pictures of him kissing his new flame.
Driver was given the role of “spurned woman”, which would later be thrust on Jennifer Aniston. When it came to the Oscars – she had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Good Will Hunting – the camera was trained on her face at the ceremony, hoping, she believes, for some crack in her smile. It was both the zenith of her career and the lowest point in her personal life.
“It was all just brutal,” she says. “It is an astonishingly weird experience to walk down a supermarket aisle and for every magazine to have a picture of your very recent ex in a massive close-up, kissing his new girlfriend, who it turns out, he’d been with for a bit. The way that I look at it now, he was just doing what the fame was doing to him.”
Was she angry at Damon?
“He didn’t behave kindly. But then again, he was, whatever, 26, 25. I think doing it all publicly was especially difficult. If it had just been in your normal life, you would’ve had your mate scream at them in the pub. You would’ve had a big barney, you would’ve all calmed down and everyone would be friends again.
“Then maybe you’d even get to know his new girlfriend or you just wouldn’t ever see them again. And it would be fine.
“If you are famous, everybody knows about it. You don’t get to do your folly in private like most people do.”
“I loved him,” she adds. “I really did love him.”
Over the following decade her most memorable roles were on television, such as a recurring part on Will & Grace. But, as with Aniston, it was Driver’s love life that preoccupied the press. An “occupational hazard” was “falling for actors”, she says.
In 2006 she was engaged to be married to Avengers actor Josh Brolin, Barbra Streisand’s son-in-law, but broke it off. She doesn’t write about it in the book because “it was too hard and personal”, but she adds: “It made me realise I had to be by myself for a while, which is what I did.”
Did it bother her that she missed out on a potential duet with Streisand? “Oh god. Yeah, the wedding. That would’ve been great. Me and Babs. She’s amazing.”
While working alongside Eddie Izzard on The Riches, a 2007 FX series about a group of Irish Travellers living the American dream, she began a relationship with one of the writers.
After they broke up, she found out she was pregnant and now has a 13-year-old son, Henry. She says Henry has a great relationship with his father and she’s proud of the young man he is becoming.
“We just have such a laugh, me and Henry. He’s exactly what I would’ve dreamed my son would be – which is kind and empathetic to his friends and the people around him, but with a super wry wit about the world and a curiosity and an independence.”
She still turns in memorable performances – most recently in Modern Love, the John Carney-directed adaptation of the New York Times column of the same name – but the narrative that she somehow let superstardom slip through her fingers doesn’t bother her.
“I would challenge any one of those journalists who say that to go in and experience what it actually feels like to be in that crucible. To feel your career burning that brightly, that hard, is uncomfortable.
“I love acting and I’ve always found work that is meaningful to me. And I’d go and do 10 rounds in a ring with anyone who forces the idea that the barometer of success is that level of fame.”
Her mother died last year after an illness that Driver says was mercifully short.
“A drawn-out, prolonged illness would’ve been her idea of the worst kind of hell. And yet it was very difficult for us to watch that and very frightening to watch it happen so quickly. There was a moment of extreme disbelief for her that it was happening that quickly.”
She was with her mother right at the end and describes it as “a privilege and an atrocity watching someone you love die and being with them”.
It was a painful moment in what has been, more broadly, a happy few years for Driver.
She will be reunited with O’Dea and Henry this summer and says she knows how to “figure out a way to be hopeful, even when I’m not”.
She came across a poem recently which she’s going to put on her desk. It’s called ‘To Be Alive’ by Gregory Orr: “To be alive: not just the carcass/But the spark/That’s crudely put, but…If we’re not supposed to dance/Why all this music?”
These days, 20 years after she first lit up Hollywood, Driver has a more enduring kind of spark.
‘Managing Expectations’ is published by Bonnier, €21, and out now