His identity shielded by a scuffed-up mask, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens'" villain Kylo Ren could be mistaken for a DIY cosplayer if his rage and malevolent powers weren't so intimidating. But behind each scar is something more.
We spoke with Adam Driver, the face behind the eyeless mask of Ren, and probed his thoughts on digging into the dark side and rooting out his place in the First Order, the new iteration of the Empire.
Did you have any input in what the mask would look like? Or do you just show up on set, and they said, "This is it"?
They had a very strong … I hate to say first draft. I think they had a lot already figured out. Then I had some input on [the mask] once I got there. But it was mostly suggestions such as, "Oh, I can't move," or "I can't see."
The eyes were a thing that J.J. [Abrams, the film's director] and I talked about early. I thought what was so great about the [Darth] Vader mask was how you projected your emotions onto him, and you could see his eyes. I was kind of nervous that in being fully cloaked, you have to really rely on the power of thought, and that it's powerful enough that it will get through being concealed. Then J.J. actually took out the eyes out of the mask, to make it a void, which I thought was really interesting.
Do you think that void relates to your character?
The costume really says a lot about him before he says anything. [Kylo Ren's] helmet is unpolished and unfinished. It's not refined. It's shiny in parts and reflects back what it sees. These are all metaphors that you can't really play, but it's good information. His lightsaber, you got the sense that it was homemade, and it could spontaneously combust at any minute. It didn't really seem like it was really reliable.
Yeah, it works, but maybe it's not fully realized. The costume — even putting it on at first — was very uncomfortable and tight. But there was something about someone who decides to completely hide themselves that I felt was kind of interesting, and maybe that's hopefully worked its way into the movie.
What does that say about your character, that he's making his own lightsaber? That he's unfinished?
That he's ambitious. That he's aware of the world that has gone before him, as they're picking up 30 years after the originals, so that's a reality that happened.
Why would someone who's aware of the history of "Star Wars" be fanatical about the Empire or the New Order?
I feel like that's true to life. People have such short memories. How quickly we forget what happened just 30 years ago. Even the very beginning. It's still called "Star Wars," even though it's 30 years later.
It's two sides of people that think they're right. That's just something that J.J. and I talked about from the very beginning. Just being evil for the sake of it didn't seem interesting to play. The idea of two sides thinking that they're both right, both sides kind of commit this mass murder. You have the Death Star [that was destroyed] and all the people that were on there, they all had families and things like that. The line between the light and the dark is very fine, I'd say.
Where does Kylo Ren stand in the hierarchy of the Empire?
That's difficult to say. I think it fluctuates.
So who are the Knights of Ren?
It was a group that existed before him, that he was a part of. Their place within everything is maybe more of a satellite group than I would say ... This is really tricky.
Is that why everything that you have is a bit broken down?
No, there's definitely a history that you see in the costume of things in the past right away. They're kind of like visible scars, on his outfit. In part to intimidate but also because he's carrying along this history of people.
Signing up to be in the new "Star Wars" is such a massive undertaking. What was it like working with the legacy players? Was it ever intimidating?
I didn't find them to be people who would say, "Let me sit you down and tell you what your experience is going to be on this." They gave you space and let you find this on your own, very humble and very generous.
I remember being very overwhelmed by the idea of doing something on this scale alone, but then it also being a "Star Wars" movie, and calling J.J. and talking. It's kind of overwhelming, and I remember him saying, "Well, you know, with anything, we'll break it into moments, and we'll solve one moment, and that'll lead to this moment, and that'll lead to this moment, and then hopefully at the end of it, we'll have a movie." And I said, "Oh, of course." Even though it is a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, and has this franchise title, it's really just like working on anything else. You have to ground it into something real, and make it make sense. And then hopefully tell the story that everyone's kind of agreed on, the best you can.
What "Star Wars" character would you say Kylo Ren is most obsessed with?
Darth Vader. He's a fan of his work. [Kylo Ren] feels that he was actually onto something, even though in Vader's final moments where he kind of relents. That even could be interpreted as just a moment. Not to taint an entire life, or career, of doing good work. For [Kylo Ren] it's just a moment.
What does he see in himself that he sees in Darth Vader?
The commitment. Also, the ambition, and the loyalty. The self-sacrifice in him. They're all huge, epic things to live up to. Even as an audience member, we discovered Darth Vader first as someone who's very in control and controlled and didn't seem to waver whatsoever in his mission. That kind of dedication is something my character admires and wants to emulate.