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By now we’re all well used to seeing Adam Driver on screens both big and small. Between the cult-viewing TV show Girls, his turn as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, playing the real-life assassinated Maurizio Gucci in House of Gucci and Enzo Ferrari in Ferrari, to this year’s Francis Ford Coppola science fiction epic Magalopolis, his work has seen him tuck two Academy Award nominations under his belt.

Driver also has also secured that other modern day success indicator: a role as the face of a fragrance. In his case it’s the Burberry Hero collection and the accompanying ads – directed by Jonathan Glazer and photographed by Mario Sorrenti – that showcase him beach running (topless) and sea swimming (topless) alongside a horse, that have broken the internet more than once.

Now there’s a new addition to the range, Burberry Hero Parfum. This one is described as ‘intense and powerful’ with a base of cedarwood oils joined by Amyria and Cypriol oil for a warm woody finish. To celebrate, we chatted with the actor about smell, swimming and schedules.

How important is fragrance to you? Because I’ve read that you were never particularly a fragrance person before, so has that changed?  

Yeah, it changed because of this campaign. It wasn’t ever something that I really thought much about. You know, I would get the Stetson bottle when I was a kid in my stocking from my grandparents when I was like six or seven. Oh, then it was Brute too. That was another one. But it wasn’t something that I carried on into my younger adult life and adult life. But now because of this, and they asked me, and I actually liked it, it’s been a plus [laughs].

A good bonus! Do you have a favourite in the Hero Fragrance collection?

I liked the first one but you know they’re all of a piece and they do different things. So, I wear them for different occasions. It seems like if I have to go out in the evening I’ll wear the Parfum, the newest one, because it’s more intense. But the original I like a lot – that’s the first one that we did – because it’s subtle, and it’s very transient, you know. Women like it just as much as men do. And it’s not as easily definable.

You've gone from not thinking about it to a veritable wardrobe of fragrance.

Oh yes, there’s nuance to my smell. Not just soap.

Are there any smells generally that hold memories for you? Or as an actor do you ever use smell as a way into a part or a character?

To the latter part of your question, no I haven’t used it as far as a character that I thought would smell a certain way. It’s an interesting idea. But also, coincidentally, not to sound so like a company man but because this is a very woodsy thing, burnt wood is a massive memory that I have as a kid. I was raised in San Diego – I was born in Montana but we lived in San Diego – and every Friday night my family would go to the beach and have a bonfire. That was one of my earliest big fragrance smells that I remember. So coincidentally that is also part of this.

What made you decide to say yes to being the face of a fragrance campaign.

Well, because it’s so unfamiliar to me. My favourite part of being an actor is being educated on something that I have no familiarity with – a culture, or a moment in time that somehow you have to find your way in or it’s a new experience in life. Life is… well I guess both long and short, but it’s filled with all of these different experiences. Why limit yourself to thinking you’re a certain type of thing or you would never do this? You never know. Biology changes things and I try to stay open to new experiences – and being open to being wrong.

Great philosophy. A fairly obvious question now: what does the word hero mean to you?

You know, I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to define. You know, it means lots of different things.

Do you have any screen heroes, either living or past?

Oh, yeah. So many. Danny Glover. And Charles Laughton is a big hero of mine. I think that he was an incredible actor.

When you said yes to this campaign it’s obviously quite an intense one: there’s  the horses. How was it working with such strong animals? And were you involved with that concept at all?

I wasn’t involved in the concept, they had the concept and it was an interesting one. And obviously, their idea of heroism is someone who is ever evolving, not the kind of things that we were talking about, and representing this idea of modern masculinity. The physical part of it was interesting. I’ve been to the Canary Islands before, but never in that sense where you’re diving down in the ocean. And I actually like working with animals and kids because they’re so unpredictable. They would bring the horses out and there were so many of them, because they didn’t want to tire them out. And then you have to swim next to them. So that was a pretty intense experience that I haven’t duplicated since.

You’ve talked in the past about getting into shape for these ads. How does something like this fit in?  

Well, that was one of the things that was interesting to me about it: we wanted to duplicate the muscle structure of a horse on a human. That is an interesting challenge. How do we get so sinewy that the metaphor is obvious visually, because we have no dialogue to tell that story. So, it can’t feel anything different than what it is. With a film role you have an hour and a half or two, three hours sometimes to tell the history of a life and obviously we all carry our insecurities, parts of our body that we’d like to hide with clothing or the way we walk or the way we move or touch our face, and that’s all part of our character and history, so you have only a limited amount of time to do that. Everybody’s physicality is different and then I have my own physicality that sometimes makes sense with a character and sometimes doesn’t. So, the physical life of a person is …actually that’s what I love about Charles Laughton so much because even in The Night of the Hunter where he directed you can tell he gave actors so much trust and their physical lives are so rich and his physical life you would think was limiting but he’s not at all, he was very alive. Anyway, I’m digressing to Charles Laughton but the physicality of a person is for me something I try to hang my hat on.

And that’s as important whether it’s a movie role or an ad.

Yeah. This was challenging. I think if it was just like me showing up, you know, trying to exude someone else’s idea of modern masculinity, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. But you know, you really got to show up and do it. And that’s exciting.

Is there any difference as an actor between taking on something like this campaign where the viewer is probably going to be a more passive observer versus a film role where your viewer is going to have made a very active choice to be engaged in what you’re doing?

No, how it will be viewed is not something I’m thinking about. I don’t attach meaning so much into stuff like that, I get lost in the making of it. It’s hard for me to predict how things will be consumed. So, on the laundry list of things that I get anxious about on film sets, that’s really low on the totem pole. I picked it because it’s a director driven medium, and if it wasn’t with all of the elements – if it wasn’t Burberry, if it wasn’t Mario shooting it, if it wasn’t Jonathan Glazer doing it, then it would have been different. But this seemed like, Oh, if you’re going to do one, if someone’s going to ask you to be a part of this thing, this is great. You’re making that’s going to exist in the world. So why would it require any less work than all the other things you do? It should be worked on with just as much attention to detail.

Photography by Mario Sorrenti