In Depth

Who is Kylo Ren – and Adam Driver, the man behind the mask?

After a near-death experience in the marines, Driver decided he had to 'smoke cigarettes and be an actor'

Adam Driver, the 32-year-old who plays Kylo Ren in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, has been described as "Hollywood's oddest star".

Perhaps destiny was sealed early for the actor – he played with Star Wars figures as a child and has told the Daily Telegraph he always liked the look of the 'baddie' figures best. "They were more exciting to me because their costumes were cooler – all black – and the characters were so great," he said.

Born in 1983 in San Diego, California, Driver grew up in a Baptist family, which later moved to Mishawaka, Indiana. He felt like a misfit in a town dominated by "cheerleaders and football teams and homecomings and things like that".

Movies became his escape from what he felt was a stiflingly wholesome atmosphere and he dreamed of becoming an actor. His first attempt at cracking Hollywood failed. He ran out of funds after two days and was forced to return home, tail between his legs. "It was really embarrassing, actually," he said.

TOKYO, JAPAN - DECEMBER 10:Adam Driver attends the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' fan event at the Roppongi Hills on December 10, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan.(Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images f

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2015 Getty Images

The 9/11 attacks inspired him to join the US Marine Corps. "There was that feeling, especially with my generation – a call to do something," he said. During his military service, he was confronted with his own mortality when his group was almost hit by deadly white phosphorus during a training exercise.

That lucky escape proved a galvanising moment in his life: "I was like, 'I'm going to smoke cigarettes and be an actor when I get out.' Those were my two thoughts. I wanted to smoke cigarettes and be an actor."

He studied at Juilliard School, appeared on Broadway and was then cast in the HBO comedy hit series Girls, a lead part for which he has earned four Emmy nominations. Among the films he has appeared in prior to Star Wars are The F Word, Tracks and Inside Llewyn Davis.

He also runs a non-profit organisation, Arts in the Armed Forces, which puts on morale-boosting performances for military personnel, and he married actress Joanne Tucker in 2013.

What do we know about Kylo Ren?

Kylo Ren heads First Order missions, and the dark warrior is a volatile character. He built his own lightsaber, which has an idiosyncratic, ragtag design. The weapon is "as dangerous and as fierce and as ragged as the character", says Force Awakens director JJ Abrams.

"I am immune to the light," says Ren, who has been compared to Luke Skywalker. With his dark mask, black hood and cloak, he makes for a sinister figure.

He is a devotee of Sith Lord Darth Vader, and has vowed to finish what he began. "Together, we will destroy the Resistance and the last Jedi," he says.

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