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Minnie Driver on the paradox of fame and her 'complicated' notion of marriage

In Minnie Driver's new memoir, <em>Managing Expectations,</em> the actress shares stories about the messiness of life from her childhood in England and Barbados, to her unexpected path into acting, becoming a single mom and her complicated relationship with her own parents.
Michael Loccisano
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In Minnie Driver's new memoir, Managing Expectations, the actress shares stories about the messiness of life from her childhood in England and Barbados, to her unexpected path into acting, becoming a single mom and her complicated relationship with her own parents.

For actor Minnie Driver, becoming famous was a surreal experience. Fame always presented a bit of a "psychological paradox." You want to be seen, but not that much.

Now, two and a half decades after breaking into Hollywood, the Circle of Friends and Good Will Hunting star is ready for the world to see a little bit more of her. She's written a memoir called Managing Expectations, where she shares stories about the messiness of life from her childhood in England and Barbados, to her unexpected path into acting, becoming a single mom and her complicated relationship with her own parents.

She said she decided to write her memoir during the pandemic when she, like many other people, was questioning what was next and what she should do during this time.

"Having been metabolized and synthesized by other people my entire adult life, there's a point at which the agency of telling your own story becomes not important, but sort of an interesting exploration," Driver said in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered.

Telling stories orally is a huge tradition in her family, Driver said, so as she worked to decide which memories of her life to include, she went back to the ones she's told before that people have enjoyed.

Driver spoke about how her parents' relationships affected her views on the institution of marriage, her relationship with her son and what she hopes people will take from her memoir.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

On understanding her mother's need for marriage and the many reasons she wanted to make it work

I think it was much later in my life, probably in my mid-30s, where I really started to understand my mother's story. And, you know, the trauma that she'd experienced. And I don't use that word lightly, but I feel like you're never really aware of your parents' stories.

She had been thrown out of her home age 16, along with her three other sisters who were all under the age of 18 when her father married his housekeeper after my grandmother died. She had this desire for freedom and conventionality to be independent, but to also somehow find this convention.

It was part of what I think was the absolute dichotomy that went on in her life, which was this free spirit who also desperately wanted to have a convention define a part of her that I think she felt had been rejected. And so, of course, she did the most unconventional thing possible, which is to be the mistress to a married man whilst also having a job and having children and being interested in the world around her.

On how her mother's experience with marriage shaped her own views around the institution of marriage

Strangely for someone who was the product of people who weren't married, I've really always wanted to be married. But I think I thought it meant that you were accepted or acceptable.

It's taken a long time to unpick that and to realize that what I really want is to be with this man that I love now forever. He has said, "I do not want to be in a throuple with the state of California, so I don't really want to be married," which is hilarious. But I do want a party. I want my friends to come together, for us to dance and for us to tell stories. I want the ritual.

But the marriage thing I understand now was far more complicated for my mother and complicated for me as well.

On how the memories from her childhood affect how she brings people into the life she shares with her son

I've been extremely judicious in introducing my son to any person I was going to be in a relationship with, which is exactly two in his lifetime, because I don't believe children should meet someone who you're just casually dating. But Henry has also grown in a very different way where we talk to each other, and have done, because it's really just been him and I his whole life.

I raised him as a single mum and we talk about all of these things. We talk about who his granny and grandpa were. We talk about my life, not in an inappropriate way, but rather, these are my stories and these are the things. And if someone else is going to wander into our landscape, they won't wander in — they will knock on the door, be invited in, will sit down and have tea, and then we'll both decide if we think they should stay.

On what she hopes people can take away after reading all these stories

I think really, truthfully, we have this set of expectations — whether it's social media, whether it's our parents, whether it's politically, whether it's our own inner voices or relationships — we find ourselves in that are constantly telling us how we should be and what we are supposed to expect.

And I think I really wanted to illustrate that life just doesn't look like that, and that you can expect all you want, but being in the actuality of what happens in the living outcome, that's where life exists. That's it. It's experiential. I'm not sure that there's meaning beyond living as presently as we possibly can and laughing as much as you can with the things that are difficult, things that are hard.

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Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.