Why Minnie Driver Loves the Water

From a New York Times review by Alexis Soloski of the book by Minnie Driver titled “Managing Expectations”:

Minnie Driver clambered into a pink-and-green kayak, adjusted her legs against the foot pegs, grabbed her paddle and pushed off the wobbling dock into a choppy Hudson River. “See you in Weehawken,” she said, yelling over her shoulder. A Canada goose looked on, mildly impressed.

This was on a recent Monday morning, just west of a Midtown Manhattan boathouse near West 44th Street. Ms. Driver had arrived in a sunshine-yellow Prada raincoat, armor against the unrelenting drizzle. She joked that she brought the weather with her.

“I’m British,” she said. “This is what happens.”

Ms. Driver, who learned to swim on her mother’s back in the English Channel (“Which made every other body of water feel warm,” she said), loves the water. In her 20s, she became an avid surfer and later, once she bought a place in Malibu, a paddleboarder. “It’s crystal clear,” she said of the water there. “I miss the Pacific like a lover.”

Few people feel quite that way about the Hudson. But Ms. Driver, in town to publicize her new book, “Managing Expectations: A Memoir in Essays,” had come to Manhattan Kayak Co anyway.

“Being in the water, that’s how I negotiate a city,” she said.

Dozens of colorful kayaks filled the boathouse, stacked to the ceiling, the interstitial spaces crammed with life jackets, paddles and one very friendly dog. It was cold that day; it would be colder in the kayak.

The guides, Robyn Adams, Jay Cartagena and Eric Stiller, the founder of Manhattan Kayak Co, picked out a wet suit for Ms. Driver and offered her a fleece layer. She was wearing one already. “I know what I’m doing,” she said.

She traded her yellow raincoat for a blue top layer, shoved her feet into neoprene bootees and headed out to the deck where Ms. Adams talked her through safety procedures and rehearsed stroke technique, reminding Ms. Driver to spread her arms to just wider than shoulder width, to keep the paddle at eye level. Ms. Adams also introduced her to a garment called a spray skirt, which would keep her lower half dry.

Ms. Driver joked that she could wear it to the Met Gala that night. Did she plan to attend the gala? Ms. Driver laughed and gestured toward the kayak. “This is my idea of heaven,” she said. “That is my idea of hell.”

She hadn’t kayaked since last summer, in Malibu. “With a couple of beers, in a bikini,” she said.

There would be no beers this afternoon. And the rain and the wind meant a longer trip was out. Weehawken? Not happening. But Ms. Driver seemed undaunted. When you have survived three decades in and out of Hollywood, what’s a little drizzle?

“I’m so glad I washed my hair,” she said with a deadpan.

Ms. Driver began “Managing Expectations,” which she calls a “tell-some” as opposed to a “tell-all,” during the early months of the pandemic. Writing a whole book felt intimidating. So she began instead with stories: about her first years at boarding school, about being introduced to Al Pacino as “Mandy Dreyfus” by an early agent. She also tells a story about falling in love with her co-star, Matt Damon, while making “Good Will Hunting.”

“A huge inflection point in my life,” she said.

Then, in the middle of writing, her mother, the designer and former model Gaynor Churchward, died. And Ms. Driver didn’t know if she could finish. “All I could do was write about her dying,” she said. So she wrote that, too. And somehow it helped.

“I knew if I just carried on, I could probably write my way through it,” Ms. Driver said.

In the water, she could put grief aside. And in her narrow kayak, Ms. Driver howled gleefully as she navigated first a ferry and then the ferry’s wake.

In a few minutes she had cruised the equivalent of a few city blocks, passing the yawning canyon of 42nd Street, the tops of its skyscrapers shrouded in mist. Her shoulder began to bother her, but with a tip from Ms. Adams — more rotation in the hips, more twisting — her stroke settled.

“It feels so good,” Ms. Driver said, despite what she later described as “some properly gnarly hair moments.”

Another boat made waves. Ms. Driver, whooping, headed into them, hair be damned. The rain never lessened, and 20 minutes after she had set out it was time to turn around, this time against the current. A Coast Guard vehicle swerved by for a wellness check, and Ms. Driver merrily waved it on.

“You all be safe now,” the loudspeaker blared.

She approached the dock about 10 minutes later, maneuvering so that the river wouldn’t drive her into the pier, or into the hull of the U.S.S. Intrepid docked to the north.

“It’s always good to look back at Manhattan from the water,” she said. “I’ve only ever done it from the Circle Line.” This, she decided, was better.

Back in the boathouse, she changed out of her wet suit and into dry clothes, relaxing into one of the egg chairs hanging from the ceiling.

“It’s just chill,” she said, approvingly. “Maybe that’s the negative ions off the water or whatever. People just feel people feel better and act nicer.”

She curled her legs into the chair and swung. “I just want to come back and hang out here,” she said.

Alexis Soloski is a theater critic for the New York Times and the Guardian and a contributor to the New Yorker. She formerly worked as the lead theater critic at the Village Voice and has served on the Obie Committee, the Drama Critics Circle, and the Pulitzer Prize Drama Jury.

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