For British-born actress Minnie Driver, her break in movies came in 1995 when she was cast to portray the central character in “Circle of Friends,” an Irish schoolgirl named Benny Hogan. It was a role that required her to put on 25 pounds and to put on hold another talent she had been nurturing since childhood.
“I was in a band, we were signed to Island Records. We didn’t even have a name yet when I got cast in ‘Circle of Friends’ and my life took a bit of a different turn,” said the actress during a phone interview to discuss her one-night concert in Hermosa Beach.
The Thursday night show at Saint Rocke is in support of Driver’s upcoming cover album “Ask Me to Dance,” a collection of songs that have been meaningful in her life, including “Close to Me” by the Cure, “Better Be Home Soon” by Crowded House and “Master Blaster” by Stevie Wonder. It’s set to be released in October and will be the third album for Driver, 44, whose musical influences include Americana and country music, like artists Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt.
For the concert, her band will include keyboardist Rami Jaffee, a founding member of the Wallflowers and current member of Foo Fighters; Joe Karnes, founding bassist of Fitz and the Tantrums; drummer Brendan Buckley, who plays with Shakira; and her longtime friend, guitarist Mark “Doc” Dauer, who has produced all of her albums.
“All these musicians respect her and her musical abilities,” Dauer said. “She’s incredibly engaging, she’s one of the smartest people I know, very artistic, very witty on her feet and so no two shows are alike.”
Driver first learned how to play the piano when she was about 5 years old. She later taught herself how to play guitar and sang in choir. She also acted in school plays and her mother, former model Gaynor Churchward, encouraged her to pursue acting.
Her acting career began in the 1990s with a role in the TV film “God on the Rocks” and appearances on several British TV series. During that time, Driver performed with the band that was working on a development deal with Island Records before she was cast in “Circle of Friends.”
That move led to roles in films like “Grosse Pointe Blank” in 1997, in which she starred with John Cusack, and “Good Will Hunting” in 1997, which earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Driver’s personal life also became fodder for tabloids thanks to her romantic relationships with actors Matt Damon and, later, Josh Brolin.
But through it all, there was always her music and in 2004 she released her first album, “Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket,” a collection of folk-pop songs. That was followed in 2007 with her second album, “Seastories.” It was recorded in Los Angeles and New York and included collaborations with Ryan Adams and Liz Phair.
“I’ve always done both (music and acting). It was a total toss-up as to which one would be my full career,” Driver said.
The upcoming album of cover songs was something Driver and her band had been planning for a while, and it was a good way to get back into recording since it’s been a few years between records, she said. But new original material is also on the way.
“I’ve got a whole other record ready to go, which I’ll put out in another couple of years,” she said. “But this was a great way to get back into recording.”
Meanwhile, Driver, who is now the mother of a young child and three stepchildren, continues with her acting career, often blending it with her musical talents.
She received an Emmy nomination last week for her starring role as a wife struggling with the loss of her unborn child in the Lifetime movie “Return to Zero,” for which she also wrote the title song. In addition, she plays a character she describes as a “bad mommy” in “Beyond the Lights,” a film about a rising young female musician, set for release in November.
“I’m fantastically busy but I love it,” she said. “You make time for the things you love and this all comes from my heart.”