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Minnie Driver finds the heart of a pushy mom in ‘Speechless’

October 1, 2016

LOS ANGELES | Minnie Driver was warned she might not come off as the most likeable mother on television if she took the leading role in ABC’s “Speechless.”

Her reaction? “Don’t be ridiculous,” she remembers saying. “Let me see that.”

Wildly aggressive when it comes to helping her disabled son get equal opportunities, the character bulldozes her way through most situations. “She’s pretty awful sometimes,” Driver says, “but also fantastic. She’s dropping the ball with her other two kids, so she’s failing miserably as well as succeeding.”

In the comedy, Driver’s Maya DiMeo battles with parents, teachers and children if she thinks they’re getting in her way.

In her own life, Driver is much more passive with son Henry and errs on the side of discretion. “When I was growing up we’d go out on our bikes and my mum would shut the door and, through the letter box say, ‘Come back when it’s dark.’”

Now, she says, parents have probably swung too far the other way. “This obsession with our children and curating their every moment doesn’t help the kid.”

When he was 3, Henry tried to say hello to a baby in a coffee shop and the baby’s father pushed him away. Driver, in a display of anger, pounced into action and let the dad have it.

“The father was acting in a protective way,” Driver admits. “But I get very articulate when I get angry. He was French and I did it in French.”

When she can, Driver teaches improvisation at Henry’s school and gets “super involved.” At a recent field day, “I was the only parent who participated in every single event there was. Because no other parents were competing, I won.” She smiles.

In the brief time that “Speechless” has aired, Driver has gotten emails from parents in similar situations thanking the show for telling their story. “That’s rewarding, but when you’re speaking for a group of people who, previously, had not had a voice on television, you want it to be good.”

Driver’s last series, “About a Boy,” was critically acclaimed and seemed like it had the ability to last. When it was canceled, she wasn’t sure she would get over it. “I didn’t think I could ever love anything again.” As a result, she made several films, worked on her music and figured it would have to take something special to get her back to television.

When the “Speechless” folks couldn’t find the right actress to play their role, they wondered if Driver might reconsider her stance.

She did and everything happened so quickly, she didn’t have time to bond with Micah Fowler, who plays son J.J., or any of the other cast members.

“I worry that I might seem too abrasive,” the 46-year-old says. “But I trust the director.”

Determined to stay put while her son is in school (“shooting movies in Bulgaria was all right in my 20s”), Driver marvels that she’s still in the business 25 years after making her debut.

“It’s very difficult to maintain a career in this industry,” the Oscar nominee says. “I’m proud that I’m still having the opportunities.”

That diverse resume she boasts – from “Good Will Hunting” to “The Riches” – didn’t come from careful planning but perseverance.

“Mostly, it’s just taking the best thing that was offered,” Driver says. “There are great big lean moments which no one knows about. Maybe you don’t work for a year or two. But that’s what makes up the patchwork quilt of a career in this business.”