With the 2004 release of her debut LP, Everything I've Got in My Pocket, Minnie Driver became the latest feature film star to pursue a career as a pop singer. Born Amelia Driver in London on January 31, 1970, she was raised in Barbados until the age of seven, when her parents split and sent her to boarding school in Hampshire, England. Encouraged to pursue an acting career by her mother, former model Gaynor Churchward, Driver later earned a degree in drama from the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1990, she made her professional debut in the telefilm God on the Rocks, followed by appearances on series including The House of Eliott and Lovejoy. At the same time she also sang with the jazz group Puff, Rocks and Brown, earning a development deal with Island Records; Driver nevertheless back-burnered her musical aspirations when in 1995 she was cast to star in the motion picture Circle of Friends, gaining 25 pounds to portray the film's central character, Irish schoolgirl Benny Hogan.
Fearing typecasting, she quickly shed the weight and by year's end resurfaced as a sultry lounge singer in the James Bond franchise entry GoldenEye. From there Driver became a fixture in American independent productions, appearing in a series of acclaimed projects including Big Night and Grosse Pointe Blank. With her work in 1997's Good Will Hunting, the actress earned her first Academy Award nomination. She also became a staple of tabloid headlines when her high-profile romance with co-star Matt Damon came to an abrupt and messy halt.
In the years to follow, it often seemed that Driver earned more attention for her offscreen romantic pursuits than her acting career. Although features including 1999's An Ideal Husband and 2000's Return to Me fared poorly at the box office, she nevertheless made news in 2001 when her six-month engagement to actor Josh Brolin collapsed, reportedly due to the meddling of Brolin's mother-in-law, Barbra Streisand. A recurring guest role on the NBC television sitcom Will and Grace followed two years later, and in 2004 Driver earned the coveted role of Carlotta in the long-planned feature adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical The Phantom of the Opera.
Throughout her Hollywood ascent Driver continued writing songs, over time turning away from jazz to a rootsy folk-pop approach inspired by artists including Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. During a break from acting she resumed her live music career and eventually signed to the Zoe/Rounder label, issuing her debut LP, Everything I've Got in My Pocket, to unexpectedly positive reviews in late 2004. In 2007 Driver returned with her second album, Seastories, recorded in both Los Angeles and New York, with some help from Ryan Adams and his band the Cardinals, and even backing vocals on one track from Liz Phair.
Driver spent the next several years focusing on her acting and raising her son Henry (born in 2008), but she played a teacher with a passion for glam rock in the 2011 film Hunky Dory, and contributed backing vocals to albums by Tired Pony and the Latebirds. In 2014, Driver released her third album, Ask Me to Dance, a set of covers in which she interpreted songs by Neil Young, Elliott Smith, Paul Weller, John Prine, the Cure, the Killers, and others. ~ Jason Ankeny