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January 23, 2019 at 05:47 PM EST

On Feb. 24, winners will be crowned at the 91st Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, Entertainment Weekly has inside intel on the 2019 nominees. Keep checking back at EW.com this week for spotlights on contenders in all the major categories.

Adam Driver
Starring in: BlacKkKlansman
Age: 35
Oscar Past: 0 Noms
Role call: Flip Zimmerman, a white, Jewish police officer who helps a black cop infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan

Standing in a room full of men in the white specter-like robes of the Ku Klux Klan was an unnerving experience for Adam Driver. “KKK garb isn’t part of my life, so it is jarring obviously to see something that is such an iconic symbol of hate and something you vehemently disagree with,” Driver tells EW. “Afterwards you’re like, ‘That was kind of strange.’”

It is this surreal scene that forms the crux of Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, based on the true story of Colorado Springs’ first black police detective, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who infiltrates the local KKK chapter via phone calls; Driver’s Flip Zimmerman poses as Ron when meeting with KKK members in person. This is the first Oscar nom for Driver, who broke out with HBO’s Girls and plays the villain Kylo Ren in Star Wars. “He is so versatile,” director Lee says of Driver. “He’s never repeating himself; everything he’s doing is new.”

On Tuesday, Driver said in a statement that the feeling of receiving that Best Supporting Actor nod was “surreal, to say the least.” He added, “I’m humbled and thankful to the Academy and feel very privileged to represent this film in a setting such as this; especially with Spike Lee, Barry Brown, and Terence Blanchard. Three people whose past collaborations have been an inspiration in my life. I’m so grateful to the crew, the cast, especially my friend John David Washington, and Spike for giving me the opportunity to be a part of a film that is equal parts joy and primal scream. Getting to work with people you admire and respect is a miracle in and of itself, but when it connects on a larger scale like this it’s hard to articulate.”

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