Has Vera Farmiga been getting into her latest role, or is the role getting into her?
In “The Conjuring,” which is expected to take the number one spot at the box office this weekend after raking in a scary good $17 million on Friday, Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren, a paranormal investigator who is studying a haunted house in Rhode Island. The film was based on the real life adventures of husband-and-wife paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren (whose work also inspired “The Amityville Horror”), and in an interview with Yahoo! Movies at the San Diego Comic-Con, Farmiga revealed that at least one of the spooky happenings in the story has touched her in real life.
In the New England farmhouse Lorraine and Ed (Patrick Wilson) are investigating in “The Conjuring,” clocks keep stopping at 3:07 a.m., the same time a murder took place in the home. Farmiga insists she now keeps waking up at the same witching hour. “It’s in my subconscious,” Farmiga said. “I know there’s an alarm clock beyond that. It’s a joke now. I look over, I flip over the cell phone, and sure enough, it’s 3:07.”
While Farmiga and her co-star Wilson initially laughed this off as a coincidence, she isn’t taking the matter too lightly. “The things that happened [in the house] were pretty diabolical, and just talking about it conjures up or gives it relevance,” Farmiga said. “You’re dealing with dark, negative mysticism, and I just don’t want to give it more relevance. You don’t want to give it power.”
This isn’t the first time an actor bringing one of the Warrens’ stories to life has had to deal with a similar sinister coincidence. In the 2005 version of “The Amityville Horror,” a noisy ghost makes itself known every night at 3:15 a.m., and Melissa George, who appeared in the movie, found herself similarly waking up at 3:15 a.m. during the production.
“That was scary for me, but I laughed,” George told reporters during the shoot. “I thought it was quite funny.” However, like Farmiga, the experience of the film heightened her belief in the spirit world. “I can’t say I believe in ghosts, but I do believe in something else other than us,” George said. “The supernatural. I think there’s something out there.”
And the real Lorraine Warren doesn’t think there’s anything funny about her work. Warren, now 86, told Yahoo! Movies that the “Amityville Horror” case was the most traumatic she ever dealt with, and that she refuses to set foot in the former Lutz Family home again.
“Amityville was horrible, honey. It was absolutely horrible,” Warren said. “It followed us right straight across the country. I don’t even like to talk about it. I will never go in the Amityville house ever again. You don’t know how long my career is; that’s the only one.”
Farmiga may still be dealing with the spooky fallout from “The Conjuring,” but soon she’ll be returning to another disturbing residence. This week she was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Norman Bates’ mother on “Bates Motel,” which will be coming back for season two in 2014.
Vera Farmiga found out this morning that she had received an Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Norma Bates, the matriarch of A&E’s Psycho prequel Bates Motel. But there’s no point asking Farmiga about her chances of beating the likes of Claire Danes (who was nominated in the same category for her performance in Homeland), Robin Wright (House of Cards), or Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men). “I can’t answer that question,” she says. “I have never seen an episode of any of them. Shame on me. But I’m just too busy!”
You can say that again. The mother of two young children has just finished shooting The Judge alongside Robert Downey Jr. and also stars as real-life paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren in director James Wan’s new horror film The Conjuring, which opens tomorrow.
Below, Farmiga talks more about her nomination, the second season of Bates Motel, and the likelihood of her returning for the already-in-development Conjuring 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where are you and how did you find out about the Emmy nomination?
VERA FARMIGA: My husband watched it live online and I was awakened with coffee and the good news. He’s my biggest fan and he was really rooting for this to happen. I have to tell you, this was a really interesting experiment. I didn’t really campaign for this one. Not a lot. I did about three interviews. I know how hard I worked and I know how challenged I was and I know the input into this characterization — just psychically, spiritually, emotionally, physically — for me. And it was interesting, I didn’t do much campaigning. I can see the women that did. And I was wondering if that was going to play out. It was my little experiment.
And I’m in Vancouver in preproduction on round 2 for Bates.
Aha! So please tell us what’s going to happen in the next season.
I can’t, but it’s crazy! It’s crazy! I just read the first three episodes and the roster of things for me to do blows me away. I am so challenged by this role and terrified. If you told me this is what I would get to execute as an actress… It’s just really really wild what they’ve written. Kerry Ehrin, Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel executive producers), they’re two lunatic composers and they continue to write dissonant, crazy melodies for me to play. I’m psyched.
Can you say anything about the direction Norma is headed this season?
Well, I think she’s on the search still for stability and happiness and contentment and until now she’s only found them in the dictionary. And also, I think what’s key for her is the acknowledgement that, you know, her child has a mental illness. And no parent can utter those words without their spirit imploding.
It was confirmed this week that New Line is already developing a sequel to The Conjuring. Have you heard anything about that?
I haven’t, just hearsay. There’s nothing scheduled for me. I know that contractually [laughs] New Line has me. And Patrick [Wilson] and I are so game to do round 2. I love working with him. I love these characters. I love embodying Lorraine Warren. And so that will be great if it happens, fingers crossed.
The stars of the year’s scariest movie talk about the way it came together.
I sincerely hope that “The Conjuring” is just the first of many films in which Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine Warren.
After all, the Warrens spent decades investigating paranormal phenomena in real life, and the film introduces a structure that practically screams for sequels. We see that the Warrens have in their home a room where they keep all of the various items they have removed from the haunted houses and the other supernatural events they’ve witnessed, and that room serves as a sort of museum and safehouse in one. Everything in that room has a story of its own, and “The Conjuring” begins with the story of the Annabelle doll, a sort of introductory haunting to show us who the Warrens are.
Patrick Wilson was evidently the only cast member who was willing to visit the real room in Lorraine Warren’s house, and he showed me a photo on his phone of him in the room standing next to the real Annabelle doll. Talking to him and to Farmiga, it’s obvious that they really enjoyed making this one, and that they’re happy with the way it came out.
They should be. I reviewed the film already, and when we had the HitFix screening of the film at the Vista Theater, I paid close attention to the audience around me. I’d already seen the film, so I wanted to watch reactions, and sure enough, people were freaking out. It’s a very skillful film, and it treats the Warrens with respect. I think it is uncommonly respectful of the faith that was obviously such a cornerstone of the relationship that Ed and Lorraine had in real life.
Farmiga in particular rocks a very memorable look in the film, and I would not be surprised to see many people adopting the high collars and the long skirts for Halloween this year. This is one of those movies that has been relatively low buzz so far, but it’s going to be huge in terms of word of mouth, and I am excited to see what sort of reaction there is to it once it’s out there.
“The Conjuring” opens in theaters July 19.
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.
We all know that Psycho’s Norman Bates had mother issues. But now we know why thanks to Vera Farmiga’s full-bodied performance as mama Norma on Bates Motel, A&E’s reboot of the famous Hitchcock thriller. Desperately clinging to her son like a manic depressive lioness, Farmiga portrays both a formidable heroine and an unstable mess.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have a very successful film career — why take on a TV series?
VERA FARMIGA: I’m not trying out TV, I think my career was born out of TV way back with [Fox’s 1997 series] Roar and my first prominent job, my first big paycheck, or real paycheck rather, the start of my career was Roar. I supposed there are very few things on my don’t list: Don’t eat poisonous mushrooms, don’t do my own taxes, and I guess TV just wasn’t on my don’t list. And culturally, as well, things have shifted. For me then what I gravitate toward is character and challenge and I’m quite honestly wasn’t feeling challenged in a long time in this way, in this capacity. So man, I jumped at the opportunity.
Bates Motel EP Carlton Cuse told me he wrote Norma with you in mind. When you read the script, did it immediately speak to you?
Yes, absolutely, I felt immediately that Oh here’s an incredibly complex character that’s quite challenging. It’s the most flattering notion to receive something that says, “This has been written with you in mind.” And it butters you up immediately. But I just love this character.
I look at characters the way my 4-year-old son Fynn looks at Legos: He doesn’t want the Duplo Legos, for 2-year-olds—they’re janky. He wants that 2,503-piece collector’s item Imperial Shuttle that features the rotating double laser-wing cannons. And for me it’s the same thing: Norma Bates is the Imperial Shuttle. She’s the most comprehensive spice rack of maternal love and angst and I suppose it’s just, it’s all those pieces, those billion pieces, to her that I found challenging and as far as a puzzle and so in the same way I think what I was drawn to above all, what I’m always drawn to because I recognize this in myself, is contradictions. And from the first episode, I think what was so exhilarating was that feeling that pendulum of a trapeze artist swinging this way and that way on all these contradictions. She’s impulsive but she’s measured. She’s controlling and she’s out-of-control. She’s heartbreaking and yet conniving. She’s fragile and tenacious. And it really, that’s what I felt, that exhilaration of being pushed really high on this swing by Carlton and [co-EP] Kerry Ehrin. It was a no-brainer for me.
The show really hinges on the chemistry between you and Freddie Highmore, who plays Norman. Was that immediate?
Carlton allowed me to see his tapes to audition, he put himself on tape and he sent it in and I saw it. There was a buzz that I felt when I saw his [audition]. It was just so layered and nuanced and simple and his eyes did something really crazy and I still continue to see it, it’s like he has the most luminous turquoise eyes that are either black or they’re just as clear as the Caribbean. He has this, I don’t know how he does it, but is so good of an actor he can literally change the color of his eyeballs. He’s got some superhuman skills as an actor in that respect and I just respect him so much and he’s a really great collaborator. He’s an amazing dance partner and at the same time, because it’s an intimate relationship, you have no choice but to adore each other or detest each other. There’s no lukewarm attitude when you spend so much time together. My husband and I both have practically adopted him as our surrogate child. He’s here on the weekends, he eats food from our refrigerators. I look after him on set. He teaches me how to use my personal devices. I would say I’m his surrogate mother and we do have a really deep respect. And it’s a story, yeah, about a mother and son struggling to break that umbilical cord. And I think it’s a story that all of us can relate to.
Carlton was talking about the physicality of the role, of shooting on location and getting slapped around and the rape in the pilot. Was it draining?
Yeah, this is probably the most exhausting role. As far as emotional output, I would say so.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Personally as an actress, yes, finding the tone. It’s very tricky because it’s a double-edged sword finding the comedy within all this darkness sand yet you need that levity but you don’t want to undermine the gravity of what you’re playing so balancing humor in all this, which we’re striving for, is challenging. It’s a dream job, it’s what every actress, this is the kind of role an actress wants to be handed, wants her shot at, and be careful what you ask for, because it’s hard. It’s hard finding that balance, giving so much and then balancing it with my own responsibility as a mother of a 2- and a 4-year-old because I’m depleted. I’m so depleted. At the same tie, I’m pretty inspired by this gal because, like I said, it’s her positivity, but I learn from her weaknesses. This is a role that makes me feel OK about being an exhausted, envious, ambivalent, and worried mother myself.
Carlton and Kerry said they wrote Norma and Norman kind of like a romantic-comedy couple from the 1940s. What’s your opinion on their relationship?
That is an individual audience member’s determination of how close is too close. I know there’s a deep affection between them and Norma is incredibly tactile with her son and I approached the character with innocence, I think, with purity, with chastity, with virtue. I don’t think the warped sexuality comes from her overtly, perhaps subconsciously because her neediness feeds into it. But yeah man, Freud would have had a field day, sure, deciphering because they’re close and they’re incredibly physical with each other.
How does it feel to have Emmy buzz around your performance?
It’s sheer flattery, it really is. And it’s encouragement. It’s an amazing pat on the back, because I know what the output is. It’s nice to get that pat on the back and confirmation of a job well done because I’m having a blast with it. I hope people are enjoying it because we’re putting a lot into it. You want that confirmation. And I’ve been through it with nominations for Up in the Air and other things and it feels good. But I also know that it’s stiff competition in television these days and there’s a lot of great actors doing a lot of great work that deserves to — there are stand-outs that deserve acknowledgement. I’m pretty sober about the whole thing, But bottom line is, of course that buzz feels great.
Christy Grosz edits Deadline’s awards publication Awardsline.
Vera Farmiga admits she was skeptical when she first heard about Bates Motel, the series that serves as a modern-day prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. But playing a character who was merely an idea in the original source material has proven to be the right role at the right time for her. The Oscar-nominated actress is almost protective in describing Norma as the parent of a mentally ill child, choosing to see the single mother as sympathetic. While the A&E series has been picked up for a second season, Farmiga also will star in July’s The Conjuring, in which she plays a paranormal investigator.
AwardsLine: When Bates Motel came to you, were you looking for a TV project specifically?
Farmiga: I think I was looking for a career tweak. I have so many other interests in life, and no role is more challenging, rewarding and inspiring than my real-life role as a mom and a wife, so I pretty much just look at the most remunerative offers these days. (Laughs.) But seriously, if I’m going to step away for 18 hours a day, there better be some sort of a paycheck or spiritual salary being offered. And Bates Motel surprised me. (The role) made me reflect so deeply on the love I feel for my children. I was craving a deeper level of, I don’t know, virtuosity. The writers presented me with this deeper level of sophistication, the creation of Norma, and I pounced on the opportunity. Also, I was craving all that cable serial television has to offer, which is the risk and the wackiness, the unorthodox.
AwardsLine: Did you have any misgivings about tackling such an iconic film from an iconic director?
Farmiga: The purist in me was really suspicious. I love that film, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of turned off by the interdependence to Psycho. Upon reading it, I think setting it in the present really liberated it from the confines of the original. And after all, my character is a corpse; she’s a notion. The challenge is portraying her as an individual, rather than this caricature of an evil mother looming over Norman’s superego. In many ways, what I’ve been hired to do by (executive producers) Kerry (Ehrin) and Carlton (Cuse) is to be that criminal defense attorney, to dispute her image as that eternal narcissist who created that emotional damage and harmed her child. Instead, I want to represent a woman who has genuine empathy and who has an unlimited capacity for giving her child unconditional love.
AwardsLine: Is it difficult to strike that balance between her being slightly off-kilter and seeming genuinely maternal?
Farmiga: I choose to see her as always being strong, brave, tough, resilient and passionate. Yes, she’s troubled and wrong—and just errant at times—but I only doubt her fundamental morality, like, 1 percent of the time. There are websites that I continually reference for inspiration, and I cannot help but approach this with enormous compassion. There’s no parent that can utter the words “My child has a mental illness” without their spirit completely imploding. There are no clear steps that any parent can take to make their mentally dysfunctional child healthier. But it’s an astounding character setting in that respect.
AwardsLine: Now that the show has been renewed for a second season, where do you see that relationship with Norman going?
Farmiga: Other than downstairs in a root cellar? (Laughs.) It’s the great American tragedy, and we know where that story inevitably leads. And it’s grisly. It’s grim. We know that Norman’s going to become some sort of version of the guy in Psycho, and that Norma’s going to become some sort of version of that skeleton with the updo, but how are we going to get there? For me to answer that question, I’d have to divulge a major plot point. It’s like Chopin. It begins and it ends with dissonances, but in between I want to strike all those beautiful chords that make the story so complex.
AwardsLine: You directed your first feature film, Higher Ground, last year. Do you have plans to direct again?
Farmiga: I was just asked by Carlton if I wanted to direct an episode, and with a 2- and a 4-year-old, I can’t. I just don’t have the time. To be honest, I still am trying to grasp the tone of Bates. It’s a wonderful thing, and I’m really enjoying it, but I feel like I’m on some rough seas because the tone of this show switches like the wind. It’s only been 10 episodes, so I am still getting to know my character. As far as directing, I do love it. I just haven’t found that story. I’m only comfortable working in the independent film arena for a very small budget where I have creative control and I can put my stamp on it.
AwardsLine: You’re turning 40 this year. What do you see that meaning for you as an actress?
Farmiga: Do I care that my birthday cake will look like a small forest fire this August? No. If anyone else is concerned, they can go eff themselves. I transitioned out of youth and beauty roles before my career ever began. The kinds of roles I gravitate toward have become more abundant with age and wrinkles. I’m happier than ever; I’m older than ever.