1:1 with VERA FARMIGA
Interviewed by: Debbie Lynn Elias
Source: Movie Shark Deblore
When Vera Farmiga walks into a room, one is immediately struck by the delicateness of her languid lithe figure. But as anyone who has ever seen a Farmiga performance knows, she is anything but delicate. She is an emotional chameleonic powerhouse with an ability to run the gamut of characters and emotions from A to Z. One look into her piercing blue eyes and you can almost see her inner wheels turning, calculating, compartmentalizing, living. Be it as the strong-willed Erica van Doren in Rod Lurie’s “Nothing But the Truth“, the mother kept in the dark as to her Nazi husband’s activities in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas“, her Academy Award nominated role of Alex Goran in “Up in the Air” , the nutty, funny Julie in “Henry’s Crime” or, as Captain Colleen Goodwin in Duncan Jones’ Source Code, Farmiga is formidable, catapulting the audience into worlds and situations that resonate within us all.
In Source Code, Farmiga plays Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin. Goodwin and Captain Colter Stevens are part of a government experiment called the Source Code wherein Stevens is transported through time into the body of an unknown man for purposes of gathering information. The mission: to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train and thwart an apocalyptic event. And he only has 8 minutes to do so. If he fails, he is then destined to repeat the cycle again and again and again. But what Stevens doesn’t understand is how this mission is even possible. It falls on Goodwin to be a good soldier or a good compassionate person.
I had a chance to sit down with Vera Famiga for a 1:1 interview talking about her childhood and cultural upbringing, motherhood and what inspires and drives her as an actor and now, director. Open, free and thoughtful in our conversation, Vera Farmiga is the real deal.
I have to say this has been a glorious week for me as I was lucky enough to have a “Double Feature of Vera” night and now this press day.
VF: [Excitedly] Oh! What did you see? What else did you see? Henry’s Crime?
Yes! First up was Source Code and then I went right into Henry’s Crime. In Source Code, we have Vera with this hard exterior, very stoic, yet with this humanity coming through and emerging. And then Julie, this totally free, frenetic, energetic, funny, funny woman.
VF: Ohhhh, I’m so glad. I love Henry’s Crime. It’s an adorable fun film. I really love that character. I don’t often get an opportunity for that type of character. The comedic muscle is not one that gets flexed often. It’s difficult to find full-bodied, dimensionalized women in studio films.
And that’s exactly why most of the films that you do are often smaller, independent like “Nothing But the Truth.” Rod [Lurie] just goes crazy over you.
VF: Rod, oh Rod. I love Rod. He went to camera a while ago [on "Straw Dogs"]. I wish we’d team up again. He’s a big support system for me. I keep telling him to write something for me. I hear from him often with just a word or two of encouragement.
In “Nothing But the Truth“, as Erica van Doren you blew me out of the water. Then I saw the DVD “In Tranzit.”
VF: I was so disappointed with ["In Tranzit"] as I felt a lot of the actors checked out. Like they just cashed in and checked out.
Your performance was so strong.
VF: Thank you. There were a lot, a lot of European divas. [laughing] I think they plucked one or two of us from each country. It was very cold and we were shooting at a cement, an old cement or glue factory . There were dead horse parts everywhere. I remember it just being so grim and bleak and freezing. I love St. Petersburg. I was happy to be in St. Petersburg, but where we were shooting was a was a scenario that a lot of these divas were just ungrateful. I remember that film, I’m not sure how it turned out. I never quite tuned in because the experience was one with a lot of complaining
Do you find that on a set all of that off camera sniping and bitching and complaining can alter your own performance?
VF: That’s funny. [smiling] I try not to let it swing me, affect me. I rarely encounter it. That’s one of the few projects where I felt like “ugh.” It’s boring to work with actors who are non-plussed and ungrateful.
You are one of the actresses who speaks volumes with your eyes and your face. You grew up in a Ukrainian Catholic neighborhood in Jersey. English became your second language. Was acting a way for you to communicate? Was it something always within you that may have contributed to the emotive performances that you now give?
VF: I grew up as a Ukrainian-American. Ukrainian Americans, Diaspora in the States, we’re very proud of our heritage. It’s a very important part of my upbringing. Crucial. It’s a culture that’s steeped in folklore and storytelling. It’s a part of the music, the dance. I was a professional Ukrainian folk dancer. Storytelling is important in the culture. So, I think it’s just a part of me listening to stories and participating in telling them as a dancer, as a musician. It was important to me. It’s always important to me.
As you are so expressive, even without words, that has to come from something as a child, something within you. That’s not something you “get” or that you can learn. You have that within you. It’s a fantastic, magical quality.
VF: That’s lovely. Thank you. I think I approach every character, especially this one [Goodwin] in which the dialogue wasn’t the most compelling dialogue for me. Goodwin is quite the antithesis of the kind of character I’m normally drawn to. I found that to be a challenge and a great acting exercise, too. But it is truly the way I approach most characters – to be fascinated not only by what they are saying, but moreso with what they’re not saying and what is in between the lines, and subtext. I think subtext often speaks more.
You did that with “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” That’s another performance of yours where as the mother, your heart just bled.
VF: I love that film. That was also a stark script.
What is it that continually drives you as an actress, and now as a director?
VF: It’s the same thing for both. I just want to be inspired. Directing came about because I was feeling bored. I felt like after the Oscars last year…I was down for the count for 9 months, a little more than 9 months because I found out that I was pregnant, and maybe couldn’t take advantage of that Oscar rush. But then I did because financing came for a film I was attached to as an actress for 3 years – and that was “Higher Ground“. I developed it as well. So, tonally it really took on my sensibilities and my persona and my sense of humor and the way I like to explore things. I wanted to make sure that the tone was hit accurately. My acting came abruptly. I was pregnant. The financiers wanted to shoot before I was showing. There was no time to think. So, I found myself at the helm and generally loved it. I was able to cast the actors that I knew would hit it out of the ballpark. I was given carte blanche. I was fortunate enough to work with financiers, producers who let me do what [I wanted to do]; to hold the reins.
I’m always just compelled by…and it can be something different in each story…it has to move me in some way. I have to experience it on many different levels whether it’s a character and an issue that she’s dealing with. Number one, it always has to have some kind of an arc. But I think it’s just inspiration. I can’t really put my finger on what that inspiration will be. It always comes as a surprise. There’s always just a surprising element to whatever it is. I want to be side swept. I’m pretty demanding. [laughing] I want to be side swept by a script. Sometimes it’s the story. Sometimes it’s the character. Sometimes it’s both. That’s the best of all worlds.
You played piano. You were passionate about it. You were a professional folk dancer. Do you ever regret not pursing music? Or giving up your folk dancing?
VF: I don’t regret it. I’m a jack-of-that-trade. There’s not enough time, genuinely, not enough time in the day. So you choose your weapons. And the piano…I will not have time for the next decade until my children are grown! [laughing] It’s not about me anymore. It’s not about myself. It’s about them and the very little time I have left for me.
Will motherhood impact the kind of films that you now take?
VF: It already has. You’re vigilant in a way that you don’t want to contribute to the mess of the world that we’ving in. You want to do work that contributes in a compassionate and positive way and that makes this world a better place for them to grow up in. The idea of the notion of “role model”, I get that. I look at violence in a different way. I’m more sensitive to violence and to cruelty. I genuinely look for the positive messages and social relevance in a script. It’s a bigger magnifying glass that I read my scripts through now as a parent; knowing that my children will watch what I do.
Do you hope that one day the films that you are making and will continue to make, either as an actor, director or both, do you hope that they will impact your children in some way?
VF: Yes. I know they will. I think if they impact me in a positive way and I can walk away from a film with pride and even learning something from a character I played or from the story or thinking in a new and exciting way about something, if it’s broadening my perspective or if it’s taught me something about myself, then I know not only my children, but everyone, will be effected in some way.
What did you take away from playing Goodwin and the film Source Code as a whole?
VF: I think it’s not necessarily my character. I walk away from this film in the same way that I did the first time I read the script. With a reminder to cherish what I hold dear in life; that is so ephemeral, this little life that we’ve been given. It’s going to seem like eight minutes at the end of it all. Just feel the ground beneath your feet and be present.