‚ÄėCrime‚Äô Time‚Äôs Prime Time for Vera Farmiga
Interviewed by: n/a
Source: Moving Pictures
Vera Farmiga‚Äôs career is anything but up in the air. With three films out this year ‚ÄĒ including her directorial debut, the Sundance sensation ‚ÄúHigher Ground‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ the sky‚Äôs the limit for the Ukranian-American actress who picked up an Oscar nomination in 2010 for ‚ÄúUp in the Air.‚ÄĚ Farmiga has a central role in Duncan Jones‚Äô ‚ÄúMoon‚ÄĚ follow-up ‚ÄúSource Code,‚ÄĚ as well as Malcolm Venville‚Äôs rom com ‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs Crime,‚ÄĚ in which she plays an actress and the love interest of star Keanu Reeves. In this wide-ranging interview, Farmiga talks about the making of ‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs Crime‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúHigher Ground,‚ÄĚ the importance of film festivals to independent projects, the blueprint for what she sees as her ideal career and the causes her celebrity has helped provide public awareness of.
Moving Pictures: In ‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs Crime,‚ÄĚ you play a theatrical actress who also appears in a TV commercial. ‚ÄúBUFFALOTTO!‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ your catchphrase in the commercial ‚ÄĒ is projected with quite a bit of gusto. Did you ever do commercial auditions on your way up through the acting ranks?
Vera Farmiga: I was sent on a couple of commercials auditions in the early days. It‚Äôs a personality thing, [but it] wasn‚Äôt my gig. You‚Äôve got to be persistent, bubbly and high-spirited. I just wasn‚Äôt gung ho to pitch tampons, corn cushions and douches. Dressing up as a life-sized booger for Mucinex wasn‚Äôt for me. Perhaps I wasn‚Äôt adept at pitching back then. I‚Äôm not a natural-born barker, although the Buffalotto commercial in ‚ÄúHC‚ÄĚ was indeed terribly exciting for me. Go figure.
MP: As a community theater actress in the film, when was the last time you went to the theater to see a play?
Farmiga: I have a 3-month-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, [so] I can‚Äôt remember the last time I did anything for myself, let alone go to the theater to see a play. Wait, that‚Äôs not true. My husband and I went to the opening of the Metropolitan Opera in the fall and saw Wagner‚Äôs ‚ÄúDas Rheingold.‚ÄĚ What a treat. In any moment of duress, try belting ‚ÄúRheingold! Rheingold! Rheingold!‚ÄĚ in A-flat minor ‚ÄĒ [it‚Äôs] a superior way to blow off steam or compete with the excessive whining of your child.
MP: In the film, the troupe you are a part of is acting a Chekhov play. Do you have a passion for Chekhov? Do you find the humor in his works, or do you think he called many of his works ‚Äúa comedy‚ÄĚ just to mess with us?
Farmiga: I like Chekhov. I‚Äôm of Slavic descent ‚ÄĒ I‚Äôll stare at a leaf on the ground and go from mirth and giddiness to despondent heartache in two seconds flat. I do find humor in his work, not a guffaw kind of laughter but the smirk sort. I play an aspiring community theater actress in Buffalo who takes on the role of Madame Ranevskaya in ‚ÄúThe Cherry Orchard‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ a character whose failure to address the problems facing her estate and her family means eventually losing everything.
It‚Äôs quite tragic, to live an illusion of a happier past. But other people‚Äôs delusions are funny, no? Not funny ha-ha, but funny smirk. It‚Äôs comedy in a farcical way, not hardy-har-har. It‚Äôs tough stuff to act, the dual nature of things. Challenging.
MP: When you go to the theater or see a film, can you separate yourself from the business and enjoy it, or do you start imagining which part you would have liked to have portrayed?
Farmiga: If I last through a film ‚ÄĒ [it‚Äôs a] narcoleptic tendency: I slumber during 90 percent of all movies I see, not sure why ‚ÄĒ I do find it hard to separate myself from the business and just take pleasure in it, especially since having directed. I‚Äôm usually breaking it down in my head, noting editing or music choices.
MP: Keanu is often referred to as one of ‚Äúthe nicest guys‚ÄĚ to work with. What does that mean on set? Is he giving everyone a back rub, or is it in the way he prepares and commits to a project?
Farmiga: Nice is a lame word to describe Keanu. He‚Äôs generous (though I never got a back rub). Earnest. Kind. Quirky. Committed. Forthright. Boyish. Offbeat. Funny. Diligent. Obsessive-compulsive about the character he is playing. Straightforward and mysterious at the same time.
MP: Is it different working with an actor who is also the producer of the project?
Farmiga: Extremely different. Actor-producers never complain about the quality of holding. On the other hand, you can be sure they‚Äôll organize edible catering. You get twice the commitment, twice the fervor. They never take more on-set perks than the other actors.
MP: Jimmy Caan mentors Keanu in the film. Who‚Äôve been your mentors on your path?
Farmiga: Mentors? The late prima ballerina Roma Bohachevsky, the choreographer of the Ukrainian Dance Ensemble Syzokryli I performed with in my teens and 20s. She was the quintessence of grace and elegance. She taught perseverance and the importance of hard work and discipline. Debra Granik is a mentor. I admire her moxie, her refusal to compromise, the way she operates from inspiration. The way she communicates. She‚Äôs a poetess. My favorite director I‚Äôve ever worked with by virtue of articulateness and eloquence and her use of metaphor.
Vera Farmiga‚Äôs career is anything but up in the air. With three films out this year ‚ÄĒ including her directorial debut, the Sundance sensation ‚ÄúHigher Ground‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ the sky‚Äôs the limit for the Ukranian-American actress who picked up an Oscar nomination in 2010 for ‚ÄúUp in the Air.‚ÄĚ Farmiga has a central role in Duncan Jones‚Äô ‚ÄúMoon‚ÄĚ follow-up ‚ÄúSource Code,‚ÄĚ as well as Malcolm Venville‚Äôs rom com ‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs Crime,‚ÄĚ in which she plays an actress and the love interest of star Keanu Reeves. In part two of this wide-ranging interview, Farmiga discusses working with James Caan on the set of ‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs Crime‚ÄĚ and the making of her directorial debut, ‚ÄúHigher Ground.‚ÄĚ
MP: Off camera, at the end of each day, did you and Jimmy hang out? Did he talk about his experiences ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúThe Godfather,‚ÄĚ riding rodeos, etc.? Did you ask him about any specific experience?
Farmiga: After a full day on set, I‚Äôm most craving family cuddles. As soon as the director yells ‚Äúcut,‚ÄĚ I‚Äôm sprinting to my babies and hubby. But Jimmy was the apple of my eye on set. He and I hung quite a bit during camera setups, communed over lunches. He is so full of vim and vigor, victory and vitriol. He has an arsenal of war stories from yesteryear cinema. He volunteered many juicy stories, none of which I feel comfortable parleying.
MP: Was Jimmy Caan‚Äôs hand never not on your thigh when you were doing press for the film in Toronto?
Farmiga: That letch is always trying to cop a feel. He‚Äôs got a thing for pregnant ladies, and my thighs were eight months preggers.
MP: With the momentum of your career, is it now less about just working and more about accumulating experiences with great collaborators? Some actors have a list of people with whom they aspire to work. Do you?
Farmiga: I don‚Äôt really have a ‚Äúto do‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúwork with‚ÄĚ list. The blueprint for my ideal career or life has to do with creativity. Creativity comes by way of inspiration. Sometimes inspiration is a character, sometimes it‚Äôs a story, sometimes it‚Äôs collaborators, sometimes it‚Äôs the incentive of a paycheck. Add productivity and simplicity to any of those ingredients, and it‚Äôs the best equation for abundance. I would definitely like to reunite with Debra Granik again. Work with [Pedro] Almod√≥var. My son would like me to work with Lightning McQueen.
MP: What‚Äôs your least favorite film-press question?
Farmiga: It‚Äôs a tie between what‚Äôs it like to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio and what‚Äôs it like to kiss George Clooney.
MP: The Sundance and Toronto film festivals have been great homes for your performances in recent years. What do these festivals mean to you as an actress?
Farmiga: I‚Äôve a deep affection for both festivals. Without Sundance or Toronto to showcase the films that have been dearest to my heart, I‚Äôd probably be administering glaucoma tests in my own optometry business. Both festivals have been launching pads for films I‚Äôm most proud of.
MP: Do you ever worry yourself with whether a film has distribution in place when you take on a project, or is the business of film a matter outside your interests?
Farmiga: I never sweat distribution deals not being in place. That would be like worrying if people are going to eat cake at your birthday party before making the invite list. The right script feels like a party. Find a great recipe, use the right ingredients, bake the cake, and they will eat.
MP: Your character went through an awakening of sorts in ‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs Crime,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúHigher Ground,‚ÄĚ the film you directed shortly afterwards that made its premiere at Sundance, is also very much a film about awakenings. What is it about that search that so compels you?
Farmiga: I‚Äôm drawn to the topic of search and yearning and self-discovery in the same way I‚Äôve always been drawn to it, in the vein of ‚ÄúSnow White,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúAlice in Wonderland,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúSleeping Beauty.‚ÄĚ The same kinds of stories amuse and compel me that did when I was a kid ‚ÄĒ gal encounters hard times or challenging incident [and] meets a goofy, longing set of people that give her perspective and make her a better person. It‚Äôs a pretty simple formula, works every time.
MP: In Toronto, Keanu joked that even while you were pregnant, you were not the type of person who would stay idle, that you‚Äôd record a book on tape or write a novel. He wasn‚Äôt wrong. You went off and didn‚Äôt just make a movie but made a significantly poignant film that made it into Sundance. Is there no such thing as downtime in your world?
Farmiga: The last year has been robust. ‚ÄúHigher Ground‚ÄĚ preproduction happened in first trimester, production happened in second trimester, and postproduction happened in third. Both film and baby girl were simultaneously born. ‚Ä¶ I love to nap ‚ÄĒ that‚Äôs the extent of being idle. Downtime for me is usually some type of work: pruning trees and perennials, leaf blowing, mowing the lawn, shearing goats [and] knitting my husband sweaters from their wool. Hiking. Exploring.