An exclusive interview with ‘Source Code‘ star Vera Farmiga
Interviewed by: Don Kaye
Source: MSN Movies
In director Duncan Jones’ new science-fiction thriller, “Source Code,” which opened this past weekend, Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga plays Air Force Capt. Colleen Goodwin, a no-nonsense officer who is the “Source Code coach” for Blackhawk pilot Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal). Through the program, developed by an eccentric scientist named Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), Stevens’ consciousness can be inserted into the mind of another man for the last eight minutes of that man’s life — in this case, the mind of a man who was killed by a terrorist bomb on a commuter train. Stevens has just that eight minutes to learn all he can about the bombing in order to prevent an even larger one in the heart of Chicago.
Goodwin is the only face Stevens sees and the only voice he hears — through a monitor — when he is not on board the train in the strange parallel reality created by the “Source Code” program, and she gradually transforms from pragmatic, emotionless soldier herself into Stevens’ confidante and even protector. The excellent Farmiga brings her best to the enigmatic role, and spoke exclusively with MSN about the challenges of the part, her exposure to sci-fi and working through morning sickness every day.
MSN: This is your first foray into the science-fiction genre. Did you enjoy getting a chance to do that?
Vera Farmiga: You know, I love genre films as long as I’m compelled by the characters. I will say that sci-fi is not something I’m necessarily drawn to, although I did grow up watching “The Jetsons” and “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek.” But what compelled me about “The Jetsons” were the characters. Before reading the script (for “Source Code“), I watched (Jones’ feature debut) “Moon.” Then I watched it seven more times, read this script and loved the way that Duncan as a director presents this very intricate puzzle. That was the scenario with “Moon,” I encountered it again in this script, and just wanted to be part of it.
Jones pays attention to character development more than usual in this type of film.
Yes, and that’s also a tribute to (screenwriter) Ben Ripley’s writing as well. But I think it is a forte of Duncan’s. In a genre like this that’s plot-driven, he does allow the characters to be first and most memorable. In the way that Scorsese is known for his characters — you don’t often remember the plot, but you remember the characters. I was committed to Duncan anyway: After seeing “Moon,” I would have followed him anywhere. But my character in “Source Code” was not the kind of character I’m normally drawn to. I think it was a big challenge and one of the most difficult roles I’ve ever played, because it’s not readily apparent who this woman is. A lot of her dialogue is exposition, which can be maddening for an actor. She’s someone who’s always spewing technical jargon and letting Jake’s character and the audience know what’s going on. There’s very little room for movement. I’m sitting in a chair and can swivel left and right. I wasn’t even acting with a scene partner. I felt very limited in this role, and that in itself was the challenge: How do I make this character compelling to myself and an audience?
So how do you go into each day of shooting and make it interesting for yourself?
What became interesting for me was not on the page, but the real estate between each line. Not so much what this character says, but what doesn’t she say, and what is difficult for her to say. What she doesn’t want to say. So for me, it then became a very interesting exercise in conveying thought and subtext minimally and subtly. And knowing that it was pretty much just going to be my face, figuring out how to convey it through that. With those limitations, you find new ways to maneuver.
You were pregnant while you shot this film, right?
Very much so (laughs).
So I imagine that being seated for most of it helped.
It helped with the morning sickness. I was slammed with morning sickness. So far in two for two pregnancies, the first trimester has been pretty rough (laughs). I wasn’t necessarily showing just yet, but a lot of the character’s discomfort was my own.
When the movie starts out, you don’t really know who Goodwin is and she seems very businesslike and buttoned-down. But then as the film progresses, she becomes more humane and compassionate. It sort of plays against the stereotype we see in films of the military character who’s a hard-ass from start to finish.
But you know, they have to be that way to achieve their jobs. It is a profession in which you must operate with intellect and instinct and logic. Imagine the scenario where a soldier is off to war, yet having a cup of tea with your enemy and meeting his or her family, and then going back on the battlefield and taking that person’s life. You can’t get emotionally involved if you’re on a mission. So Goodwin certainly does start off that way. Her mission is to save Chicago and save lives. Time is of the essence. She’s been trained in the “Source Code” program, but this is the first one that’s actually working. She’s looked at this as a science project from the start. She’s the one taking Jake’s character by the collar and making sure he stays on course and gathering as much information as possible in very little time, and yet he’s off falling in love (laughs). As she becomes more connected to him and develops a respect and tenderness and admiration for him, her heart is engaged. The more her heart opens, the harder her job becomes.
How was working with Jeffrey Wright? How much of his character was on the page, and how much of that eccentricity in the role did he surprise you with?
Yeah, that’s Jeffrey Wright for you. He’s masterful, and it’s a real treat to watch him work. It was not on the page. The hobble, the cane, the manner of speech — that’s Jeffrey Wright’s craftsmanship. He’s the best of the best. It was all too brief, the interludes we had, but I did get to work with him in the flesh, and it’s wonderful watching it.