Vera Farmiga Discusses Faith, Directing, and ‘Higher Ground‘
Interviewed by: Source: Yahoo! Movies
Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air“) successfully steps behind the camera in her acclaimed directorial debut, “Higher Ground,” based on Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir, “The Dark World.” The film depicts a woman’s exploration of faith through family, religion, and self. Vera Farmiga with her sister and co-star Taissa Farmiga, sat down earlier this week with a group of reporters to discuss “Higher Ground.”
Vera on the religious parallels in her own life and that of her character, Corinne’s exploration:
[My family] comfortably went between [Ukrainian Catholicism and Pentecostalism]; my parents found comfort in both. It’s a pendulum of Christianity. One is very ritualized and ornate. Ukrainian Catholicism is a lot of marble and granite and gold … a real of pomp and circumstance, and ritual. … God to me was a very big presence, as big as the church. Everything was grandeur. God was out of there, but I couldn’t talk to him unless I went to the confessional and talked to the priest.
But we went comfortably … [through] every single domination you can think of because my parents are seekers, and that’s the faith they were raised in and that’s the faith they introduced to us.
You can correlate it directly. And I certainly, as far as directing goes and being a voyeur on this community, I didn’t feel I would be perceived as a Philistine on the subject matter. [The film] can be set in any domination.
Vera on directing and finding surprises on the other side of the camera:
There was so much I had to navigate through. I was [pregnant] building a human being at the same time I was building this film … The surprise comes, embracing challenge, and to actually see that you can achieve as far as you reach … If you challenge yourself, there’s an overcoming [of] doubt or insecurities – I don’t know lenses, I don’t have the technical savvy. But I’m bolstered by Michael McDonough’s vision as a cinematographer. You hire people to do their job. I loved having choice. I loved being able to [cast] these actors who should be working more and more, and choosing selfishly for myself because they make me a better actress. I loved having that choice.
The producers gave me a lot of slack … Half of them were European, who believe in auteur, a director’s vision. I could communicate what my approach to the story was going to be, and once they understood it, they gave me free reign … Maybe it had something to do with the Oscar nomination. They all encouraged me.
Vera on casting, and whether she thought of casting anyone else to play the role of Corinne?
There was a shorthand in directing me. (Vera laughs) I knew the approach I was going to take as an actress, and it was one of compassion.
After I agreed to direct and we could start casting sessions, I saw a lot of actors who recuse their characters. I had to write a manifesto for actors to understand what my approach was going to be … You see a religious person, you meet them in a character, I was surprised to see how fundamental people get in their approach … People come with their own memories and perceptions and afflictions and their own experiences, and often times I found that the actors wanted to lash out at these characters, and make them unrelatable and caricatures.
And then Norbert Leo Butz (who plays Pastor Bill) walked into the room … He has so much earnestness and joy … I went for the really earnest actors. And Norbert – the film hinges on his commitment.
For Taissa – On big sister Vera directing, or bossing her around:
TF: It’s not that much different from when we were just sisters.
VF: You loved it!
TF: I loved it!
For Vera – On directing or bossing your little sister around?
There’s different tactics, she might interpret it as bossing, nah … look I ruled you with an Iron Fist. There’s enough of an age difference between us (21 years), but I have her best interest in mind. I know what she’s capable of. I loved challenging her; she loved the challenge (Taissa nods). She embraced it; she was hungry for it … I gave her the most sweet-16 summer you could possibly want … There was no one else for the role. No one. I could fudge every other incarnation of the characters, but I needed here (Vera points to her eyes, inner-expression), and [Taissa] possesses that mixture of strength and vulnerability that that character has.
Vera on whether her Oscar nomination changed the stories she encounters:
I’ve been fortunate to always be challenged … Two nights before the Oscars, I found out I was pregnant so I couldn’t take advantage of things coming my way. So I was down for the count, and I knew I had to be pro-active. So what am I going to do with this with this wonderful energy coming my way, with this spotlight? … “Higher Ground” is an experiment in productivity and pro-activity.