Vera Ann Farmiga was born 6th August 1973 in Passaic County, New Jersey, USA. Second of seven children, Vera was raised in a strict catholic home by Ukrainian immigrant parents, Michael (Mykola) Farmiga and Lyubov (Lyuba) Farmiga. She grew up in an insular Ukrainian American community and hence did not speak English until at the age of six. Vera attended a Ukrainian Catholic school before going to a public school. She was passionate about dancing and toured with a Ukrainian folk-dancing company in her teens.
Vera graduated from Hunderton Central regional high school in 1991 with dreams of becoming an optometrist. She eventually changed her mind and went on to study acting at Syracuse University’s School of Performing Arts. Farmiga began her professional acting career on stage in 1996, making her Broadway debut as an understudy in the play Taking Sides. Her stage credits included performances in The Tempest, The Glass Menagerie, Hamlet, and Second-Hand Smoke (1997). Vera’s on stage performances caught the eye of television producers and she went on to make her television debut as the female lead, Catlin, opposite Heath Ledger in the short lived Fox series Roar (1997). The show introduced Vera to her future husband, actor Sebastian Roache, whom she married during the same year. The marriage ended in 2005.
Vera continued on with television work, appearing in Rose Hill (1997) and making appearances in Law and Order (1998) and Trinity (1998). She also starred in Return to Paradise (1998) opposite Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix and Anne Heche, catching the eye of both film critics and audiences. In 2000 she went on to film The Opportunists with Christopher Walken and Autumn in New York with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder.
Farmiga gained more attention and recognition for her work for the role of Daphne Handlova in 15 Minutes (2001), in which she starred opposite Robert De Niro and Edward Burns. She also appeared in Dust (2001), Show White (2001), Love in the Time of Money (2002) and Dummy (2002) before winning the role of Alex Cross in UC: Undercover, an NBC series, which was unfortunately cancelled after 11 episodes.
After the cancellation of the series, Vera Farmiga took a little time off just to return in 2004 with 5 movies and yet another TV show! She starred in Down to the Bone in the role of Irene, which fans still list as one of her best performances to date. The performance earned Vera a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and nominations at Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. Next she pulled off another strong performance in HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels opposite Hilary Swank and had a smaller role in In the Gap. She starred in a TV series called Touching Evil as Detective Susan Branca. Unfortunately this production was cancelled just after six episodes, despite a large fan following. Vera herself went on to star opposite Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate (2004) as Jocelyne Jordan.
In 2005 Vera appeared in Neverwas and The Hard Easy. She went on to roles in Breaking and Entering (2006) and the talked-about Running Scared (2006) before making a powerful entrance to Hollywood’s A-list as Madolyn in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. 2007 saw Vera in Never Forever and Joshua. In 2008 Vera made waves with her roles in In Tranzit, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, for which she won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress, Nothing But the Truth, which earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2009 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, and she received positive reviews for her performance as Fiona in Quid Pro Quo. For example, a critic for New York magazine stated that Farmiga “is – as usual – scarily good. Her madness isn’t something out of the ether. She’s always visibly calculating, thinking better of something reckless she’s about to do – then doing it anyway.”
Vera next appeared in Niki Caro’s The Vintner’s Luck (2009), a film that examines the trials and tribulations experienced by a 19th century winemaker. She starred in Jaume Collet-Serra’s mystery thriller Orphan together with Peter Sarsgaard as a husband and wife who adopt a 9-year-old girl – who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be. The film received mixed reviews but, as usual, Farmiga’s performance stood out to the critics. Times magazine wrote that Farmiga “becomes more convincing as the story unfolds. By the end, she has you in the palm of her hand.” 2009 ended on a career high note for Vera as she starred opposite George Clooney and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. The character, Alex, turned out to be one of Farmiga’s favorite roles. “It’s a very masculine kind of feminine desire, which I found appealing,” she said. “She doesn’t temper her desires at all. She makes clear her needs and expects to have the world accommodate them. It’s not a character we often see on-screen, and when we do, more often that not she’s bereft of dignity. So that was cool.” The Jason Reitman directed comedy-drama was very well received by the critics and audiences alike and turned out to be one of Farmiga’s biggest box office successes. Not only this but Farmiga’s turn as the ambiguous Alex was a huge hit. In 2010, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture as well as many other nominations for the role. Although Farmiga was considered to be one of the frontrunners by many, the awards themselves ended up going to Mo’Nique for her performance in Precious. “The response was amazing,” Vera said. “I think women were just so pleased to see the tables turned. It’s so common to see a movie with a man exploring his unsettled streak, his sexuality in the way that Alex does. Oftentimes, you do see the woman being shafted and it was refreshing to see a woman who was in control and unapologetic about her sensuality, desire and needs.”
Farmiga next began filming the surrealist romantic comedy Henry’s Crime (2010) with Keanu Reeves in late 2009. The film was released at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 to mixed reviews. In 2011 Vera had a supporting role in the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones. Farmiga plays Colleen Goodwin, an un-foofy air force officer who is Gyllenhaal’s only contact with the outside world. Vera says that she almost didn’t take the role because she was felt that her character “was not that stimulating on the written page.” But then she began to see the script itself as a challenge and decided to take it on. Source Code received international critical acclaim by reviewers.
Partly in order to rectify the lack of strong female roles, Farmiga recently directed and starred in her own feature film, titled Higher Ground (2011), which tells the story of a woman’s struggle with faith from her 50s childhood to the aftermath of a spiritual crisis. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it was well received, and saw a limited North American release on August 26. Variety noted for that Higher Ground “marks a startlingly bold directing debut for actress Vera Farmiga [...] Farmiga holds the screen with nary a trace of vanity-project posturing, even as her direction steers this full-bodied ensemble drama past some minor missteps into deeply moving and provocative realms.” “I’ve been very pleased with the reception to the movie,” says Vera herself. “I grew tired of asking permission [to play the roles I wanted to play]. With Higher Ground, I thought, ‘OK, let’s create an opportunity.’ It’s frustrating because I feel like I work harder to bring life to…” She breaks off. “I mean, I know the roles [for women] are out there but it’s just so cut-throat and everyone’s vying for them.”
What is next to come for the blue eyed beauty are Goats, to be released later on in 2011, Safe House (2012), Closer to the Moon (2013), which she is currently filming, The Locals (2012) and, finally, the role of Beatrice in a feature adaptation of the Arthur Miller play A View from the Bridge (2012).
Vera and her husband, Renn Hawkey, a carpenter who was formerly keyboard player for the synth-pop band Deadsy, have a two-year-old son, Fynn Hawkey, and a year old daughter, Gytta Lubov Hawkey. What if one of her children wanted to be an actor? “I would encourage them, whatever their convictions are,” Vera says. “I think it can be a noble profession, I really do.”
“I really don’t feel a need to be famous, but I do feel a need to make a difference, to shed light on human emotion through acting. It sounds strange, but I don’t recognize myself in the women in most films. And I should be up there somewhere. We all should”, Farmiga says. With several powerful performances on her belt, a magnetic screen presence and an eye for great roles, one may expect many great things from the talented and extraordinary actress and director Vera Farmiga.
Last updated on November 13, 2011
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