NoA Interview: ‘Crime’ Time’s Prime Time for Vera Farmiga — Part 1
Printed first at www.movingpicturesnetwork.com
By Elliot V. Kotek
(from Moving Pictures, spring issue, 2011)
Vera Farmiga’s career is anything but up in the air. With three films out this year — including her directorial debut, the Sundance sensation “Higher Ground” — the sky’s the limit for the Ukranian-American actress who picked up an Oscar nomination in 2010 for “Up in the Air.” Farmiga has a central role in Duncan Jones’ “Moon” follow-up “Source Code,” as well as Malcolm Venville’s rom com “Henry’s Crime,” 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 “Henry’s Crime” and “Higher Ground,” 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 “Henry’s Crime,” you play a theatrical actress who also appears in a TV commercial. “BUFFALOTTO!” — your catchphrase in the commercial — 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’s a personality thing, [but it] wasn’t my gig. You’ve got to be persistent, bubbly and high-spirited. I just wasn’t gung ho to pitch tampons, corn cushions and douches. Dressing up as a life-sized booger for Mucinex wasn’t for me. Perhaps I wasn’t adept at pitching back then. I’m not a natural-born barker, although the Buffalotto commercial in “HC” 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’t remember the last time I did anything for myself, let alone go to the theater to see a play. Wait, that’s not true. My husband and I went to the opening of the Metropolitan Opera in the fall and saw Wagner’s “Das Rheingold.” What a treat. In any moment of duress, try belting “Rheingold! Rheingold! Rheingold!” in A-flat minor — [it’s] 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 “a comedy” just to mess with us?
Farmiga: I like Chekhov. I’m of Slavic descent — I’ll 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 “The Cherry Orchard” — a character whose failure to address the problems facing her estate and her family means eventually losing everything.
It’s quite tragic, to live an illusion of a happier past. But other people’s delusions are funny, no? Not funny ha-ha, but funny smirk. It’s comedy in a farcical way, not hardy-har-har. It’s 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 — [it’s a] narcoleptic tendency: I slumber during 90 percent of all movies I see, not sure why — I do find it hard to separate myself from the business and just take pleasure in it, especially since having directed. I’m usually breaking it down in my head, noting editing or music choices.
MP: Keanu is often referred to as one of “the nicest guys” 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’s 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’ll 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’ve 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’s a poetess. My favorite director I’ve ever worked with by virtue of articulateness and eloquence and her use of metaphor.
Photo by Scott McDermott