Capone's heart flutters with Vera Farmiga as they discuss her new film, JOSHUA!!!
Published at: July 11, 2007, 3:32 a.m. CST by quint
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, still slightly tingly from my lively conversation with Vera Farmiga, the greatest actress of all time…Okay maybe I'm overstating my case here, but I think I can fairly say that Farmiga is the finest actress of her generation (she turns 34 in about a month), and she seems to have come out of nowhere. Most of you probably know her as essentially the only woman in THE DEPARTED (she was the police therapist who ends up sleeping with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon), or perhaps you remember her as Paul Walker's sexy-as-hell wife in RUNNING SCARED. And if you didn't blink, you may have seen her as the philosophical Russian prostitute in Anthony Minghella's BREAKING AND ENTERING. But it was her portrayal of a drug-addicted mother in DOWN TO THE BONE that set the critical world on fire, so much so that the L.A. Film Critics Association named her best actress of the year in 2004.
Every director wants to work with her, every actor wants to work opposite her, and every film geek wants to marry her (even if they're too scared to speak to her). Her latest film is the unconventional horror film JOSHUA, which pairs her with Sam Rockwell as parents of a strange and unnerving little boy who drives them crazy…literally. It's a great, creepy little movie that opens wider this Friday, and the mere fact that Farmiga and Rockwell are in this thing is enough of a reason to check it out.
But back to Farmiga. Oh mama, is she a gem and an actress of supreme integrity when it comes to picking roles is both small- and big-budget projects. She's got two or three movies in the can that we should be seeing in the next year or so (hopefully), but for now, just check out JOSHUA to see Farmiga at her emotionally broken best. Here's my future girlfriend Vera Farmiga (and forgive my gushing over her ever so slightly; you'll see what I mean). Enjoy…
Capone: Hi, Vera. How are you?
Vera Farmiga: Hey, good.
C: Thanks so much for doing this.
VF: Oh, my pleasure.
C: My first question was going to be some variation on, How did you get to be so cool?, but let me try something that sounds more professional.
VF: [laughs] That one works!
C: At least let me be more precise. You always struck me as the kind of actor who doesn't take a job for a paycheck. You probably could if you wanted to. You always seem to look for particularly challenging characters to play, or other interesting creative types to work with. Am I getting this right?
VF: Yeah, that is very deliberate, it is. This is such a chaotic world; I don't want to contribute to it. And so I choose selectively to see if I can…I do see it as important work. It can be. I enjoy the perks of it, but at the same time, honestly, I only remain attached if I feel that a film will contribute in some way…[pause]
C: …to a great artists purpose?
VF: Yeah, you know, that may sound really grandiose, but it is my standard. My only criterion is that I have to profoundly affected by it. And I need to be excited about it, and I'm someone who excites easily. I get excited over earthworms and silly things.
C: I interviewed George Ratliff last week, and he mentioned that a big reason you wanted to work on JOHSUA was that Sam Rockwell was attached. That's a fascinating pairing.
VF: Sam is the biggest reason I committed to the film. They told me we want you to read this film called JOSHUA; it's a horror film. I said, "No way! Not doing it." And they said, "It's a horror film with Sam Rockwell. Are you interested?" I said, "Okay, send me the script." As soon as I heard his name associated with it, I wanted to do the film. I saw that he was attached and needed no further coaxing.
C: I'm so used to seeing Sam playing the character who's bursting at the seams with energy, and here he's more the calming force, at least compared to your character.
VF: Yeah, I have the tendency to create this very heroic, in control, self-possessed women, and Abby is not, and that was interesting for me as well, to see someone who just deteriorates and does not get saved and cannot save herself, who is in desperate need of salvation. And having Sam Rockwell be that figure is very exciting. I know, to see Sam is such a straight role…
C: Even just seeing him in a suit and tie.
VF: I know, it's comical, isn't it?
C: I'll ask you the same question I asked George last week: Is there something about children that creeps you out? Were you buying that premise that there are certain kids who are a little unnerving?
VF: Deviant? You know, I'm not a mother, but I had one, and she had seven of us. And all of us at some point drove her to the brink of insanity [laughs]. We did things that shocked her and things that unnerved her. And this is a case where not only is she being menaced by her child, but she's going through her second bout of psychosis.
C: JOSHUA is a tough movie to explain to people, especially when you tell someone that the villainous character is a child. Other than your particular character's arc, was there something about the story that drew you in?
VF: I don't know what it is. I was just really reminiscent of all my favorite Polanski films of the '70s. It really was. Even Sam Rockwell has that '70s feel to him. And it was an excited combination of things. I seldom get creeped out, and I love psychological thrillers; I even like horror films. But it's so seldom I get scared or even feel the thrill; I always feel duped. This was just a real smart and excited script in that way. And I found it was not only shocking but it was also followed by laughter as I was reading it. It was an exhilarating combination.
C: I've actually interviewed a couple of directors you've worked with in the recent past, including George and Anthony Minghella, and they both pointed to--and I'm guessing a few other directors you've worked with would say the same thing--your performance in DOWN TO THE BONE as that key reason that they wanted you in their film. Did you ever imagine that that little film was going to become your calling card as an acting force?
VF: You know what? I didn't think of it in those terms. I know that when Debra Granik and I were working on it, I knew it was a brilliant coupling. I knew that we were both really excited to tell this story, and we had a really intense collaboration. And she's someone I really respect and admire and she's set a certain standard for me in terms of work ethic. She's someone I really look up to. I felt that we were both really passionate about what we were doing, and I would only hope that someone would get to see it. That JOSHUA came as a result, I think George Ratliff saw the work and it really has become a calling card.
C: So you do hold that film in a special place, even now?
VF: Of course, because no one had even give me the opportunity to play such a role of a woman in such full dimension. No one before that. I didn't have a chance, and that was really the first time I could explore a character to such dimension and form, and no one had given me that responsibility before or entrusted that responsibility to me.
C: Then the L.A. Film Critics Association picked you as Best Actress that year.
VF: Yeah they did, that was so surprising. Somehow the tape got to their desks, because it takes a lot of money for postage to send those tapes out and to petition and campaign for things like that. So that was a big surprise.
C: When you say DOWN TO THE BONE was an "intense collaboration," do you mean emotionally?
VF: Um, ah. Every role is tough for me. I mean there are murky spiritual depths in every role. It's not tough, but it was really…especially on such a low budget. Celia Weston [who plays Rockwell's mother in JOSHUA]said this the other day and I felt the same way on JOSHUA. Sometime on these films--we shot JOSHUA in 25 days--you only get one or two takes, and sometimes they'll be a camera glitch or sound glitch, and if the director is very happy with that take and asks you to do it again that way. But you haven't had a chance to do it the way you would like to try to do it, and it's frustrating. And working at such a fast pace can be frustrating, but at the same time, that's what made DOWN TO THE BONE so successful. A large part of that film was made with non-actors and highly mobile crews and very limited lighting.
C: And now here you are again playing another troubled mother in JOSHUA. What are directors so drawn to you to play these types of women? Are you concerned?
VF: God, I think it's sheer will. I'm just willing to do it. I think that's really it. And desire. It's not that I'm not afraid to do it. There's an incredible amount of fear that goes along with each one of these roles. In fact, there has to be that element of fear, otherwise I won't take on a project.
C: That's funny, because "fearless" is a word that is often used to describe your performances.
VR: [laughs] And really, I'm cowering in my boots every time I take on a role, so that's so funny to me. That's very, very funny because that's not how I feel. I mean, I try to be as valiant as I can once I commit to it but there's got to be this trepidation, and that's what fuels me. Honestly, what that fear is, in the case of JOSHUA, it's the last thing I wanted was some woman who had overcome the illness or someone going through it to say, "That's not even close to what I feel like or what I look like or what the hell I've been through." So the fear comes from trying to approach the work as alertly and reverently as possible and sort of tell the truth. Acting with Sam is really lovely because all he's concerned about is telling the truth of the moment and doing whatever it takes to achieve that. So when he's flipping you over in your undies and smacking your bottom and squeezing it in certain ways where maybe they hadn't considering lighting if he had rehearsed it that way in rehearsal, you've got to go with it. [laughs] The thing about working with Sam is that he reminds me that it's fun no matter what the task at hand is.
C: I have to ask one question about BREAKIKNG AND ENTERING. Anthony Minghella and I did talk specifically about your character in that film. It's this modern-day immigrant story, and although the plot focuses on Juliette Binoche's character, your character is just as much a part of that phenomenon. And she's also this astute philosopher.
VF: That's how I saw her, as a philosopher not a prostitute. I found her character so refreshing when I read it. It was her bluntness, she was in insightful despite her world-weariness. She was a light despite that weariness, and I was drawn to that contradiction. The film was about encounters, breaking and entering into each other's lives. She was a woman, same as every other character in that film, who was struggling to make a connection with someone. [Vera paused for a while here, which I interpreted as either thinking about her answer or losing her train of thought.] Just so you know, I just came back two days ago from a three-month shoot in Hungary, drowning in the Holocaust playing a perpetrator. This is a film based on a wonderful novel by John Boyne called THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, so my head is, aside from the jet lag, not quite all there.
C: Since you mentioned projects you have coming up. How certain is it that you're making THE VINTNER'S LUCK. Your name has been attached to that. Are you really making it?
VF: It is. Yeah. I'm not sure. Niki Caro [who directed WHALE RIDER] had agreed to do it, and she as well as a couple of the other women attached to it embarked on motherhood and pregnancy, so that was postponed, and I'm not sure now when they're scheduled to do it. So it certainly is a possibility, but it's not definite. I'd love to work with her.
C: With Keisha Castle-Hughes as one of those embarking on motherhood.
VF: Yes, I know! I hope so; we'll see.
C: I also noticed you were in Russia just before you made JOSHUA making IN TRANZIT. The one-line plot summary is intriguing to me. German POWs somehow end up in a female-run prison camp. I'm guessing it's not as kinky as it sounds. One can only hope.
VF: [laughs] It's really just a story about the aftermath of war and how two cultures can forgive each other, and how to proceed. It's set after the siege of Leningrad, and it's a love story between this Russian nurse at the camp and someone she's encouraged to seduce to find out who he is. He's suspected of being a high-ranking Nazi official hiding out amongst the prisoners. To be honest, I haven't seen it, and the script was so many other stories as well, but I think they pared it down to our story. So I haven't seen the final product, and I'm not exactly sure what it is. But that certainly was my story, and I think that's become the gist of the film.
C: I'm sure you've been asked variations of this question a million times, but as the sole female voice in THE DEPARTED, I was curious did Martin Scorsese or any of your co-stars do anything to ease you of that terrible burden of being surrounded by all those hideously ugly men?
VF: No, they did absolutely nothing. [laughs] They weren't always on their best behavior, especially Jack [Nicholson], and I just had to deal with it. I was so lucky to have worked with Scorsese, and honestly I hadn't met Jack until the celebratory party after the premiere.
C: Do you have any good memories of making the Fox series "Roar" opposite Heath Ledger? There's a small geek community that still talks about this show.
VF: [She lets out what can only be described as a high-pitched squeal when I mention this show.] I know! Any good memories? I've never been more scared to be in front of the camera than that show. That was my first job. Any association I have with it, immediately my stomach tenses. It was a training ground for me; I'd just done theater up to that point, and all of the sudden I had this big black ominous thing called a camera to contend with. I don't hear too much about it these days really.
C: No, it's the stuff of cult legend, trust me. You were talking before about your mother and your big family, and from what I've read you come from a fairly conservative Ukrainian Catholic background. Was there ever a problem in your family with you going into acting?
VF: No, no. We were always encouraged to do what we loved. It didn't surprise them. I don't know if they took it seriously, but any whim that we had they pretty much encouraged. And already I'd been a professional Ukrainian folk dancer and I was thinking about pursuing piano professionally and getting into music. I don't think it was too much of a shock that I was ultimately doing something in the arts.
But these are the same parents that, when I booked Scorsese gig, I said, "Ma, I just booked the next Scorsese film." And she said, "Who's that?" And I said, "Oh gosh. It's a film with Leonardo DiCaprio." "He sounds familiar." I said, "TITANIC?" And she's "Oh, yes, yes, yes." [laughs]
C: I'll admit I don't know that much about Ukrainian culture, but there's a huge section of Chicago called Ukrainian Village, and they have wonderful food there, so I can at least say that the food is very good, even if hardly any Ukrainians actually live there anymore.
VF: There's a huge Ukrainian community in Chicago, yeah.
C: And I'll leave you with this programming note, the episode of "Law and Order" you were in is airing on TNT tomorrow if you have a burning desire to see it again.
C: Well, thank you so much for doing this, and we'll look forward to everything you've got coming up in the next year or so.
VF: I appreciate that. Thank you. Talk to you soon.
Clearly you can see from Vera's final comment ["Talk to you soon."] that she plans on us talking again, which leads me to conclude that her impending status as the new Mrs. Capone is all but sealed. Seriously though, the only thing I find slightly more nerve wracking than talking to someone famous is talking to someone whose work I have consistently admired, whether or not they're particularly famous, and Vera Farmiga definitely falls into that category with a body of work that's easy to admire. And she's hotter than a frying pan filled with yummy bacon. JOSHUA is a terrific film thanks in large part to her gutsy performance.