Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Up in the Air, Source Code) who has become increasingly well-known and respected for her versatile and nuanced roles, stopped in to talk with Ron Bennington about the new independent film, Henry’s Crime.
She and Ron talk about Henry’s Crime, about how she ended up with such an interesting diverse resume, about the experience of playing a junkie in Down to the Bone, and about how the theater-going experience is changing how films are made.
Below are a few excerpts from their conversation. You can hear the entire interview on Ron Bennington Interviews.
Ron Bennington: If Sharon Jones is singing ,Vera comes walking in, because this happens now. A couple of movies you’ve had a Sharon Jones opening song. Isn’t she unbelievable?
Vera Farmiga: Unbelievable. Its amazing what she does for a film and how music composition just makes a film even more full-bodied.
Ron Bennington: In this new film, she was all throughout it.
Vera Farmiga: She is the spirit of the film. With gravitas, but whimsy, and lightheartedness, sexuality and sensuality. It informs it so beautifully.
Ron Bennington: Was this Keanu’s piece [Henry’s Crime]? That he wanted to get on for a while?
Vera Farmiga: It’s surprising that an uber-film star like Keanu– even for someone like that– will take 5 years to get something like this off the ground.
Ron Bennington: Why is it so difficult for people to get the kind of work out that they want to?
Vera Farmiga: I’m not sure, I don’t know, I really don’t know. Economy? Also, there’s just– people used to go to the theater, it used to be a celebration, it used to be a sort of equivalent of church. You’d go in with this massive congregation, you’d look upwards. And you know, good stories are spiritual but hardly anyone goes to the theater anymore. And there’s so many other ways and venues now, and personal devices. People are watching films on little personal devices. And so, selling tickets is harder and harder. And so people are second guessing how to sell tickets.
Ron Bennington: This one was like a 40s film. What’s great was, I just had Duncan Jones in and we were talking about how subtle you were in Source Code, because it’s almost like you did a Skype movie. So we were bragging about the subtlety of you and then 2 days later I see this film and it is like a 1940s comedy.
Vera Farmiga: Yea madcap, screwball, lark, fun– both were challenging in those different respects. Both characters were very different. Source Code was a challenge with limitations. I felt like I was i-chatting, even knowing the closer I would move in to the camera the more distortion my face would have. You had to– it was all pretty much ‘here’– it was like an ocular standoff and those limitations were challenging for an actor. Usually when you have your hands tied you find other ways of maneuvering, but that was what was most exciting. And the limitations were what was most exciting about that role. And she..she’s all over the place, and large, bold– she’s a diva.
Ron Bennington: But unhappiness– the funny thing is it’s a comedy where just about every character enters unhappy. And Buffalo is this perfect backdrop, because there’s this light depression to every single character and it becomes a perfect storm at this theater which is great.
Vera Farmiga: Yes, all of the characters end up igniting each other. We all know what it’s like to get caught up into a rut of stagnancy and if you can’t jump-start it yourself, it takes another human being or the notional of love to open you up again. And I think it is a story about not dilly-dallying, but fulfilling your personal hopes and dreams and knowing what they are. Because Henry’s crime is not knowing.
Ron Bennington: How do you pick a film? Because it seems like you’re doing such a terrific job at it. Is it nerve-wracking? Is it based on the script, the director?
Vera Farmiga: It’s always something different. I just want to be surprised, I want to be touched, I want to be excited. I’m a mom and a wife and if I’m going to take time away from my 5 month old and my two-year old it has to be worthwhile and fortified with vitamins and minerals. I just look for relevant things. It depends, sometimes it’s the collaborator sometimes the story, sometimes its just the character and sometimes it’s a trip to South Africa.
Ron Bennington: Even when you pick a Hollywood film, it seems to be the cool one, the one that’s a little different.
Vera Farmiga: I try to make them different. Often times I am frustrated. I think that the good stories are found in the independent world, they’re found in big studio pictures, but I think I work harder to nuance a character in a big budget film. Maybe it’s just the luck of my draw.
Ron Bennington: In terms of showing recovery in a junkie film, Down To The Bone is the film of all time for me. …The fact is, it shows closer to reality than anything I’ve ever seen before.
Vera Farmiga: It’s a story about addiction and recovery; grappling with one’s addiction; a film by Debra Granik. She gave me my first opportunity to carry a film. If it wasn’t for Sundance showcasing our work I wouldn’t be here talking to you. And that film has been my calling card. And Debra Granik– who also directed Winter’s Bone most recently– I think she’s better known for, since it got more attention. Down to the Bone, is something that– there was a lot of accolades and critical acclaim but it hardly went beyond festival venues and it’s a film that I wish more people would go and see particularly because it was such a stark and real portrayal of addiction.
Ron Bennington: And you’ve directed now?
Vera Farmiga: I did, it’s called, Higher Ground. And it’s the really prickly subject- matter of faith which everyone can…it’s a subjective thing…and people have very strong opinions and feelings associated with the notion of faith. My film is about the idea of doubt within faith. And it’s something that no matter what your religion– our film takes place in the Christian community – but no matter what your faith or spiritual tenants or philosophy on life…at some point, as a human being, you’ve probably grown disillusioned with your way of thinking. And you question things. And doubt is a part of faith. If it wasn’t you’d have to rip out many pages of most spiritual manuals. And because its something universal that people struggle with, and that I have in my own life, and wanting to come from a genuine place, a real place– it’s a topic I’m fascinated with.
And religion, faith, spirituality– is not often explored. Ok, it is as a backdrop to horror films, you do have films that proselytize– that are made very specifically for the Christian community, or you have films that poke fun at the subject matter.
There are rare films like The Apostle for example, where you can be dropped into a community and not judge it, and just be in it, and see a man struggling, trying to be the best person that he can be. And hopefully I’ve achieved that with Higher Ground; it’s a portrait of a woman, three decades of her life– her youth, adolescence and adult life– and its just a person grappling with faith and wanting to be her most genuine self.
Ron Bennington: How did you get to direct? How did that happen for you?
Vera Farmiga: Out of frustration. I was attached to the script for 3 years; and developed it with the original writer who was going to direct. As I developed over the course of three years, my sensibilities and my sense of humor became part of it. And I wanted to look at it with lightness and there’s a lot of humor in the film. Its very tricky– in that we’re not laughing at these characters, but we’re laughing with them. Tonally it was weird kooky bizarre tone of a film, and I didn’t want– I just wanted to be the pied piper I wanted to be sure the tone was hit accurately and with reverence, so to speak.
You can hear the entire interview airing on Ron Bennington Interviews on Sunday April 10, 2011 on Stars Too. Sirius 108 XM 139 at 2pm and again at 7pm in the east.
Henry’s Crime is in theaters now. You can find out more about this film at http://henryscrimemovie.com