Vera Farmiga on Henry’s Crime, Source Code’s Ending and Awards Overload
by Mike Ryan
It’s a very busy time in the life of Vera Farmiga — and that’s even before you factor in the amount of press she’s been doing lately for back-to-back releases Source Code and now Henry’s Crime. Consider the growing family, the directorial debut (Higher Ground) and the Oscar-nominated actress’s natural, insatiable curiosity for what’s next. But one thing at a time.
Opening Friday, Henry’s Crime features Farmiga as Julie — a Buffalo-based actress best known for being the spokeswoman for the Buffalo Lottery. But she lands a more intriguing role — and an unlikely romance — starring in a Chekhov play across the street from a bank that’s being cased by ex-cons Henry (Keanu Reeves) and Max (James Caan). Movieline sat down with Farmiga to discuss Crime, actors playing actors, the ending of Source Code, and why journalistic tricks to cultivate juicy information don’t work on her.
I feel like you’ve had a busy few weeks.
I’ve watched two movies that you’re in back-to-back.
I’ve had a busy two and a half years! I’ve produced two humans, five films, directed a film… It’s epic.
At least you got to run over Keanu Reeves with a car in this movie.
I did! It’s the way our characters are introduced. But that’s the nature of love: It kind of sideswipes you and it hits you when you least expect it.
How many times have you used that line today?
I haven’t, I’m just trying it out now.
Really? I’m not sure I believe you.
That could be on a greeting card.
That’s how she enters his life — she crashes into him.
Is it difficult to play an actor?
Sometimes. Certain moments. I think the key is to kind of figure out the difference between you, the actor, and how you would do a Chekhov play. As opposed to your character, who’s the one who’s starring in a Chekhov play. And then what’s even trickier is knowing that you’re doing a play for film. There’s a compromise in there as well, but I think the trick is to just really delineate between what her motives are and what her scenario is. What are the given circumstances surrounding this performance of hers? And she’s in a rut; she’s in a rut that’s very analogous to the character she’s playing in The Cherry Orchard. Both are variations on the theme of boredom and indecision.
Did you ever find yourself onstage thinking, I think I may have done that take too well?
[Laughs] You know, there’s an arc to my character’s creativity, and I think she starts off pretty mediocre. Because her heart is closed, and the more her heart opens, she blossoms. And it’s a bummer because I think the film is edited… to a point of pushing narrative and plot. Right now you just see snippets of the play, but we in fact shot a large portion of that play. And in the editing and paring down for story and narrative, less became of it. In the execution of production, I could see a switch in her ability as an actress.
In your personal experience, if you met someone and he mentioned that he was just out of prison, would you act a little differently?
[Laughs] I… would probably be more skeptical than she is, but I think that this is, again, someone who is craving and is in desperate need of adventure. I have a pretty adventurous life. I meet a lot of kooks along the way.
Do you take them to Niagara Falls?
No. No. And this is even before being wed. Although, some may say my husband was shady… [Laughs]
The plot thickens!
In what way?
Nah, I’m not… that’s off the cuff. [Laughs] Or not.
“Shady” can mean a few things, right? There’s five o’clock shadow shady…
[Laughing] There’s a variety! [Pauses] You’re doing that journalist thing.
What journalist thing?
Where you get quiet.
And I’m going to just sit here quietly until you tell more.
[Laughs] I’m learning how to navigate those moments. No, no, my husband is perfectly normal. Anyone will attest to it. What’s a girl or a boy without a past? A boy without a past is a boy without a future.
That’s a nice quote, too.
A second career!
Any fun James Caan stories? He seems to be at a point in his career where he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.
He hardly edits himself. That’s the most admirable thing about him. He’s been there, done it, seen it all, worked with the best. He’s lost it all, come back, recovered from certain choices and worked in the golden age of cinema. He’s got a great sense of humor about it all. I have very specific stories that I don’t feel comfortable divulging. [Laughs] I mean, this is a man of stories! He’s Irish, he’s as good as a storyteller as they come. And it’s his candor that’s most adorable.
At least you didn’t describe him as “shady.”
[Laughs] He’s shady! Yeah [sighs]… Jimmy Caan…
I read that you used to make short films for your auditions?
It’s funny how it bastardizes into “now I make movies of movies I want to get into.” No, this is how I used to audition: I would put myself on tape just because I live in a remote part of the world or I can’t always just hop on a flight. Even instead of driving down to the city, I have opted to put myself on tape. Some people like going [to auditions], I always prefer not having to deal with it and not walk into a room. So many judgments are placed on you the second you walk in a room. I just love the mystery of submitting an audition. And more often than not, feedback came because I had control. I could do lighting adjustments and do as many takes and try some things out. You don’t have the luxury of time in a meeting as an actor who is starting out in the business. Now that’s not the case; there’s enough source material for them to have an imagination about what my limitations are.
It doesn’t feel like you’ve been around that long. Was it a shift for you in Up in the Air, all of a sudden playing the seasoned veteran? It was quite a shift from what you even did in The Departed.
Well, you assume seasoned veteran because it’s someone who is unapologetic. And you think behaving without regard for anybody’s ideas, sticking to your needs and your own desires and doing it without apology because that’s what you need seems seasoned vet. Like wisdom [laughs], or a quality a seasoned vet would posses.
The Academy Awards has changed so much over the last few years. By studying the results of other awards, the Oscars have almost become a forgone conclusion. Mo’Nique was such an overwhelming favorite headed into the Academy Awards that year…
Yes, and so well deserved. That was an obvious win. I think the nature of the roll, the range; the transformation was obviously to be rewarded, hands down.
But going in, are you conscious of her being a front-runner or is your attitude more “it’s anyone’s game”?
There are so many awards shows. So many of them these days. They come a dime a dozen. And, you know, people care for those two weeks after and then it all fizzles out. And it really isn’t so much about acclaim or a nomination or an award, it’s who sells the most magazines — on the cover of magazines. That’s the mentality, still. There’s so much speculation, so many awards. Everyone who is nominated at some point wins an award because there’s just so many venues. But that’s not to say it’s not nice being a part of that.
You don’t make it sound like your favorite process.
Well, no, I really do love the confirmation. I love confirmation. It’s nice to get a pat on the back for work that you’re proud of.
Return to Paradise was one of your first big films. It’s interesting to look who’s in the cast…
Right. Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix… Oh, sure, some burgeoning careers in that film. Anne Heche. I remember that was a massive surge of Anne Heche.
Happy experience for you?
I have no memory at all. I check in and out. I have to keep copious notes about a film. Rarely do I remember. I could probably talk about a couple of films. Down to the Bone is one that’s vivid. Breaking and Entering — those films are few and far between. I punch out at the end of the day and I actually have to revisit when it’s time to do press. I revisit notes and ideas that I jot down.
Right — basically you’ve moved on to new projects, but you have to discuss a project you filmed a year ago.
Films are like those dreams that become distant sense. Some people have that brain, that memory. But, for me, I punch in and I punch out. Sometimes I didn’t even remember the plot to a film.
Like the plot of the episode of Law & Order you were on?
That’s so funny. I don’t! I know it had something to do with my father but I don’t know what.
Well, not remembering was basically the plot. Your character couldn’t remember being at the crime scene which was the same defense her father used a few years before.
[Laughing] Too funny! I really don’t! I remember vaguely something about my father. Daddy issues!
Can you explain the ending of Source Code to me?
I was hoping that you could explain it to me. And I think it’s OK not to know. The numerous times I’ve asked Duncan Jones what happens in the end, he says that it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, of sorts, is the way I’ve been expressing it. That’s certainly what drew me. I feel like every reality is a viable reality and it’s basically which one you choose — whichever ending you think is most fulfilling for yourself. It is ambiguous, but pointedly so, I think. Because it’s all theory and philosophy and if anything was absolute then we would have a tidy answer. But I think the ambiguity works. Duncan will say that all the realities that he’s been in are true. That’s vague… Vagary! [Laughs] Vagary doesn’t explain it to me, so I don’t know how to answer.
Has the Buffalotto contacted you yet to sing the jingle?
The Buffalo Lottery has not come to me yet with an offer.
It is a catchy tune.
The first scene up was shooting that jingle; I don’t think I’ve ever panicked so much about how I was going to attempt a scene as I did with that.
That’s surprising, you’ve been in some pretty intense scenes.
See, I didn’t realize that someone was actually going to write the jingle, because I was told that we would just try a couple different things. So I thought, “Oh, you’re leaving it up to me to write the jingle and the melody.” So, I did come with several versions but, in the end, it’s fine. They had one prepared.
What was your version?
Oh, no… [Laughs]
You don’t have to sing it.
There’s a video of it, of my husband and I after a bottle of wine in the Four Seasons workshopping that very moment. But… [Laughs] It’s even funnier to watch and see my shady husband.