Vera Farmiga: Stop asking permission.

Vera Farmiga is one of those actresses that sneaks up on you. 

She was Oscar-nominated for her role in Up in the Air opposite George Clooney, but she's not exactly a household name. Yet. 

A few years ago, director Rod Lurie brought his film, Nothing But the Truth, (a story loosely based on the Valerie Plame scandal), to be screened at Syracuse University. Lurie mentioned that one of the stars, Vera Farmiga, was an alum and really wanted to be there, but she was pregnant and off shooting a movie with George Clooney. Such is life.

Nothing But the Truth wasn't exactly a hit, but Farmiga's portrayal of CIA operative Erica Van Doren was one of the best performances in the film in a cast list that included Alan Alda.

As a fellow SU alum, I've been following her career and would not have gone to see Source Code if she hadn't been cast in the film (as much as I enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal.)

Farmiga's role in Source Code looked small and efficient from the trailers, but I was excited to see what she could do with the part of Colleen Goodwin. The Guardian got it right when they said the littlest expressions make the character so much more than what was on the written page: “On screen, she possesses a rare combination of luminescence and a mastery of nuance, expressing internal conflict with a slight twist of the mouth; conveying a sense of deep emotion through the merest flicker of the eyes.”

Most of Goodwin's time is spent at a desk, staring into a lens, giving Jake Gyllenhaal's character orders, but whenever Farmiga was on camera, even in the background, I found my eyes drawn to her. 

Her performance is even more impressive when it turns out Gyllenhaal and Farmiga were not present in the same space while filming their scenes. It was shot much like it is portrayed in the movie, with Farmiga staring into a camera--an obstacle she had to tackle--with only the script supervisor as company or at the most, with Gyllenhaal on speakerphone, reading his lines. Yet there is an emotional connection between these characters when watching the movie, a credit to the two actors.

“That’s really what I focused on most, all the sort of psycho-spiritual energy between the two and how best to convey it when the actor is not in your presence....He [Gyllenhaal] was there a couple days reading lines off camera, but other than that it was a script supervisor and me staring into the barrel of the lens, which is extremely difficult to do for an actor that spends most of their time ignoring it,” Farmiga said in an interview with News in Film.

Despite her ability to give depth to a character that in another actor's hands might have easily fallen flat, Farmiga seems to prefer the roles she finds in the independent film world.

Farmiga feels the roles written for women in bigger studio films tend to feel watery and not as sharply edged as the ones she sees in independent movies. “They are not renderings of women as I know them,” she told The Guardian.

Partly out of her frustration with the lack of meaty roles for women, she's created her own opportunities. She recently directed and starred in Higher Ground, a story of a woman's struggle with her faith. It played at Sundance earlier this year and will be part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

“Great material always comes my way, but still, given the economy, it’s really few and far between to read those gems. It’s pretty cutthroat for actresses that are vying for those roles. So my manager gave me that advice. He was like, “What are you waiting for? Stop asking for permission,” Farmiga said.

As easy as it would be to compare the trajectory of her career to other female stars who got their first big roles in their late 30s, it seems Farmiga is comfortable with forging her own path. And I'll happily let her. 


News in Film:

The Guardian: