Just before agreeing to star in Orphan, Vera Farmiga wrapped another Horror thriller, Joshua. In her new movie, Farmiga portrays Kate Coleman, a woman haunted by the demons of her past. To regain some sense of normalcy in their lives, she and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) visit a local orphanage and find themselves drawn to a 9-year-old artist named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), whom they bring home to join their other two children, Max (Aryana Engineer), who is deaf, and Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), with disastrous results.
How did this end up in your lap? It’s a pretty intense Horror movie.
It was the story. I’d never read anything like it. I love the genre. It’s very rare to find characters that you can really believe in and want to invest in. I found what my character was going through, which is this miscarriage, very compelling. It’s such a complex grief. And the dysfunction of this family, I was in it. Then, really, it was just a matter of who was going to be a part of it and that was the deciding factor for me.
You did Joshua right before this.
Yeah, mothers in distress.
As an actress, you’re obviously very accustomed to melding the physicality of a role with memorizing lines. Does that skill translate into learning the sign language?
Well it wasn’t a tremendous effort. We went pretty quickly after the whole thing came together so there wasn’t much pre-production, but Aryana Engineer was hard of hearing and we wanted to have the easiest and fullest communication so we all dabbled as much as we could in trying to learn the language beforehand. And then, we could communicate with her just by speaking very loudly and gesticulating madly. The sign language was important for my character, it was crucial for my relationship with my daughter in the film to have that communication that you don’t quite see with the father or her brother. So yeah, that was an important aspect that I relished and I loved learning.
Are you a fan of the Horror genre?
Very much so, I don’t think you could participate in the film if you weren’t an enormous fan of the genre and loved being scared. I love The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion. These kinds of films in the genre only work if I’m invested in the characters and find the characters compelling. Often times you want to go see these films but you feel so duped and it’s not scary because you’re not buying into their lives.
Was this a different experience for you compared with Joshua?
Like I say, it is a mother in distress but the characters were suffering from two different ailments. Joshua is a woman who’s going through a post-partum psychosis who does nothing to better her situation. She just wallows in it and goes deeper and deeper. Whereas, my character [in Orphan], who suffered a very complex grief with miscarriage, is trying to heal her family and persevere and seek forgiveness and she’s motivated by the things that she’s done because of alcoholism and she wants to repair their marriage and she wants to fill that hole in her heart. They’re just two completely different stories. Joshua was a great film. I wish more people had seen it.
Was the third act reveal on Esther one of the things that attracted you to this script?
Unquestionably, yes. I howled and I was terrified. I had this really nervous laughter and then I handed it to my husband who’s a good barometer and he was nervously giggling throughout and shrieking the whole time and then there was this enormous whoop and I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it.”