Vera Farmiga is known as an actor’s actor, meaning other actors admire her work and want to work with her. One of the main reasons Peter Sarsgaard did the dark thriller Orphan was because he found out Farmiga would be playing his wife.
Now she’s starring opposite George Clooney in the comedy Up in the Air, as Alex, a business woman who’s always on the road looking for intimate companionship. The movie’s screenwriter/director Jason Reitman, admits ‘it’s a tricky role’ to pull off, and Farmiga does it effortlessly.
What attracted you to playing Alex?
Jason sketches these characters and shines a real stark spotlight on them that illuminates all their foibles, all of their deficiencies, quirks, eccentricities and yet you still manage to root for them because their so human and complex. And I saw that in Alex.
With Alex, it’s such a masculine portrayal of feminine desire. I love that duality to it. The trick was treading the fine line of tones. For me, for my character, it was honoring her sexual prowess. It was very demanding and masculine and very unapologetic, compartmental sexuality, and yet making her soft and feminine and as appealing as possible. The key to that was I found that dignity and self-integrity to tap into for this character. That made it all elegant and somewhat okay.
Do you see yourself or know someone like Alex who leads a double-life?
We all know an Alex, whether it’s male or female. We all do it as women. There’s so much we have to balance in our lives wanting to be a career woman, and balancing between career and family … recklessness and restraint. That whole pendulum we swing between and we’ll never have an answer to. That’s what she represents to me.
When a younger woman in the movie says, ‘We appreciate what your generation has done for us,’ Alex is amused but not offended. Were you directed that way or did you think about playing her bitchy?
What was key to this was that she’s effortless, she’s unapologetic and she’s just so secure in who she is in her own needs and her own desires. She knows what she wants and who she is. And she has a sense of humor instead of taking things personally.
This is the kind of woman Jason sincerely finds attractive. He says he always fell in love with the smartest gal in the room. That’s what floats his boat about women. You see that in the kind of roles of women that he writes.
You just had a baby before the film began shooting, how did you prepare physically?
It was two months before I actually started and we were in St. Louis, which has one of the best parks in the United States as far as parks go. I’m a New Yorker, it rivals Central Park. I was running six miles a day and I was breast feeding, and I was about 12 pounds heavier and it just dispersed in the right way, and I think it was actually quite voluptuous and sensual and womanly and I know it added to the performance. I never felt so empowered and so womanly as I did bringing forth a human.
Can you talk a little about George, you had an incredible chemistry on screen – was that just there or did you have to work on it?
No, I think what you can work on is rhythm between two people, and that’s something that is in the sharpness of the dialogue and the rhythm of it, like Shakespeare almost, you’ve got to click in to the rhythm, as Jason writes rhythmically. And so there’s a certain measure that can be honed.
I know because his biggest direction to me was, ‘Vera, you’ve got to say it faster. You’ve got to say it faster.’ And I’m Ukrainian, and I can be Chekhovian about things and indulge, and he was on me to do it rhythmically.
But you do ride the wave of chemistry, I guess, and the basic rule of chemistry is either the components are there or they’re not. And Jason cancelled all rehearsals after the first table read, so I guess it must have been there.
What was George like as a person and as an actor? What was the best part about working with him?
That’s he’s such a goofball, that what is so attractive about him is his sense of humor, too bad he’s so ugly! But he establishes a tone of frivolity on set, and so does Jason. We sort of frolicked through our jobs and it was playful.
I don’t know if you’ve ever met him but George is just himself, he’s warm and he’s inviting and you tend to just cozy up to that energy, and you can flower in his presence because he’s so easy and genuine.