Vera Farmiga on “Higher Ground”
August 26, 2011
Article taken from Mother Jones.
Vera Farmiga, 38, is probably best known for her Oscar-nominated role as Alex Goran, playing opposite George Clooney in 2009’s Up in the Air. But the New Jersey-born actress—who now lives on a farm in upstate New York with her husband, Renn Hawkey, their two children, and some angora goats—has only recently started receiving the kind of attention she surely deserves.
Since her 1996 debut as a Broadway understudy, Farmiga has landed dozens of roles in television and films, including The Manchurian Candidate remake, The Departed, and Down to the Bone—a 2004 indie that earned her a best actress award at Sundance. Opening in theaters this week and next is Higher Ground, her directorial debut, based on This Dark World, a 2002 memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs.
An engrossing film, Higher Ground tells the story of faith discovered and lost in the persona of Corinne Walker, played at various life stages by McKenzie Turner, Vera’s kid sister Taissa, and Farmiga herself. Following a brush with tragedy, bookish Corinne and her has-been rocker husband, Ethan, find Jesus in a small, cultish evangelical community. Corinne, however, chafes against its strictures, and her crisis of faith threatens all she holds dear. The film offers a deeply critical, yet humanizing, depiction of evangelical life. I sat down with Farmiga at a San Francisco hotel to talk about her Catholic upbringing, her eyewear obsession, and why she reallyburns her scripts.
Mother Jones: Okay, tell me something about yourself that can’t be found on the internet.
Vera Farmiga: Oh, it’s all out there. The myths—and they’re bastardized. They’re always inflated. Like do I burn my scripts because it’s such a…no! I burn them because I don’t have garbage disposal and we take things to the transfer station, and my scripts more often than not come watermarked. And I don’t want these scripts being sold in the East Village with my name on it. I burn them, but it’s not always because I’m a maniacal anarchist feminist.
MJ: Is it true you considered a career in optometry over acting?
VF: Yeah, I wanted to—I really did—and still might. I had a magical optometrist. One of the hardest things I ever prayed for as a kid was to wear glasses. It was an attention-seeking thing, I’m sure, like wanting poison ivy. Sure enough, my vision started to deteriorate. Literally over the course of six months, I think it vanished. It’s weird, because there’s no one in my family who has any short-sightedness. So I was introduced to one of the sweetest eye doctors ever. That’s where my little quirky spectacle collection started. I just dug him. I thought he was such a sweet human being. He was one of those people you meet and think: “I want to be just like him! I want to help people.”
MJ: Speaking of helping people, you’ve said one of your reasons for directing Higher Ground was “the pathetic excuses for female characterization” in Hollywood scripts. What do you attribute that to?
VF: I don’t know. First of all, it’s up to the actress, even if you get a really deluded characterization, to fight against it. There’s a certain rigor that we have to apply to distill representations of what it means to be a woman. I’ve taken a lot of characters where I’ve been like “Oof! It’s so watery.” That’s the challenge, you know, to flesh them out. And that job description applies to guys as well.