A charming story about unexpected connections. Courtesy
Vera Farmiga on the Complex Demands
Wife, and Actor
By Beverly Cohn
era Farmiga is a familiar on-screen personality and has racked
up a number of memorable roles in such films as "The Departed,"
"Source Code," "Goats," "Safe House,"
"The Conjuring," and "Up in the Air,"
which earned her both a BAFTA and Academy Award nominations
for Actress in a Supporting Role. For her performance in the
television series "Bates Motel," Farmiga was
nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Her latest film, "At Middleton,"
in which she co-stars with Andy
Garcia, garnered her the Best Actress award from the
Boston Society of Film Critics. Shot on the campus of Washington
State University, the story is about George (Andy Garcia) and
Edith (Vera Farmiga), two parents who bring their respective children
for a day of orientation at Middleton College. Edith is
an off-the-wall character who flies by the seat of her pants. She lures
George, a strait-laced, bow-tie wearing cardiac surgeon, away
from the orientation group into a day filled with unexpected adventures
and a strong attraction that must not be acted upon.
Co-written by Glenn German and Adam Rodgers,
who also directed, the supporting cast, includes, Taissa Farmiga
("Audrey"), Spencer Lofranco ("Conrad"), Nicholas
Braun ("Justin"), Peter Riegert ("Boneyard"), Mirjana
Jokovic, ("Professor Riley"), and Tom Skerritt as
"Dr. Roland Emerson."
Farmiga recently sat down with a select group
of journalists to discuss "At Middleton," along with
personal revelations about family and career challenges.
The following interview has been edited for content
and continuity for print purposes.
How did you get attached to the script?
Vera: A Fed Ex truck delivered the script (Laughter)
with an offer saying that Andy Garcia was attached to play George
and I think there was some sort of a deadline, like a 48-hour
time limit to accept the offer, which I think was a really savvy and
ballsy way of saying this is a good script and if you don't like it,
we'll find someone else. Just out of the gate, I read it and knew this
was a role I could run with. The characterizations were so vivid they
were like three-dimensional pop-ups.
What in particular did you like about Edith?
Vera: I just wanted to have fun. I grew up watching
Carol Burnett do her shtick and I was aching to do something
that would allow me to just have fun. At the same time, when I first
read the script, I understood why my mom cried when she filled out the
loan documents that sent me off to the Syracuse University School
of Performing Arts. (Laughter)
L-R: It's orientation day for "Conrad,"
(Spencer Lofranco) and his dad "George," (Andy Garcia) and
"Audrey," (Taissa Farmiga) and her mom "Edith" (Vera
Farmiga.) Courtesy photo.
How did you relate to your film daughter Audrey
going off to college?
Vera: I have a kid who just turned five and he's not
even in kindergarten yet and the pangs of withdrawal and letting him
go, even at the ripe old age of five, wondering if I've girded him with
enough to send him on his way. He doesn't even wave when he gets into
the school bus. Anyway, it is a really a touching script and I have
had tremendous respect for Andy ever since seeing "When
A Man Loves a Woman." His performance really lingered with
me. I had seen him in "Godfather" (III)
and thought he was a soulful dude. At that point, I didn't anticipate
becoming an actress. I wanted to be an ophthalmologist but after seeing
that film, I thought if only I could find a man to love me with that
sort of tenderness and patience and willingness and commitment. And
I did. (Laughter) The script is about encounters that
we all have. At some point in our lives, that flame dwindles or runs
dry and it's about these encounters with other human beings that makes
that flame ignite and my husband was that for me. Then my children became
that for me as well. Anyway, the script resonated with me profoundly
from this place of identity and parenting.
Did you have rehearsals before shooting?
Vera: I put a kibosh on that immediately. At that time,
I had a one and a three year old and had just come from shooting "The
Conjuring." I was depleted and terrorized by researching negative
mysticism and I just wanted to have some fun. Then I met Andy
and him saying, "So should we get together?" I remember meeting
him and recognizing that sort of sense of whimsy. When you meet him,
he's so debonair and is really a first class guy he's just goodness.
In my experience with him, he's someone who walks by your side and you
can call him a friend immediately.
How was it working with your sister Taissa?
Vera: Having Taissa play my daughter was so relevant
to who we are to each other and who we have been to each other. She's
a surrogate daughter of mine. I'd like to think that I've modeled for
her what it means to take risks and to be optimistic and what's scary
and what's not. It was a time in her life where she was just turning
eighteen and just had a certain measure of success with "Higher
Ground" and was given so much opportunity. I could see her
fluttering away from me and at the same time needing me, which she still
does. She was at the Golden Globes and I was on the couch watching
it and she's texting me, "Who's Warren Beatty? (Laughter)
I've Googled him. I have a meeting with him at 8:30 so
can you give me the low down?" (Laughter)
Encouraged by Edith, (Vera Farmiga) George (Andy
Garcia) breaks out of his comfort zone and indulges in a forbidden pleasure.
Any improvisations with Andy, or did you pretty
much stick to the script?
Vera: Andy is a jazz pianist and improvises.
I'm actually more like the character of George just naturally.
Every detail is in each scene, almost to every gesture, so I can't take
any credit if any of our scenes looked like they were improvised. There's
carefreeness in the script and as far as all that chemistry goes, I'd
like to take credit for it, but for me it's 1% willingness and
99% in the writing. Everything was on the written page and they
(Adam Rodgers & Glenn German) had the hardest job.
They start off with a blank page and without that great writing, you'd
just be powerless as an actor. It was a veritable playground. You just
had to put on your grubbies, roll up your sleeves, and indulge. Sure.
Improvisation came at a point. I would say there was room for it, but
we didn't rely on it because it was solidly scripted. Then there were
things like, for example, the acting teacher (Mirjana Jokovic as
Professor Riley) who led the class through sort of a physical relaxation,
but that's Adam's direction as well.
What is the biggest challenge in developing a
Vera: When you're establishing chemistry, and whimsy,
and adventure, you have to open yourself up and be present and oftentimes,
it feels like you just can't repeat moments and you have to have newness.
As the day progresses, George (Andy Garcia) loosens
his bow tie and allows Edith (Vera Farmiga) to lead him through a day
of new experiences. Courtesy photo.
What was your inspiration for all your comedic
moments as Edith?
Vera: That's a legitimate question. All these physical
comedians, like Lucille Ball, have delighted me. I think the
great contradiction in Edith is the first profound things she
says. Here's this energetic, carefree, passionate woman and yet the
first bit of truth she admits to is that she's profoundly unhappy, which
is a dichotomy between the carefree behavior she exhibits with George
and the hampered life she has chosen to live.
Vera with her two-year-old daughter Gytta.
Were there any moments that didn't work during
Vera: I have incredible short-term memory. (Laughter)
You know when you're breast-feeding a child, you don't have the same
retention as you do when your not. (Laughter) So, yes,
there were plenty of inept moments where I felt if I could just have
one more day, it could have been better, deeper work so there were a
lot of insecure moments. I especially tried to give options in tone,
and that was always something I relied heavily on Adam for
to reign me in because I'll go big. I'm not afraid to go big. You give
me an inch and I'll take a yard. (Laughter)
What was your process when you went to college?
Vera: Oh God. I was such a square in college.
I actually never went to my own orientation. Once I was enrolled, there
was an orientation, but way in advance I never went to Syracuse.
I did go to Elizabethtown College with my mom when I thought
I was going to be a music therapist and then to Villanova College
when I thought I was going to be an optometrist. (Laughs)
Vera on preparing for a role: "You know when
youre breast-feeding a child, you dont have the same retention
as you do when you're not." Courtesy photo.
At what point did you decide to study acting?
Vera: In my senior year, I decided to take the fork
in the road. I was playing varsity soccer and was benched and had my
heart broken the same week and didn't want to sit there forlorn. One
of my best friends encouraged me to audition for the school play and
I got the lead role. From there, I was encouraged to do.
If you didn't become an actor, what other profession
would not have appealed to you?
Vera: I would not have worked as an air conditioner
You're a very successful working actor. What are
the biggest challenges in juggling career with being a mother and a
Vera: It's flat out challenging. I think of myself as
devoting 100% to my role as wife and mother, which is the most
demanding, the most challenging, and the most gratifying role I could
ever play. Right now, I consider myself to be a full-time mom and so
career, after having kids, is second but sometimes they come second
and sometimes I feel, because of my commitment to maternity and "wifery,"
I'm not as prepared as I could be and feel like I just wing it these
days. But, I wing it to the best of my ability. (Laughs)