Vera Farmiga – Remember her?

        September 2008 By Philip Berk

In January of 2004 Vera Farmiga suddenly emerged from anonymity (“Who’s that?”) by winning the best actress award at the Sundance Festival for her wrenching performance in Down to the Bone.

But it was the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. that brought her to the attention of directors like Martin Scorsese when they named her the year’s Best Actress.

A choice that was not endorsed by either the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Academy or the New York Film Critics for that matter who all preferred Reese Witherspoon (in I Walk the Line.)

Nonetheless it opened doors for her and since then she’s made a strong impression playing opposite Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon in The Departed. And in Nothing But the Truth, due out later in the year, she’ll will knock your socks off in another supporting role.

Her current showcase is The Boy with the Striped Pajamas in which she plays the wife of a Nazi concentration camp commandant, whose son befriends an inmate of the camp, a Jewish boy his age.

Did you do much research of the period?

“My research didn’t really focus on the back story. I read the diaries of Nazi wives, specifically Emmy Goring, Hedwig Hoss, Magda Goebbels, Eva Braun, even Leni Riefenstahl.” but my main focus was on the ideology of the time, what it meant to this woman, what this woman’s purpose in life was. She’s somewhat oblivious to what’s going on around her, being fed the propaganda of motherhood, and what was expected of women. Her obligation was to her husband. First and foremost it was to be a dutiful wife, to supply as many children as possible, and to be beautiful. That was my character at the beginning. She’s very subordinate to her husband. It’s all about his desires and ambitions, supporting his ideals and his needs, having a very narrow periphery. That’s how she starts off, and it’s still difficult for me to understand how women could have allowed themselves to be… it was a pathological attitude, and I don’t know how they stood for it. I don’t know how they could have accepted men not wanting them to penetrate their world. I don’t know how as a woman she wouldn’t have intuited to some degree that people were being horribly mistreated. She just interprets it as being punished. And of course because of my character’s ignorance, and the ignorance of others like her, so many people died. People watching without anybody acting on it — that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy — her only concern is what immediately affects her and her family. I can understand that, because of the ideology of the time, how women limited themselves in a sense and didn’t question enough. She made no effort to seek answers for herself. But then as she gained more awareness and stopped suppressing conversations, as she started to delve deeply, sure enough she started learning more and more about her husband, but still she doesn’t do enough, which as a woman is something I find difficult to understand. And in the end she suffers for it.”  

It’s unusual for a film about the Holocaust to be seen from the perspective of the German people. 

“But it’s not just a film about the holocaust. It could have been set anywhere else in this warring world of ours. I think it’s a film about friendship too. It’s about the innocence of friendship — coming out of the most hostile environment — man’s capacity to be generous and loving in the face of man’s capacity for hatred and discrimination.”

What would you like people to walk away with from seeing the film?

“I don’t want to tell people what they should come away with. I just want as any people as possible to see the film because I think it’s terribly relevant and important.” 

During the making of the film, how difficult was it for you to deal with the subject matter?

“We were fortunate because we were gifted, and it’s a rare gift that was done for the children’s sake, the film was shot chronologically. So we were able to experience the emotional journey of the characters as though it was happening.  The hardest thing for me was the self examination. With every role you do, you do a thorough examination of your own apathy, exploring that, and coming to terms with that, and acknowledging that in myself. But the hardest thing were these children who you would love to cuddle and joke around on the set, and then during the emotional scenes, while having to switch cameras and lenses and angles, you’d try to provide a safe environment for them. That turned out to be very much a sort of history lesson for all of us.”

Her parents were both born in the Ukraine and emigrated to the United States.

She was raised in a Ukrainian community in New Jersey and brought up in a  strict Catholic environment

Her chosen profession, she admits, was a rebellion against everything that was “inborn, ingrained on her as a child.”

In high school she wanted to be a soccer player, but after warming a bench for so many games, she tried drama and was cast in a play but still had no intention of becoming an actress.

She wanted to be an opthalmolagist, thanks to problems she had as a near sighted child, but in her second semester she switched to drama, and after graduating from Syracuse School of Performing Arts in 1996, she has always found acting jobs. Although it took her collaboration with Debra Grant on Down to the Bone to get her noticed. 

She was married to fellow actor Sebastian Roche for seven years. They were divorced n 2005.

Now she’s expecting her first child with Deadsy lead singer Renn Hawkey. 

How exciting and frightening is that prospect?

“The most frightening thing is the world that I’m bringing this child into. That’s really the most terrifying. I have a partner in my husband, he’s my best friend, I couldn’t wish for someone better to deal with this when he does come out. It’s a real human being that all of a sudden I get to program and advise and love. It’s the biggest role of my life time and something that I’ve yearned for years. I’ve made a career out of playing mothers in various degrees of stress. I think it’s been good training,” she laughs, “but honestly, it’s exciting, and if the world wasn’t so overpopulated and so irresponsible, I’d do it again and again and again because I love my husband so much, and I’d love to see how many versions we could come up with. I’m just thrilled as you can imagine.”

For the record she is the second of seven children, and weeks after the interview gave birth to a healthy boy.