For Vera Farmiga, The Search For Complexity Leads To 'Higher Ground' The Oscar-nominated actress, who has appeared in Up in the Air and The Departed, talks about her directorial debut, a film about a woman's search for faith. Farmiga, who calls herself a "seeker," also stars in the film.
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For Vera Farmiga, A Search Leads To 'Higher Ground'

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For Vera Farmiga, A Search Leads To 'Higher Ground'

For Vera Farmiga, A Search Leads To 'Higher Ground'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block.

A few things to know about the actress Vera Farmiga - she was the smart, sexy, frequent flier who managed to out-seduce George Clooney in the film "Up in the Air" - Farmiga is Ukrainian-American, only spoke Ukrainian at home 'til she went to school and...

VERA FARMIGA: I was a professional Ukrainian folk dancer in my late teens. We toured Kiev and (unintelligible). It's Russian Cossack dancing, so there's a lot of flair.

BLOCK: So when Vera Farmiga came into our studios to talk about her new movie, I had to ask. Would she dance for me?

FARMIGA: In these?

BLOCK: She was wearing four-inch heels but she did it - twirling gracefully, one hand arched overhead, the other on her hip.


BLOCK: Vera Farmiga makes interesting choices. She's often drawn to indie films. She lives not in L.A. or Manhattan, but on a farm in upstate New York. And her new movie, titled "Higher Ground," goes to risky territory. She plays an evangelical Christian struggling to hang on to the faith that has let her down.


FARMIGA: (As Corinne Walker) Lord, help me. I can't feel you. I feel nothing. Draw near to me, Lord. Come on, where are you? Huh? Where are you?

BLOCK: That's Vera Farmiga in her new film, "Higher Ground," which she also directed. I asked her what sparked her interest in her character, Corinne Walker.

FARMIGA: You know, it kind of affected me in divinely mysterious ways. I try to talk my way around it, trying to - you know, I'm a thoughtful seeker, struggler, like we all are. You know, your soul either feels lifted by something that you read, or it feels squashed by it. And this pried it open in mysterious ways.

I'm really touched, too. I mean, I think it resonated with me on many different levels. Not only is she looking for a passionate, intimate relationship with God coming from an authentic self, being genuine - that's the only way to change things about any relationship - she's looking for that within, you know, the relationships of - the human relationships in her life with her husband, with her sister, with her mom, with her children.

This sounds so lofty, but it's a very humorous film.


BLOCK: There's a scene in the movie where you shut yourself in the bathroom.


BLOCK: You have seen your best friend speaking in tongues. You've heard her speaking in tongues, and you're wondering how she does that and what she does, and you try to do it yourself.


FARMIGA: (As Corinne Walker) Come on. (Speaking unintelligibly)

I think she says then - afterward - I'll try again later.

BLOCK: I'll try again later. Vera Farmiga, you have a big grin on your face. You're suppressing a laugh as you're listening to this scene.

FARMIGA: This film delights me.

BLOCK: Were you mindful, though, of that line between offending with humor, of finding humor in things that some people take very seriously? Their religion is extremely serious, and they don't see humor in it.

FARMIGA: Yeah. But I think God gave us senses of humor and we should use them and I know my approach is a reverent one. I'm not throwing jabs. These are real incidences. This is based on a real-life model of Carolyn Briggs and her experience.

BLOCK: Her memoir.

FARMIGA: Her memoir.

BLOCK: I'm talking with Vera Farmiga about her new film, "Higher Ground." How hard is it as a first-time director to be that person directing the whole film and also to be the star - to do both of those roles, very different roles?

FARMIGA: It was crazed at times, in particular because first trimester of my pregnancy was preproduction of the film. We shot in second trimester, and post-production was in third trimester. So I was birthing a human at the same time birthing this film. At the same time, you know, that double-edged sword was also - the sharper side was that I felt like I am invincible in that second trimester and I have a lot to draw on - a lot of estrogen, and a lot of uterus to draw on - and, you know, I don't know; I had a lot of energy.

It was sort of the temporary insanity of pregnancy that perhaps found the courage because courage to direct this did not come as a mighty roar. It was sort of a little whisper that said, try it. But what the heck? You know, anything I've ever achieved started off with a try, so...

BLOCK: You live in upstate New York, in the country.

FARMIGA: I do. Yeah.

BLOCK: And I gather that you have occasional bonfires of scripts that you have rejected, with characters that you find completely worthless.

FARMIGA: Ah, the myths.

BLOCK: Not true?

FARMIGA: Partially true, but it's not so anarchist as it's been made out to be, but...

But are there - are there - do you tend to find that you get a lot of scripts that you are very happy to put on that bonfire?

FARMIGA: Oh, of course. Of course. My husband recently snapped a photo of the last part, where I was taking the - you know, I was - hey, and I was poking fun of it and I, you know, for fun was just flicking. And he snapped a shot of it, so there is evidence.

BLOCK: Flinging a big...

FARMIGA: A big pile of pooh-pooh script. Yeah. You know, I mean, that's so judgmental. It's rare to encounter really - sort of fully dimensionalized portrayals of women as I know women to be.

BLOCK: What aren't you seeing of the women that you know, that are not coming through in the scripts or in movies that you're seeing?

FARMIGA: I want to see women relating to each other more, in the ways that I think have been very helpful and integral in my life. When I look at female characters, I want to recognize myself in them - my trials, my tribulations as a mother, as a wife, you know; as a lover, as a daughter. I want to see the things that I struggle with. I want to see forte. I want to see the idiosyncrasies. I want to see complexity. I want to see the murky stuff.

BLOCK: When you think of the demands on you to sell a picture, and to sort of make your name be more than just what it is on the screen, where do you draw the line? How public do you become? How much of a commodity do you become?

FARMIGA: You know, it's wild. It's really wild. I think the kind of career that I'm having, and the kind of career that I want to have, doesn't require a whole lot of prostitution - like, I don't have to dress up in skivvies and grace every cover of every hot lady magazine. It's tricky for me. I think the more I reveal myself, the harder my job becomes. And so, I mean, that's always for me, too, is the challenge. And how to preserve myself, and how to retain mystique so that people can suspend disbelief when I choose odd terrain.

BLOCK: Vera Farmiga, it's been great to talk to you. Thanks for coming in.

FARMIGA: Thanks, Melissa.


BLOCK: Actress - and now, director - Vera Farmiga. Her new movie is called "Higher Ground."



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