Vera Farmiga Interview, Up In the Air

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down recently with Vera Farmiga to talk about her new movie,“Up in the Air,” about the timely odyssey of Ryan Bingham (Oscar winner George Clooney), a corporate downsizer and consummate modern business traveler who, after years of staying happily airborne, suddenly finds himself ready to make a real connection. When he falls for a simpatico fellow traveler (Farmiga), Ryan’s boss (Jason Bateman), inspired by a young, upstart efficiency expert (Anna Kendrick), threatens to permanently call him in from the road. Faced with the prospect, at once terrifying and exhilarating, of being grounded, Ryan begins to contemplate what it might actually mean to have a home.

For the vital role of Alex, whose elite travel program savvy seduces Ryan but who also triggers a desire for real sharing, director Jason Reitman turned to award-winning actress Vera Farmiga, best known for her role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” “The role of Alex is a tricky one,” comments Reitman. “This is the woman who captures George Clooney’s heart and she’s also a unique female movie character. Vera came at it perfectly, with such charm, beauty and, frankly, balls that you fall in love with her as she’s flirting over mileage status.”

Farmiga was drawn both to the story and to working with Reitman. “The writing in this script was sharp as a tack, and the characters brilliantly edgy and witty,” says the actress. “I think heroines in a Jason Reitman film are quicker, sharper, more intelligent and more eccentric than most other film female characters. And that’s what drew me to Alex. The film also has such poignancy and enormous social relevance.” She also found it plain funny. “Jason knows comedy – it’s in his genes,” she says. “I had to trust him because I am terrified of irony, but he really has an excellent sense of how humor works.”

Naturally, she was not averse to a heated romance with George Clooney but, beyond that, Farmiga admits she was actually quite moved by the path that their relationship takes. “Ryan thinks he’s met his match in Alex, a woman he doesn’t have to worry about, who won’t ask more of the relationship than what they have. She fits well into his philosophy of no attachments – only he’s the one who becomes attached.”

Vera Farmiga is a terrific actress and we really appreciated her time. Here’s more of what she had to tell us about her role, working with Jason Reitman and George Clooney, and her upcoming projects:

Q: How did you prepare for this role and can you talk about working with Jason Reitman?

Farmiga: That's what I admire about his films. He tells a comedy about a teenage pregnancy. Here his hero is somebody who fires people for a living and you still expect the audience to root for him. He sketches these characters and shines a real stark spotlight on them that illuminates all their foibles, all of their deficiencies and quirks and eccentricities and yet you still manage to root for them because their so human and complex. And I saw that in Alex. I'm always on the hunt for a great romance. I love how he portrays romance. He did it similarly in Juno. What's so special about it, sexy and touching and authentic and heartbreaking is the tete a tete. It's what they say to each other. This was the banter. The banter was so old-fashioned and prudish almost. You don't see them together. You see a scene that's an illusion to them having a good old romp, but what's so sexy is their relationship. I love that.

With Alex, it's such a masculine portrayal of feminine desire. I love that duality to it. The trick was, and he's totally a master at doing, reading the sort of fine line of tones. For me, for my character, it was honoring her sexual prowess. It was a very demanding and masculine and very sort of unapologetic, compartmental sexuality, and yet making her soft and feminine and as appealing as possible. The key to that, as I found out because she's got some zingers, I found that dignity and self-integrity key to tap into for this character. That made it all elegant and somewhat OK.

Q: Was the role-reversal thing attractive to you when you first read the script?

Farmiga: Yeah, it was. But even before that I appreciated a quality of these two characters. It wasn't so much that the female was now going to be in it for the enjoyment of it. I really just found them to be equals, on solid equal footing. I like that because it's seldom the case.

Q: Do you see yourself or know someone like Alex who leads a double-life?

Farmiga: No. 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. Virgin (vs) whore. That whole pendulum we swing between and we'll never have an answer to. That's what she represents to me. And having to compartmentalize and say this is my job and this is who I am. I'm sort of old-fashioned. I'm devoted to my husband. But I like to think I understand (Alex's) confidence and grace.

Q: When Natalie says we appreciate what your generation has done for us, your character is amused but not offended. Were you directed that way or did you think about playing her bitchy?

Farmiga: What was key to this was that she's effortless and 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. That shows someone who's secure in responding that way. We would always veer towards having her glide through life and being amused. In that scene, (Jason) sort of established these women as versions of each other in their 20s and 30s.

Part of it was in the script. 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.

Q: Part of this movie is about our modern technological gadgetry distancing us, do you find that in your own life that you're a Blackberry queen, or you're on the cell all the time?  Does it distance you from people? Rather than calling people up to have coffee, do you text them?
Farmiga: No, if you scroll through my text messages, it's my husband, husband, husband, mama, husband, mama, mama, mama, husband, husband. And you know, occasionally there's a business interaction, and I find that on the contrary I have gone through five Blackberrys in the last five or six years, and I always sweat that I haven't forwarded them or saved my -- because my husband, our romance was founded on love letters and text messages going back and forth. We were bicoastal and that's what allowed us to persevere in our love, and I print them up and I have a novel like this. But it's just, you know - I'm surprised we're not texting each other our responses.
Q: But you still went and met him in person?
Farmiga: Of course, of course.
Q: Is it just a convenience to meet people you think rather than keeping us from even hanging out together?
Farmiga: Yeah, it depends on the person, it depends on the individual.
Q: You just had a baby before the film. How did you prepare physically?
Farmiga: Breast feeding. It was two months before I actually started and we were in St. Louis, one of the best parks in the United States as far as parks. I'm a New Yorker, it rivals Central Park. And 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.
Q: Did you bring the baby to the set?
Farmiga: All the time. Poor George, I would always interrupt his close up to go and pump. And he was - they were accommodating, they really were, I have to say.
Q: 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?
Farmiga: No, I think what you can work on is rhythm between two people, and that's something that is in the dialogue, is in the sharpness of the dialogue and the rhythm of it, like Shakespeare almost, you've got to click in to the rhythm, he writes rhythmically. And so there's a certain measure, I think, 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, I'm Slavic, and I can be Chekhovian about things and indulge, and he was on me to -  to rhythmically. But aside from that, you do click into the hilarity of the dialogue and that's most of it. But you do ride the wave of chemistry, I guess, and it's like that's the basic rules of chemistry, it's either there, the components are there or they're not. And I think he cancelled all rehearsals after the first table read, so I guess it must have been there.
Q: What was George like as a person and as an actor? What was the best part about working with him?
Farmiga: 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 it is his sense of humor that brought - he establishes a tone of frivolity on set, and so does Jason. We sort of frolicked through our jobs and it's playful. I don't know if you've ever met him but he's just himself, and 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.
Q: What's coming up for you?
Farmiga: Niki Caro's film, who did the Whale Rider and North Country. And I did The Vintner's Luck with her, that'll be coming out at some point. I'm in rehearsals for a zany romantic comedy with Keanu Reeves and James Caan, it's an indie film. (Henry's Crime) It's along the lines of Buffalo 66 meets Bullets Over Broadway. Fun, fun. And I'm going to be directing an indie film, I'll try that for the first time. It's a very personal story based on the memoirs of a woman called Carolyn Briggs (Carolyn S. Briggs) and it's just her grappling with her faith in the 1960s and the 1970s born again Christian movement. It's just a portrait of a woman trying to define that for herself.

“Up in the Air” opens in theaters on December 4th.


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