FARMIGA FACES UP TO GUILT
Robert Downey Jr’s being kissed while his wife is watching, but that’s not the reason for the hurt and resentment his co-star is hiding
Vera Farmiga will tell you that doing love scenes is awkward enough (“it’s just weird”), but when your on-screen love interest’s wife is a producer on the film and is standing just out of shot, it can prove downright bizarre.
“I’m sitting on Robert Downey Jr’s lap, and the director is telling me to move this way and that, and his wife Susan is standing there, nodding her head,” laughs the actor. “The pressure was on me to please Susan. The first person I looked at was her, like, ‘Susan, is that OK?’ I mean, she kisses him on a daily basis – she’s the expert!”
Farmiga and Downey star in The Judge, an old-fashioned weepy (mixed with family resentments, grudges and things left unsaid) about Hank (Downey), a high-flying lawyer who returns to his small home town to deal with his gruff father (Robert Duvall), the town’s judge, who’s facing a murder charge. Farmiga plays Sam, “a solid, peaceful gal” and Hank’s high school girlfriend.
“She’s pretty much the only woman in the film,” groans Farmiga. “So there was a lot of testosterone flying around. Actually, it was good that Susan was there!”
Farmiga reckons that “films like this” just aren’t being made in Hollywood and that it took Downey’s star power to get the project across the line.
“I think there’s a very noble message here (about family). I know what it does for me in my life, I know what direction it points me to. What it sort of deems me guilty of in my life.” Such as? “I’m not going to tell you,” she laughs, “but in a general sense, I know where there’s anger and indignation and hurt and resentment that I’m not addressing.”
Farmiga says working with Downey (“he’s an ideas man, he has a big engine”) was comforting.
“I like people who make me feel good and he makes you feel good about yourself. He’s a generous man, he has a generous heart and he really does enter your life full throttle,” she says.
“He cared immediately about my family and my family’s needs. This is a superstar — he’s got a lot on his plate — but he makes you feel like you’re the priority. He’s definitely not the norm in Hollywood.”
After praised performances in the 2000s ( The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Departed), Farmiga’s star rose thanks to her Oscar-nominated turn as a businesswoman after a nostrings-attached fling with George Clooney’s equally commitment-phobic Ryan in Up in the Air.
“That film changed my life,” says Farmiga, adding that it was that role which propelled her toward directing her own film, the critically acclaimed Higher Ground.
Still, she admits her film career has been patchy.
“I have a mediocre film history,” she smiles, adding, “There are a few films that I wouldn’t advise anybody to watch.”
She also says that it’s a depressing truism that roles for women over 40 (she’s 41) in Hollywood diminish.
“Look, I see things sagging and creaking, which seems to be a terrible thing for actresses, but which doesn’t seem to apply to actors.”
More recently, Farmiga has been seen on television in Bates Motel, a sort of prelude to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (she plays Norman’s mother).
“The opportunity for Bates Motel presented itself and took me by surprise,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily anticipate doing it, but I saw this character that I wanted to defend, and jumped on it.”
There were more practical reasons for taking the role. “I have two toddlers (son Fynn, five, and daughter Gytta, three, with husband Renn Hawkey, a producer), and I was creating a nomadic existence. My son has been on hundreds of planes. We are now experiencing routine and enjoying it.”
These days, she and her husband have “date nights on the sofa” and, when she’s not shooting the show near Vancouver, the family lives on a farm in upstate New York.
“Before my children, my baby goats were my kids. That was when I had time for hobbies, like designing and knitting sweaters. Now the goats are just pets. ”
Next up, she’s to star in the sequel to The Conjuring and is getting set to start filming the next season of Bates Motel. She says she’s surprised when she gets another role. “At the end of the day,” she exhales, “we’re all just winging it in some way.”
Robert Downey Jr as Hank Palmer and Vera Farmiga as Samantha Powell in a scene from