Actress Vera Farmiga has had some pretty formidable on-screen partners, including Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed and George Clooney in Up in the Air. But in her latest, Source Code, she spends most of the film speaking into a small camera as she guides Jake Gyllenhaal on a mind-bending mission to discover the culprit behind a commuter train bombing. She sat down with Metro to talk about working with the camera, what makes a good soldier and the importance — or lack thereof — in a character’s gender.
Are you a fan of science fiction?
I grew up watching Battlestar Galactica and The Jetsons and Star Trek. But not so much lately, just because I don’t often find the characters compelling or relatable. And to me this role is everything I steer clear of as an actress.
How do you mean?
It’s pretty expositional. It’s a maddening kind of dialogue for most actors to do. And for me, talking to (director) Duncan (Jones) about the role, to me what then came alive about the role was not so much what is obvious on the written page, but what kind of happens in that real estate between the lines. She’s a soldier, and she operates like any good soldier does from the start, but the more she gets emotionally involved, the more she operates from her heart — which does not always the best soldier make. There’s not room for emotions or getting personal. And I think that’s what her job is. She’s his navigation device. She takes him by the collar and brings him back on track whenever he veers off.
Did you have trouble playing straight into the camera?
It’s a strange technique. Jonathan Demme had asked me at one point during Manchurian Candidate to look straight at it, and it was a sincerely difficult thing to do. Because you’re acting with machinery. You don’t have anything immediate to react to. Sometimes it’s just the twinkle of an eye that gives you an entirely different reaction. Or a twitch or a blink that’s a tell of some sort.
It’s been mentioned that in earlier drafts of the script, your character was a man.
That doesn’t surprise me. It’s funny, I was just offered a role in a very big movie, also playing another military personality, and they didn’t even have the decency to run it through (screenwriting software) Final Draft and change the gender.