Co-starring in the sci-fi thriller Source Code, Vera Farmiga took a minute to sit down with me at the SXSW film fest to discuss her role. Farmiga, who has played strong women before in films like The Departed and Running Scared, plays soldier Carol Goodwin, the main liaison between Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the source code creator, mad scientist Max Denoff. Her character must deal with Colter as he struggles to understand what is happening to him, and tries to find out who planted a bomb on a train.
In the film, Farmiga does a lot of acting against a computer camera as she’s communicating with Gyllenhaal’s character. Of the challenge of playing such a stationary role, Farmiga said, “yeah, there’s not much movement. You have a roller chair so you can roll back and forth and swivel right and left. You’re confined and you’re movement is confined. Especially the way you are filmed from two perspectives; the audience’s perspective and Jake’s perspective. Also, knowing that your face is going to be massive and probably skewed in the way cameras skew your face when you are iChatting, it just forced me to think about their psycho-spiritual connection and kind of maneuvering from an ocular standpoint and to focus on the camera.
And to me I think also, just in general, how I choose roles… because this isn’t something in general that I’d be drawn to because it was so opposite of what I usually am drawn to… Duncan Jones on the cover sheet was enough of a yes for me and to be a part of an intricate puzzle was enough of a yes for me, but I think the challenge therein is to figure out what the character is not saying and what is between the lines. I think that allowed for more life and I think the challenge is to convey all of that. Because in all candor that kind of dialogue, expository dialogue, is just boring to execute. So the challenge for me was just to find life beyond the information. I am an information giver. I’m a whip cracker in terms of making sure this guy stays on mission, but to also within that convey what her moral dilemma is and how that plays out. But to be confined in that way and just limited to a face and the eyes was the biggest tool I had in conveying the dynamic between these two people.”
She added, “yeah, and Jake wasn’t there. I don’t know why that was so hard for me to grasp from the start because I read it and I was like “Great! I’m acting with Jeffrey Wright,” which he was there in the flesh, and “Great! I’m acting with Jake Gyllenhaal”. But I read the call sheet for the first day and it’s just me that shows up on set. We had rehearsal time, we had a week and a half of rehearsal time and he was there for that. And he was gentleman enough to show up for two days on set where his voice was broadcast. But it was just something I had to get accustomed to. You spend so much time ignoring the… you know, holding up that fourth wall and when it comes crashing down… I’ve only been asked to do it once, in a film called The Manchurian Candidate.
The director wanted to mess with the audience a bit and each character at one point stared directly at the camera and it was one of the hardest things to do. You find different ways of making yourself comfortable because it can be very self conscious. I would look at my image reflected back at me, a tiny little image, but I think it brought me cross-eyed so that went out the window. We were fortunate, since it is only one space, to be able to shoot in sequence. And just considering the emotional journey of the character, you get used to the technique of it.
Farmiga’s character seems like it wouldn’t leave much room for improvising or fleshing out, due to the fact that she’s an uniformed soldier who is under strict orders. But Farmiga said, “Yeah, like I said it’s what happens between the lines. A lot of it is just informative jargon that is informing the audience and this character of what has just transpired and keeping him on mission. He is always veering off mission and I’m pulling back by the collar and saying “No, no, no, no. This is important and you can’t dilly dally. You can’t dawdle. This is not about you and your life. This is about other peoples lives.” I can’t count how many times I said “This is beleaguered castle. Acknowledge transmission.” And making that, each time…. inventing ways and different feelings behind it. But there is an arc to my character and she does start from looking at him as a scientific experiment to growing to like him and admire him and know him and respect him and to see him for what he is. And that is a human being, not just an experiment.
That was important to form a connection. As their relationship changes, her mission changes. And how she speaks to him… that’s a lot to consider. More than I even thought. At first, on the written page it just seemed simple… but the more we delved into it the richer it appeared to me. There was actually a lot of room to explore this moral issue and look at what’s right and what’s wrong.”
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Vera very much for talking with us. Make sure you go out and see Source Code when it hits theatres on April 1st, 2011. Also, be sure to check out our review on Source Code, our interview with star Jake Gyllenhaal, our interview with director Duncan Jones, our interview with star Michelle Monaghan and our interview with writer Ben Ripley.