The very lovely Vera Farmiga sat down with Lost In Reviews to talk about her role in Source Code. She was very soft-spoken and very kind. There were other people in the room with myself and Vera, so that is why l you may see something said out of context. Vera seemed very passionate about Source Code and it was due in large to it being attached to Duncan Jones, who is definitely one of my favorite directors now. Go see Source Code on April 1st and enjoy the magnitude of it. Warning: This interview may contain spoilers.
I’d like to ask one question. I’ll probably ask more than that. The one thing that I think was the most interesting about your character, was that whole question at the end of ‘whether or not to basically go in and turn off the machine’ kind of thing. Would Vera do the same thing that Goodwin did?
Vera: Um, Vera’s pretty true to her word, so if she promises something to someone, regardless of career at stake or job at stake, I probably would honor — I mean, that’s what I strive to do, at least. But, you know, also in turn — and this without revealing too much to those who haven’t seen the film — there is a little check mark box on your license that gives you permission, or doesn’t. And I imagine that’s something that should probably be considered…But, um, yeah, you want to honor people’s dying requests. (Laughter)
Your character and Jake’s character never meet in the film, so did you keep separated to kind of keep that balance when filming, or not?
Vera: Yes, incredibly frustrating, because it didn’t actually occur to me, and I don’t know why it didn’t. When you read the script, there’s a scene partner on the written page; and then you get your call sheet, and you’re the only one showing up. And it’s really jarring, because I thought I thought I was going to be working with Jake Gyllenhaal. (Laughter) And I did, ah, for about a week and a half rehearsal we worked together, and sat across from each other. But now I’m in the nature of the roles — as they are spatially — apart, and they have more of a psycho-spiritual connection. So, I think the way we executed it is the only way to do it…was to go solo.
While I was sitting in there imagining (this is just my mind working) that they had some kind of real history, you know, like maybe that you were his CO at one point, and you sent him off on a fatal mission…you know, but I have too much time on my hands. (Laughter) Because the way your character was reacting to him, especially when she opened up and saw him well, what’s left of him…
Vera: Yeah, um, I think that is her arc. It’s starts off as a science project, and then she grows to like him and to admire him, and to care for him; and it becomes personal. The urgency then of saving one person who’s dear to you, versus saving a hundred strangers can be a challenge to do the right thing. It was incredibly helpful to see Duncan’s, um, visually he’s precise before filming, and you walk into a room half this size, and every square inch is covered with visuals. And that very image – that end image – when she opens up, and what she see’s in that sarcophagus was key to me. My mind didn’t grasp it until Duncan showed me that image as to what she is actually, who she is communicating with. And that was very powerful for me to have that visual — and I would have seen it anyway showing up to set because, you know…
Was there a face on the screen when you talked? I mean, did he see you when when he was –
Vera: Jake shot his pod scenes before me in a sound stage in, i think, Toronto. I shot three weeks later in a sound stage in Montreal, so I had the privilege of having his footage that he shot, and seeing his performance, and then considering that when executing mine. But, in the scene you have two perspectives: you have Jake’s perspective of my character, and the audience’s perspective of my character. So in reality, Jake’s perspective is a little, well, those gun cameras that you — the archaic…before the Mac computers in the, you know, you used to have to attach it to the screen? And that’s what my character is looking at. And there was a couple close-ups of it, if you see the film again. And I thought, well perhaps this will be easier if instead of just vaguely staring at this camera, if I just stared at my little reflection — the reflection of myself; because it’s a hard thing to do, you spend most all your time ignoring the camera, putting up that fourth wall, so when it comes crashing down and you have to acknowledge all the audience in a respect ‘head-on.’ Then there’s this sort of self-consciousness that you have to get beyond. But then I stopped doing that, because I thought maybe I was getting cross-eyed, looking at myself so small, and then went back to sort of a more general scope. But you also have two cameras coming at you for the audience’s perspective of my character at different lenses, so…You try to play to them all, and also consider – which is great – which is not only what you want the audience to think you’re communicating with, but then in the end when you’re actually revealing what is the true nature of their relationship, is to consider that from the beginning for my character that…I reveal too much by saying it’s just words —
So, was it something of a relief then, being able to work with Jeffrey Wright’s in those scenes where you’re not looking at the camera? So what was your approach to those scenes that were different from staring into a camera, talking to a camera, looking at the screen?
Vera: It’s pretty straight forward, except that your working with a remarkable Jeffrey Wright who’s near obsessive about character. And his voice — he has a magnificent voice, and so resonant that even the chair shakes, the chair that you’re sitting on vibrates. (Laughter) But, you know, it’s just keeping up with your scene partner and maneuvering accordingly, and keeping in mind the gender dynamics with, ah, male bosses and all the politics within that. But, nothing really specific I can tell you, just that it’s a lot of fun working with great actors and Jeffrey Wright is such one.
He kind of comes off like “Dr. Frankenstein” in the movie for many reasons, but I was wondering — I know this is maybe more of a question for him — how important was it for him not to play him as a villain? Because you could argue that what he was doing was very noble.
Vera: Yeah no, and you can as an argument I think there’s validity to both sides. Again it’s ambiguous, and it’s the wonderful thing about his role — he’ truly is just…OK, there’s ego. Unquestionably there’s ego. There is a pride that comes with invention. And he has a massive brain to be able to come up with this. So there’s a inerrant ego in an operation from that place, but I think that the intention is good. It is to prevent more injury, and more disaster and to save lives. And if that is your mission, then of course it’s arguable.
Would you say there’s a clear antagonist in the film?
Vera: Antagonist? No. No. No? Yeah, well, the bomber. (Laughter) Yeah, but no.
That ending scene really reminded me a lot of John Got His Gun. Is that something that was ever referenced?
Vera: I don’t know Johnny Got His Gun.
It’s Dalton Trumbo, and it’s about a soldier who has no limbs, has no face, and then basically at the end, the nurse euthanizes him.
Vera: Oh, wow, I’ll have to see it.
I mean, I felt it was like a mission of mercy when you lock yourself in that thing, that glass booth, and you obviously change the combination…
Vera: Yes, absolutely. At that point it’s a personal relationship, and she’s sticking to her word. Perhaps there will be other willing volunteers. I don’t know if she has the capacity then, after experiencing such a personal connection — I don’t know what her choices would be — whether she gets fired…She probably gets fired. (Laughs)
Court marshall? But no, it creates an alternate universe where everything is all of a sudden good.
Vera: It depends which one of her universes you’re talking about. Sure, sure.
It’s curious to me, because, I mean, is he dead or is he not dead. So did you just commit murder? That was one of the things I was like, well, they say he’s dead – they told his father he’s dead. Then you push this button and he’s dead, but before that, was he or wasn’t he? So when you say court martial or whatever, I was really curious about that, you know…kind of what he was thinking. I’ll ask him.
In one world he’s dead, in another world he’s not.
That was one of the things that was most intriguing about it, I thought over all.
He’s right there at the end.
It’s so much food for thought, and so much to think about.
What was the thing you liked about Moon that, ah, prompted you to work with Duncan?
Vera: I may have said this already, but it’s just the Sci-Fi genre. It’s so tech-y and plot driven, and this was about a character. I cared about Sam’s character so much. You know actually, and it’s funny – it’s very different from him, but I liked the quietude of Moon, which is very different from this film. But I’m also a minimalist when it comes to that, even though the score is really beautiful, what I liked about Moon was how quiet of a film it was, and that it could just rely on performance alone. There was absolutely no manipulation of emotion in that respect. To achieve that, in that kind of genre was rare for me and surprising for me who normally doesn’t rent those kind of films. The capacity that as a filmmaker he encourages humor and infuses warmth and allows for nuance as a director — as a storyteller. And Sam…Sam’s a friend of mine, and I want to see more spotlight on him as an actor, and Sam was a major, major part of that equation.
Did Duncan actually full-on direct you, or were you able to kind of do your own thing?
Vera: I was able to do my own thing quite a bit, but my own thing tends to be (as an actress) really, um…This character is probably not normally what I would be drawn to, and because this was really the antithesis of things I am drawn to, I had to take a look at it. Because it was Duncan Jones, but also because it was just, ‘Oh, there’s a challenge in here.’ I know it’s going to be about…here. Then it becomes not so much ‘what is your character saying?’ but ‘what is she not saying?’ What is she experiencing in her inner life, and what’s not necessarily on the written page, but there’s room for? As an actress I take tend to embellish quite a bit and inflate like an accordion, and it’s Duncan’s job to suppress and say, hey, she only has eight minutes. (Laughter) That you’ve got to remember the urgency — we have to honor a certain tempo and the staccato that’s inherent to the script – the pacing that needs to be there. At the same time, allow for me to infuse it with humanity and nuance. So it was going between that, and I really needed him to sometimes say, “Urgency, urgency! Remember the urgency!’ And I’d say, “No, but let me do what I do, you know, what you hired me to do!” “OK, but do it faster.” (Laughter)
Thank yous and goodbyes.
by Angela Davis
transcription by Rachael Edwards