Vera Farmiga did not intend to become a director. But when she read Carolyn Briggs’ memoir, “This Dark World," she was determined to bring the story of one evangelical woman's lifelong struggle with her faith to the big screen.
We sat down with Farmiga to talk about directing and starring in "Higher Ground," the film based on Brigg's memoir. Farmiga, who last appeared in the sci-fi thriller "Source Code," is perhaps best known for her Oscar-nominated portrayal of George Clooney’s career-minded love interest in "Up in the Air."
Though she won’t go into details about her own religious beliefs, Farmiga claims that "Higher Ground" is itself an intimate exploration of her personal faith. Creating the film became a way for Farmiga to look for answers to big questions about faith, spirituality and devotion, which, as she says, are “hard questions.”
The film begins with its main character Corinne (Farmiga) at childhood, living in a tight-knit religious community, and winds through her adulthood as she begins to doubt her faith.
“It takes a certain amount of deep introspection to execute the film,” she says. “It was a deep investment for me to ask, what does it mean to be holy, what does it mean to have a successful soul -- the film to me is a kind of answer.”
Farmiga became attached to the film as a director when it became clear to her that there was no other way the movie would get made.
“It was the only way that I could sort of save this from movie purgatory and see it fly,” she says. “You read certain things and they touch you in mysterious and profound ways -- I thought it was bold and new terrain.”
Farmiga was especially excited by the opportunity to play Corinne, whose religious journey is at the center of the film.
“I wanted to embark on that character's journey,” she says. “I felt like I hadn't had the opportunity since 'Down to the Bone,' and it’s rare to get that sort of depth of psyche exploration in a character.”
And Farmiga found directing to be a smooth transition from acting.
“It didn't seem like a switch to me,” she says. “I feel like I contribute in the same capacity as an actress, just on a much smaller level, just on my very individual character level.”
Still, she admits, directing was a “a roll up your sleeves kind of crash course.” Along for the ride was Farmiga's sister Taissa, one of the seven siblings in the Farmiga clan, and younger than Vera by 21 years. Though she had never been in another film, Farmiga says her participation was crucial.
“She had to do it,” Farmiga says. “I texted her and said, ‘I need a favor.’ I promised her she could have my pickup truck.”
It’s worth noting that while directing, Farmiga was also in her second trimester of pregnancy with her second child, daughter Gytta. Despite the hectic quality of life on set, Farmiga says that making "Higher Ground" felt natural.
“I wish I could feel so connected to everything I take on. If you don't, you find ways to force that connection," she says.