Vera Ann Farmiga was born August 6, 1973 in Passaic County, New Jersey, USA. The second of seven children, Vera was raised in a strict Catholic home by Ukrainian immigrant parents, Michael (Mykola) Farmiga and Lyubov (Lyuba) Farmiga. She grew up in an insular Ukrainian American community, and so, did not speak English until the age of six. Vera attended a Ukrainian Catholic school before going to a public school. She was passionate about dancing and toured with a Ukrainian folk-dancing company in her teens.
Vera graduated from Hunderton Central regional high school in 1991 with dreams of becoming an optometrist. She eventually changed her mind and went on to study acting at Syracuse University’s School of Performing Arts. Farmiga began her professional acting career on-stage in 1996, making her Broadway debut as an understudy in the play Taking Sides. Her stage credits included performances in The Tempest, The Glass Menagerie, Hamlet, and Second-Hand Smoke (1997). Vera’s on-stage performances caught the eye of television producers and she went on to make her television debut as the female lead, Catlin, opposite Heath Ledger in the short-lived Fox series Roar (1997). The show introduced Vera to her future husband, actor Sebastian Roache, whom she married during the same year in the Bahamas; however, the marriage would end in 2004.
Vera continued on with television work, appearing in the television movie Rose Hill (1997) and making appearances on Law and Order (1998) and Trinity (1998). She also starred in Return to Paradise (1998) opposite Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix and Anne Heche, catching the eye of both film critics and audiences. In 2000 she went on to film The Opportunists with Christopher Walken and Autumn in New York with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder.
Farmiga gained more attention and recognition for her work for the role of Daphne Handlova in 15 Minutes (2001), in which she starred opposite Robert De Niro and Edward Burns. She also appeared in Dust (2001), Snow White (2001), Love in the Time of Money (2002) and Dummy (2002) before winning the role of Alex Cross in UC: Undercover, an NBC series, which was unfortunately cancelled after 11 episodes.
After the cancellation of the series, Vera Farmiga took a little time off just to return in 2004 with 5 movies and yet another TV show! She starred in Down to the Bone in the role of Irene, which fans still list as one of her best performances to date. The performance earned Vera a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and nominations at Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. Next, she pulled off another strong performance in HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels opposite Hilary Swank and had a smaller role in In the Gap. She starred in a TV series called Touching Evil as Detective Susan Branca. Unfortunately, this production was canceled just after six episodes, despite gaining a large fan following. Vera herself then went on to star opposite Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate as Jocelyne Jordan.
In 2005 Vera appeared in Neverwas and The Hard Easy. She went on to roles in Breaking and Entering (2006) and the talked-about Running Scared (2006) before making a powerful entrance to Hollywood’s A-list as Madolyn in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The following year, 2007, saw Vera in Never Forever and Joshua. In 2008, Vera made waves with her roles in In Tranzit, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, for which she won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress, and Nothing But the Truth, which earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2009 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards. She also received positive reviews for her performance as Fiona in Quid Pro Quo. For example, a critic for New York magazine stated that Farmiga “is as usual scarily good. Her madness isn’t something out of the ether. She’s always visibly calculating, thinking better of something reckless she’s about to do then doing it anyway.”
Vera next appeared in Niki Caro’s The Vintner’s Luck (2009), a film that examines the trials and tribulations experienced by a 19th century winemaker. She starred in Jaume Collet-Serra’s mystery thriller Orphan together with Peter Sarsgaard as a husband and wife who adopt a 9-year-old girl – who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be. The film received mixed reviews but, as usual, Farmiga’s performance stood out to the critics. Times magazine wrote that Farmiga “becomes more convincing as the story unfolds. By the end, she has you in the palm of her hand.” 2009 ended on a career high note for Vera as she starred opposite George Clooney and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. The character, Alex, turned out to be one of Farmiga’s favorite roles. “It’s a very masculine kind of feminine desire, which I found appealing,” she said. “She doesn’t temper her desires at all. She makes clear her needs and expects to have the world accommodate them. It’s not a character we often see on-screen, and when we do, more often than not she’s bereft of dignity. So that was cool.” The Jason Reitman directed comedy-drama was very well received by the critics and audiences alike and turned out to be one of Farmiga’s biggest box office successes. Not only this but Farmiga’s turn as the ambiguous Alex was a huge hit. In 2010, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture as well as many other nominations for the role. Although Farmiga was considered to be one of the frontrunners by many, the awards themselves ended up going to Mo’Nique for her performance in Precious. “The response was amazing,” Vera said. “I think women were just so pleased to see the tables turned. It’s so common to see a movie with a man exploring his unsettled streak, his sexuality in the way that Alex does. Oftentimes, you do see the woman being shafted and it was refreshing to see a woman who was in control and unapologetic about her sensuality, desire and needs.”
Farmiga next began filming the surrealist romantic comedy Henry’s Crime (2010) with Keanu Reeves in late 2009. The film was released at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 to mixed reviews. In 2011, Vera had a supporting role in the Jake Gyllenhaal starring film Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones. Farmiga plays Colleen Goodwin, an un-foofy air force officer who is Gyllenhaal’s only contact with the outside world. Vera says that she almost didn’t take the role because she was felt that her character “was not that stimulating on the written page.” But then she began to see the script itself as a challenge and decided to take it on. Source Code received international critical acclaim by reviewers. Vera was offered a leading role in the action biopic Machine Gun Preacher (2011); however, she had to decline it as she’d recently become pregnant. While her pregnancy limited any acting roles she could take this did not stop her from working, in fact, she would go on to direct her first film during this time.
Partly in order to rectify the lack of strong female roles, Farmiga recently directed and starred in her own feature film, titled Higher Ground (2011), which tells the story of a woman’s struggle with faith from her 50s childhood to the aftermath of a spiritual crisis. To play the younger version of her character, Vera cast her own younger sister, Taissa, who ended up being a big help behind the scenes helping to take care of Vera’s son, Flynn. But the family affair of making this film extended to not only Vera’s husband, Renn Hawkey, who served as producer and musical director but also her cousin, Adriana Farmiga, who acted as an art curator. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it was well received, and saw a limited North American release on August 26. Variety noted for that Higher Ground “marks a startlingly bold directing debut for actress Vera Farmiga […] Farmiga holds the screen with nary a trace of vanity-project posturing, even as her direction steers this full-bodied ensemble drama past some minor missteps into deeply moving and provocative realms.” “I’ve been very pleased with the reception to the movie,” says Vera herself. “I grew tired of asking permission [to play the roles I wanted to play]. With Higher Ground, I thought, ‘OK, let’s create an opportunity.’ It’s frustrating because I feel like I work harder to bring life to…” She breaks off. “I mean, I know the roles [for women] are out there but it’s just so cut-throat and everyone’s vying for them.” In 2011, it was also announced that Vera would star in the films Closer to the Moon, A View from the Bridge and The Locals; while the former was released in 2014, A View from the Bridge and The Locals never came to fruition.
Vera’s next role was as Wendy Whitman in the indie dramedy Goats (2012), playing a flaky New Age mother. The film opened at Sundance. That same year, she went on to star in the action thriller Safe House (2012). This was the second production in which she co-starred with Denzel Washington. In 2013, fans saw Vera return to the small screen being cast Norma Louise Bates, the mother of the infamous Norman Bates. The series was titled Bates Motel and served as a contemporary reboot of the classic horror film Psycho (1960). While there were several sequels and even a rebooted version of the film in 1998, none seem to capture the critical acclaim or audience’s attention as the original…until now. The critics loved it and Vera! In fact, she received a Saturn Award for Best Actress on Television in 2013 and a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Cable TV Actress in 2016. She would also go on to be nominated for three Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Best Actress in a Drama Series as well as a Satellite Award, TCA Award and the coveted nomination of a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Of the role, Vera said, “The hook for me was how my character is strong – yes, she’s demented; yes, she has a painful inner life; but it’s a valiant portrait of maternity, and I have to defend this character, which is my job as an actor. I’m a court-appointed lawyer arguing before the grand jury of the audience, presenting an entirely different case. At the heart, of it there’s a single mother who’ll do whatever it takes to save her neurologically dysfunctioning child, even though there’s no way to make that child healthy or normal. […] For me, it is a maternal love-story.” From the second season until its final season, Vera served as a producer and later executive producer of the series.
As Vera gained critical acclaim on the small screen, she would continue this success on the silver screen. Her next film, The Conjuring (2013), was a huge commercial and critical accomplishment. The film grossed over $319 million worldwide against a modest budget of $20 million. This made it one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time. Its success eventually led a sequel and two spin-off films with a third Conjuring movie currently in development. In the film, Farmiga played Lorraine Warren – a paranormal investigator and self-proclaimed clairvoyant. Patrick Wilson played her husband. This same year Vera worked with her sister, Taissa, yet again in the romantic comedy At Middleton. The film premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. While the film received mixed reviews from critics, both Vera and Taissa were praised for their performances. Several months after the premiere of At Middleton, Vera’s long-awaited Romanian-American dramedy Closer to the Moon premiered at the Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema Festival in New York. With a $5 million budget, it became one of the most expensive productions in Romanian cinema. The film was criticized for casting English actors in Romanian roles; however, despite this criticism, the acting was praised. About a year later, Vera’s next film would be released. She co-starred in David Dobkin’s drama The Judge (2014) as Samantha Powell – the love interest of Robert Downey Jr’s character.
While Vera had no new releases in 2015, Bates Motel was as popular as ever with its third season premiering. In an interview with ‘Collider’, Vera expressed her excitement about the challenges of the role. “It’s pretty nutty to see what we explore with this character, this season, with the height of righteousness that she possesses, and the depths of manipulation and depravity that she is capable of. And there are just so many antics and adventures for me to explore. It’s an outstanding role. I have never been challenged the way I am with this story and this particular character.” Despite having no new releases beyond season 3 of Bates Motel, the following year would see no shortage of Vera on the silver screen as she starred in four different films, including the sequel to The Conjuring.
In 2016, Vera starred in the comedy Special Correspondents as Eleanor Finch. This would go on to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was later released worldwide by Netflix. Next Vera appeared in The Conjuring 2, the sequel to her wildly popular film The Conjuring. Like its predecessor, it too was met with huge commercial success and a positive reviews. While the success of the first movie doubled the budget of the sequel, The Conjuring 2 was still able to make a staggering $320 million worldwide. A change up from the thrills of The Conjuring 2, Vera’s next film would be the adventure comedy-drama Burn Your Maps also starring Jacob Tremblay and Virginia Madsen. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite her busy schedule, Vera found time to appear in the BMW short film The Escape which co-starred Dakota Fanning and Clive Owen. While on thirteen minutes long, the film took a month and a half to complete. Off-screen Vera acted as executive producer for the documentary Unspoken. It premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2017. This same year Bates Motel would air its final episode. Vera described the show ending as heartbreaking, “I’m still heartbroken. The demise of Bates is a breakup. She’s been my lover for five years. I’m still in the recovery phase.”
Vera did not have long to burn the finale of Bates Motel, as in early 2018, her film The Commuter was released. The action thriller co-starred Liam Neeson. Also in January, Vera returned to her television in an appearance on the Amazon sci-fi anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Upcoming this year, Vera has the dramedy Boundaries set to premiere in June along with the Gary Hart biopic The Front Runner, starring Hugh Jackman. In 2019, Vera will appear as Dr. Emma Russell in the monster film Godzilla: King of the Monsters along with the science fiction crime thriller Captive State which is set to be released on March 29, 2019, and the biographical drama Skin. Currently in pre-production is the third installment in The Conjuring series.
Vera and her husband, Renn Hawkey, a carpenter who was formerly keyboard player for the synth-pop band Deadsy, have an eight-year-old son, Fynn Hawkey, and a seven year old daughter, Gytta Lubov Hawkey. When asked if one of her children wanted to be an actor, Vera stated, “I would encourage them, whatever their convictions are. I think it can be a noble profession, I really do.”
“I really don’t feel a need to be famous, but I do feel a need to make a difference, to shed light on human emotion through acting. It sounds strange, but I don’t recognize myself in the women in most films. And I should be up there somewhere. We all should”, Farmiga says. With several powerful performances on her belt, a magnetic screen presence and an eye for great roles, one may expect many great things from the talented and extraordinary actress and director Vera Farmiga.
Last updated on August 7, 2018
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