Vera Farmiga's Orphan role draws on grief

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      LOS ANGELES—One of the producers of Orphan, Susan Downey, recalls that Vera Farmiga got the job of playing adoptive mother to a dysfunctional orphan by campaigning for the role. The actor, though, says she doesn’t see herself as a self-promoter, just as someone who realizes that the odds aren’t good for women who want lead roles in Hollywood films.

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      Vera Farmiga discusses her role in Orphan.

      “I don’t know about that for this film,” she says in an L.A. hotel room, “but there is stiff competition for really good roles for women. There are better parts for males; it’s more slim pickings for women. So you have to put up your dukes a little bit. But I also live in a very remote part of the country, and I can’t always fly out and take a meeting, so I go on the Internet and try to keep up with what is going on out there [in Hollywood].”

      Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Farmiga’s husband in Orphan (which opens Friday [July 24]), says he wishes he had some of Farmiga’s competitive spirit. “I wouldn’t call what Vera does self-promotion. I do wish I had more of whatever it is. We actually have the same manager, and he’ll say, ”˜Vera just goes out and gets the part she decides she wants.’ ”

      Watch the trailer for Orphan.

      In Orphan, Farmiga plays Kate Coleman, a mother who has lost one daughter through miscarriage and has almost lost another through alcoholism. The stress of carrying a child for nine months and then losing her on the hospital operating table led directly to a battle with the bottle. She watched in a drunken stupor as the youngest of her two children (Vancouver’s Aryana Engineer) fell through ice on her property, and she stood by helplessly as her husband saved the girl. She now feels the need for another child to join the family, and decides to adopt. However, the girl she and her husband pick has issues of her own. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) doesn’t seem to play well with others. In fact, some children accuse her of attempts to injure. Then there’s the case of the nun who came to visit and was never seen again.

      Farmiga may have been out to get the role, but, in truth, she had done a similar character two years ago. In Joshua, she and Sam Rockwell play the parents of a son with a similar mean streak. However, she says that she is not concerned about being labelled as Hollywood’s go-to actor for mothers dealing with horrific children. She says the key to the Orphan role was trying to understand the complex relationship that would develop between spouses if there was only one person who took the blame for everything that went wrong.

      “I think I’m okay. Not many people saw Joshua, and I think the only similarity was that it was a mother in distress. I certainly don’t feel like I am in danger of being pigeonholed. This story seemed radically different to me. I looked at the character and what her story was, and I just found her really complex. She is someone trying to get over a miscarriage and trying to deal with the dysfunction of the family. I think this is a highly dysfunctional relationship, because when she first deals with the shame and bereavement, she turns to alcohol. She lives with a man who puts bandages on the bullet holes. He really never deals with things in the relationship. Meanwhile, her grief drives her to drink. She feels tremendous guilt for her daughter’s death. I had never read anything like that before, and I was concerned that whomever else was part of it would be able to make it work. As soon as Peter’s name was brought into the mix, I said I was in, because we had been trying to do something together for several years.”

      Farmiga says that the shooting of the movie came at a time when she was exploring her own feelings about having a child. Although she and her husband, musician Renn Hawkey, eventually had a son, she took the concerns about whether she would get pregnant to the set with her.

      “When I consider a script, there’s always the sense of wanting to defend the character, and I had that with her. For me, a big appeal of the script was trying to understand miscarriage grief at a time when I was desperately trying to get pregnant and wanting to be a mother. There were issues that really intrigued me about it. I spent a lot of time on Web sites for women who had gone through third-trimester miscarriages, trying to understand the shame, the shock, the intense grief feelings. I discovered that for miscarriages, the body heals before the soul does. I saw that in my character and wanted to explore that.”