After Vera Farmiga was nominated for an Oscar for her performance opposite George Clooney in the 2009 film Up in the Air, the actor was offered the chance of a lifetime – not just to act in a film, but to direct it as well.
The result is indie drama Higher Ground, which hit American theatres on August 26. The film debuted at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and launched a budding acting career for Vera’s younger sister, Taissa Farmiga. Higher Ground is inspired by Carolyn Brigg’s memoir This Dark World, in which a young woman enters a community of evangelical Christians and then begins to question her faith.
The film follows lead character Corinne (Vera) over a span of 20 years. Vera, 38, made the film a family affair with husband Renn Hawkey, as producer and musical director, and her sister Taissa, 15-years-old at the time and with no prior acting experience, playing young Corinne.
The sisters sat down to talk about their experience of working together on Higher Ground.
Who asked whom to be in the film?
Taissa: Vera texted me and was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna play the younger version of me in a film I’m directing?’ I was a typical 15-year-old. I wasn’t up to much, so I said ok.
Were your parents okay with Taissa doing intimate scenes in the film?
Vera: Actually, I had to present it to mama, she’s the one who signs on things. So, I altered certain descriptive words of the more graphic scenes!
Vera, why have your sister in the film? Especially when it’s somebody without experience and no burning desire to act?
Vera: It was more important to me that before experience there was genetic similarity. I needed her to look like me. I feel like Taissa even moves like me.
Were there moments when your sister’s work made your heart soar with pride and made you teary-eyed?
Vera: So many, especially the first scene we shot when she was crying in the toilet on the night of the honeymoon. I mean, the way she threw herself into the role starting with that one scene. Certain words can instigate Taissa into an emotional reaction. She’s so trusting, so courageous, so bold.
Taissa, was there ever a moment during production where you regretted saying ‘yes’ to doing the film?
Taissa: I may have had one of those fleeting thoughts. But once we started shooting, no. I had a blast.
There is a 22-year age difference between you two. Is your relationship more like mother/daughter or two sisters?
Vera: It depends on the moment. It depends on the day. I’ve always felt a responsibility for her.
Taissa: But there are times when you’re that cool older sister.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.