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CONTENDER Q&A

Prima Vera

Farmiga enjoys toying with George Clooney in 'Up in the Air.'

November 18, 2009|Michael Ordona

The first thing Vera Farmiga wants to do is to get out of those unrealistic heels. Relaxing on a couch in front of a lukewarm coffee in a suite at the Luxe Hotel, the actress known for unflinching portrayals of complex women appears before us now on behalf of "Up in the Air," a buzz-generating comedic drama directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno") and starring George Clooney. Clooney's Ryan is a smooth corporate mercenary flying from town to town to fire people; the happy traveler meets his match in Farmiga's Alex, a similarly rootless-seeming professional . . . and the banter begins.

Was working with Reitman and Clooney the main draw?

Yeah . . . at the same time, I thought it was a refreshing spin on feminine desire. It's something you don't too often get to see, a woman being so demanding and libertine and unapologetic about her sexual prowess. She's an adventuress; she's a full-blown romantic operative. That was pretty exciting. And tricky. Because usually, female characters who are so masculine in their needs can come across as lacking dignity. Alex represents to me what's so hard about being a woman, post-feminist. Wanting it all: a family, a career. That sort of pendulum between romance and respectability, virgin-whore, all these lady problems we have to contend with and there will never be an answer to. A modern heroine of sorts.

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Is that what separates her from most Hollywood roles for women? You've described them generally as "stupid, materialistic, horny, nympho" types.

And I'm playing one! Except she's not stupid. She's unapologetically horny. She has genitals.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Alex, Ryan and his young protegee, Natalie . . .

That was my audition scene. Jason was very honey-tongued and boot licking when we sat down. He told me he'd written the role for me and used me as a model when he was writing it -- which was awfully appealing to hear. But ultimately, I did end up reading for it and I was four months' pregnant at the time. I was hired at eight months.

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So you felt very sleek and sexy.

I was feeling very womanly. All of a sudden, I had breasts and they had purpose! I felt the empowerment that birth brings. On one hand, yes, in normal, non-hormonal circumstances, I would have an easier time clicking in to the character's suave coolness, sensuality and confidence. Focus was difficult. When your milk comes in and you know your child is hungry, and you're wearing a silk shirt and you're staring at George Clooney doing his close-up, having to interrupt and say, 'Hold that thought!' And go do that.

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Did that really happen?

Yeah, many times. If you look at it again, you can probably see angles when I contort my bosom and my torso just to disguise what was really happening at the time. Truly, I've never felt more womanly than at that time in my life. And that probably added to the performance in delicious ways.

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I can't imagine George Clooney made it easy on you when you were doing the 'How big is it?' scene.

That was an improvisatory moment. Jason steered me in that direction. But there are a couple of zingers in that film. 'Think of me as yourself, only with a vagina.' These are the lines you know will inevitably make the trailer. These are the lines you spend hours rehearsing in front of a mirror. With Ryan and Alex, you barely see them together; it's the banter and perhaps a soft kiss to establish that chemistry and such a potent sexuality.

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Is there a scene in the film that particularly resonates for you?

The real-life testimonies [of people who had recently lost their jobs] hit me on a gut level, to the core. That gets me every time I see it. My father has been laid off several times in the last handful of years and still has three children he has to put toward college, and they have no health insurance. So that hit me.

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