Adam Rodger’s feature film debut At Middleton has garnered a lot of attention for its story, but mainly its lead actors. Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia work side-by-side as two unsuspecting parents who fall in love with each other on a college campus tour. Farmiga bursts off the screen as Edith, an off-beat mother whose sudden urge to ditch the tour brings her and George (Garcia) closer than she ever imagined.
One of the unique things about At Middleton is how it brought Vera and Taissa Famiga together. Taissa is actually Vera’s younger sister, but in the film she plays her daughter. Vera spoke with us about working with Taissa, her admiration for Garcia and the kind of life she was able to bring to Edith.
How did you first get your hands on this project?
Vera Farmiga: A FedEx truck delivered a script with an offer, saying that Andy Garcia was attached to play George. There was a 48 hour time limit for the offer, which I thought was a really savvy and ballsy way of saying that this is a good script. If you don’t like it we’ll find someone else. Just out of the gate, I read it and I knew this is a role I could run with. The characterizations were so vivid. I grew up watching Carol Burnett do her schtick and I was just aching for something. I just wanted to have fun and at the same time, for the first time, I read the script and I thought ‘Oh, I understand why my mom now cried filling out the parent loans for university. I get it now.’ It was a really touching script and I have tremendous respect for Andy. Ever since he did When A Man Loves A Woman, that lingered with me, his performance there. I’d seen him in The Godfather Part III, I thought he was a soulful dude. I remember seeing him in that film and saying, ‘Oh, if I could only find a man who could love me with that sort of tenderness, patience, willingness and commitment. And the script is about these encounters we have for all of us at some point in our lives. It’s about these encounters with other human beings that it makes that flame ignite. My husband is that for me, and then my children became that for me as well, the day I gave birth to them. It resonated profoundly from this place of identity and parenting.
What was it like working with your sister [Taissa], and having her play your daughter?
Vera Farmiga: It was so relevant to who we are to each other, and who we have been to each other. She’s a surrogate daughter of mine. I’d like to think that I’ve modeled for her what it means to take risks, be optimistic, what’s scary and what’s not. It was a time in her life where she was just turning 18, and she had a certain measure of success with Higher Ground, and was given so much opportunity. I could see her flittering away from me, and at the same time needing me. She still does. She’s the last of my mom’s seven children, to kind of that empty nest syndrome, seeing it unfold. Taissa wanted her time on set. We’re just condemning my mom to trailer life and not allowing her on set because it’s that time for her to expand, to grow. That’s a very tender time, transition where parents have to let go and kids have to let go of their parents.
You mentioned your admiration for Andy Garcia. What was it like working on set? Did improvisation take place?
Vera Farmiga: There’s carefree-ness in the script that, as far as all that chemistry goes, I would love to take credit for it but for me it’s 1 percent willingness and 99 percent writing. Everything was on the written page, and these filmmakers got the hardest job. They start with a blank page, and without that great writing you would be powerless as an actor. And it was a variable playground. You just had to put on your grubbies, roll up your sleeves and indulge. There was room for [improvisation], but we didn’t rely on it. It was solidly scripted, but then there would be things like the acting teacher, she led the class through a sort of physical relaxation, but that’s Adam’s direction as well. You’ve got to think, especially when you’re establishing chemistry and adventure, you’ve got to open yourself up to it and be present. Often times it feels like you just can’t repeat moments, you’ve got to find newness in them.
You previously mentioned tapping into the physical comedy of Carol Burnett. Who else did you look to for inspiration with Edith?
Vera Farmiga: There’s a bit of Lucielle Ball too. These are all of these sort of physical comedians that have always delighted me. I think it’s really interesting, the great contradiction of Edith, the first profound thing she says, here it is, this very carefree, energetic, passionate woman but the first bit of truth she admits to is that she’s profoundly unhappy. That dichotomy, that kind of contrast, being so carefree but so hampered by how you’ve chosen to your life.
What about your college background? Was there any moment there that changed your life for the better?
Vera Farmiga: I did go to Elizabeth Town College with my mom when I thought I was going to be a music therapist. It was this sort of last minute switch. I sort of took this fork in the road. I was playing varsity soccer and I was benched and had my heart broken in the same week. I didn’t want to sit there forlorn so one of my best friends encouraged me to audition for the school play and I got the lead role. From there I was just encouraged to do it. If my professors at this public high school hadn’t said to me “You should re-investigate what you want to do,” at this point they had a couple of students that had gone to Syracuse University and it was one of their remainder colleges that had a drama program that had auditions open.
At Middleton is out in limited theaters now.