Profile: Vera Farmiga on making 'The Conjuring' - East Valley Tribune: Movies

Profile: Vera Farmiga on making 'The Conjuring'

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Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013 6:00 am

Maybe Vera Farmiga unwittingly scratched a bug bite and left three claw marks on her thigh.

Or perhaps it was a creepy coda to the day when she opened her laptop after formally accepting the role of clairvoyant Lorraine Warren in "The Conjuring." Lorraine and Ed Warren were demonologists summoned to a Rhode Island farmhouse where a family of seven reportedly was, literally, bedeviled.

"I had, for several hours, been researching Lorraine and watching YouTube videos, and I closed my computer screen, and I spoke with James (Wan, the director). ... We hung up, I opened my laptop and there were these digital claw marks, and the film experience began with that," she said in a recent phone call.

After she finished shooting and flew home with her family -- she and husband Renn Hawkey have two children -- the actress woke up the next morning with a bruise on her thigh with three slash marks.

Was it a sign of undiagnosed anemia or a mosquito bite she incessantly scratched with three fingers? Or a real-life mocking of the Trinity and echo of the mysterious marks that appear on Lili Taylor's character in the movie?

"It's odd. I don't know what it is," but Farmiga said she acknowledged it and then discarded it. "I'm caught in that threshold of knowing and not knowing -- one foot in, one foot out. I try not to give it more relevance."

And the experience wouldn't stop her from appearing as Lorraine again opposite Patrick Wilson as Ed. "It doesn't paralyze me in any way. That kind of a fear, I don't allow into my experience, I just push it away," said Farmiga.

Although she had not previously worked with Wilson, she had directed and starred alongside his wife, actress Dagmara Dominczyk, in 2011's "Higher Ground." It depicts the landscape of a tightknit spiritual community thrown off-kilter when one of its own begins to question her faith.

"Me taking 'The Conjuring' was in hopes of spending more time with Dagmara, who's one of the great female loves of my life, and I knew a coupling with Patrick onscreen would make that happen."

Farmiga, Oscar-nominated for her turn as a flirtatious frequent flier opposite George Clooney in "Up in the Air" and now turning heads on AMC's "Bates Motel," met the real Lorraine Warren at her home in Monroe, Conn.

"I didn't even pick her brain," Farmiga said, because there is plenty of footage of the 86-year-old answering the obvious questions. Lorraine and the late Ed spent decades investigating supernatural phenomena, including those dramatized in "The Amityville Horror," "The Haunting in Connecticut" and, now, "The Conjuring."

Farmiga spent her time with Warren trying to gather the delicate nuances of who she is and figure out how to embody her essence and portray her clairvoyance episodes.

"Patrick and I live in the tri-state area, and we visited her in Connecticut for one day. We sat down in her living room, with her roosters running around who live in the space with her, and we gathered those details. I think I was a listener that day more than I was the inquisitor," she said.

"For me, in contemplating clairvoyance and how I was going to project that had to do with her eyes, in particular. She has just beautiful blue eyes that bore holes. ... Her eyes are just luminous dimensional marbles full of love and goodness. It's hard to look away."

Farmiga also took note of Warren's speech cadence, tempo and accent, plus how she moves and fidgets with her rings.

"There was, for me, a bit of shyness that quickly dissipated. I can only imagine if I was 80-something and some Hollywood studio sent some punk to say they were going to represent my life, I mean, I would be a little suspicious, but there's none of that with her. She's just a heart on two feet and full of love."

Warren has a museum with occult artifacts in her home, accessible through a passageway from the living space. Farmiga said no to a look-see, although her co-star went ahead.

"My primary handbook was a book called 'The Demonologist.' It's a book about mystical theology, and in it, one learns just how and why mystical phenomenon occurs, and it scared the daylights out of me profoundly.

"The preface insists that it's not dangerous to read, that knowledge is power," she said. "There was a sense of terror every time I cracked it open because it's the most comprehensive book, I think, on all these trials and tribulations and escapades that they've been on."

Interestingly enough, the Warrens' daughter (depicted in the movie as a girl in the early 1970s) is skittish and afraid of the spirit realm.

Not only is the Warrens' daughter portrayed in "The Conjuring," but it also dramatizes the trauma reportedly endured by the five girls who moved with their parents, Carolyn and Roger Perron, into the secluded farmhouse in Burrillville, R.I., said to be haunted by malevolent spirits.

Asked if Farmiga and Wilson did anything special to allay the fears of the young actresses, she said, "We were their camp counselors for the summer. They were so excited to be there, and you can see from their performances they're very talented and they go deep, they dig deep emotionally.

"We would just distract and cajole and keep it lighthearted on set and just be like older brothers and sisters to them. We didn't dwell on any of that, and odd things started to happen to one of the children that mimics what happens to Carolyn in the film, and we never gave it more power.

"We never focused on it, we always distracted with just clowning around and keeping it light on set. You have to pendulum-swing in the opposite direction, especially with children."

She declined to go into detail. "I think that's for the parents to discuss. I don't like going there, I don't want to trivialize it in any way. ... But yes, odd things happened, weird things happened."

• Contact movie editor Barbara Vancheri at bvancheri@post-gazette.com. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.

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