Interview: Vera Farmiga On Being More Than The Talking Head of ‘Source Code’

By  · Published on March 29th, 2011

Colleen Goodwin is a risky character in Source Code. Goodwin is the most exposition-reliant character, and if she was handled wrongly, this GPS machine could have been the most ham-fisted character of the year. Nearly every line Goodwin has is exposition. As an actor, as Vera Farmiga discusses, walking a fine line of being a character instead of a device is no easy task.

For exposition to generally work, it requires a sense of urgency. Considering most of Farmiga’s screen time involves her talking on a computer screen, that must have made matters even more difficult. This type of exposition either flies or falls completely flat, so it was a smart move on Jones’s part to hire a pro like Farmiga. Although Goodwin is the main key to explaining things for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Colter (and for the audience), she’s also important for raising the main ethical questions of the film. By the end, Goodwin makes for a bit more than a lifeless and pandering talking head.

Here’s what the well-spoken Vera Farmiga had to say about the art of bullshit, the difficulty of discussing Source Code, bringing realism to exposition, and more:

Is it easier talking about a good film?

It is. It always is. It’s really difficult [to push a bad movie]. There is an art to bullshit [Laughs]. There are ways of skirting it, but there are techniques I am still trying to grasp. There is a very transparent face, I think [Laughs].

Is there a certain difficulty when it comes to talking about this film because it does have a lot of ambiguity and twists to it?

It is. It is hard to negotiate certain films around press, because there are things that you want the audience to experience on their own and to witness and to decipher for themselves, and without being spoon fed what the film is about. That’s tricky, because we can’t really have a full conversation about the process, character, with audience members. A part of the thrill of this film is the mind-boggling twists and to go on this roller coaster ride with all these characters and to experience the film in a visceral way, in a romantic way, a cerebral way, or an intellectual way.

Are scripts for certain films, like Source Code, difficult to read, in the sense that some ideas or visuals are hard to comprehend on the page?

You know, there was one that came by surprise. The end’s reveal I envisioned to that degree of being, and what that meant. I would have loved to not even seen it until the camera was rolling. Duncan [Jones] is incredibly specific in pre-production and draws everything out, and he had a rendering of what that moment would be. So yeah, it is surprising to see from someone who is as visual he is.

You mentioned one of the twists earlier, and I think they work in the structure because they’re not played for shock value and aren’t explained by long sequences of exposition…

No. The film plays at so many different levels that it’s not just the trickery. Every turn of the page was a shock, and that’s how the script read. You’re just trying to keep up with the ideas that the story presents and the emotions that all the characters experience. There’s so many ways of experiencing this film as a reader.

At the panel, Duncan recommended reading the script, because it’s a good read. If you ever recommend a script, this would be the script to experience as a reader. Not only [to see it] in a fully realized way thing, but to experience it on your own.

Most of your scenes are done from a computer screen and in that one room. On a visual level that could be very claustrophobic and uninteresting. How did Duncan go about keeping those scenes cinematic?

I think as I was watching it yesterday, particularly on the big screen… it’s not important to me, as an actress, to see playback. I would rather do a couple of more takes in the time that I see playback and try new things in the time that it takes to watch a performance back. I feel like he, because of the confinement and limitations of the physical space for my character, I think he really just brought the camera up to here [points to her face], especially due to the nature of my role. My role is informative.

It’s not total exposition in the way…

It is.

But, I’d say, not where Goodwin feels like a device instead of a character.

No, but it is frustrating. It is pretty frustrating to be able to, as an actress, take this type of dialog and infuse it with an inner life of a character, and there’s very little room for it in the massive chunks of exposition. For me, where I found the real playground was between the lines. You know, it was conveying that emotional arc here [referring to face]. That was the challenge, as a cinematographer and as a director, to make the same old space interesting.

Can you talk about that process of making sure that exposition comes off realistic, instead of pandering? I know that’s more so a part of the script, but was that something you and Duncan talked about?

I think the realism comes from ‐ and I think from Duncan this was the biggest director for me ‐ was the urgency, and to get in touch with the urgency and what’s happening. Often times I had many of the same lines to say over and over again [Laughs]. I think I start every scene with the same mantra. That expository dialog is the role. She is his coach. She is his GPS. She is his OnStar. When I’m confused and lost, I love relying on my OnStar [Laughs].

Source Code opens in theaters on April 1st.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.