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Taissa Farmiga On Stepping Into the Spotlight for ‘Anna’ and Turning to Her Sister, Vera, for Career Advice

Taissa Farmiga On Stepping Into the Spotlight for 'Anna' and Turning to Her Sister, Vera, for Career Advice

Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of May’s Indie Film Month. “Anna” is currently available to view On Demand.

For the past few years Taissa Farmiga has, following in the footsteps of her big sister Vera, turned in stellar supporting performances in a wide array of projects – everything from Sofia Coppola’s bubbly “Bling Ring” to a pair of roles on Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s “American Horror Story” (first as a disaffected New England teenager forced to relocate to sunny Los Angeles, then as a disaffected teenager whose witchy vagina kills boys she has sex with – talk about typecasting). But the younger Farmiga is finally ready to step into the spotlight as the lead in “Anna,” a Spanish-American coproduction about a detective (Mark Strong) who enters people’s memories in order to solve crimes. It’s like “Inception” by way of a weekly police procedural and is cool and stylish and fun.

We got to talk to Farmiga about how director Jorge Dorado explained the plot to her, what makes her attracted to such dark roles, and what kind of freak she would be if she gets invited back to “American Horror Story.”

In “Anna,” Farmiga plays the title role of a young girl whose hunger strike leads concerned parents to hire Strong’s memory detective. This, of course, leads to all sorts of craziness, with a number of genuinely insane twists and turns that are too good to give away here (it was produced by the twisted genius Jaume Collet-Serra, who most recently directed Liam Neeson in above average thriller “Non-Stop”). As far as initial starring roles go, this one is subtle and shaded, while still allowing for splashier moments.

What initially attracted you to this project?

When I first read the script I immediately fell in love with Anna, the character – her layers and how complex she was. I loved all of the undertones. There’s always something going on underneath. You never know if what she’s saying is what she’s really saying. And I loved that and was attracted to the challenge that would be.

Did they try and explain this crazy conceit when you got the role?

Yes. Once I got the part I went to Barcelona for a couple of weeks for fittings and stuff and sat down with the director, Jorge Dorado. There were a bunch of breakdowns and all of these worksheets to help us remember where we are in the story and what’s going on and how this all works. A lot of the physical aspects of the memory stuff are what do we feel when we’re going back into a memory and what kind of equipment do we need, Mark Strong and I would talk that out and figure that out. So that was really awesome.

How was it working with Mark Strong?

Mark Strong is an incredible actor and the most incredible human being I’ve ever met. He’s just a genuinely good guy. He tried to talk to everyone and is super-sincere; it’s not a front that people put on. He’s always cracking jokes and is very easy to work with; the John-Anna relationship is really important and it works out well between Mark and I.

You are relatively new to the world of acting. Did you try and pick his brain at all?

I didn’t go fishing but there would be times when I would be on set, and I would just watch him or he would tell me stories about his experiences and I’m just listening and taking it in or watching how he interacts with the crew and is just so professional but very friendly. It was great to just be able to watch him. I was too nervous to be like, “So tell me everything you know about acting.” I took notes in my back pocket. I’m more discreet.

This is obviously a very dark movie and you’ve been in dark projects before. What’s the appeal for you as an actor to this kind of material?

I love it. I don’t know what it is about it. Maybe my life is too light and easy that I need this kind of stuff. I love the drama and I love emotions. I just love it. I can’t explain it.

Do you feel like you’re working through things in these projects?

Oh yeah. I can’t say that I fully relate to things that I play. Sometimes it’s nice to spend half the day crying, then you don’t have to do it in real life.

You made quite a splash with your return to “American Horror Story” this year. Can you talk about that and whether or not you’ll be back for “American Horror Story: Freak Show?”

Nothing has been announced yet so I am still waiting to hear what Ryan Murphy has up his sleeve about the next season. I was so happy to come back for season 3. I was shooting “Anna” in Barcelona when my agent and manager called me and said, “Hey, so Ryan Murphy wants to talk to you.” I was like “Whaaaaat?” I was very excited. So I got back and we talked about it and I said that I would love to come back – I love the cast, they’re all incredible and working on the show is so fun, it’s such a good energy, everyone loves it.

And this season you got to work with such amazing actresses – what was it like working with Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett?

It was so awesome. The first day I worked with Kathy Bates, towards the beginning of the season, and I’m sitting in the make-up trailer and she comes up to me and she’s like, “You kicked ass on season one and I’m super excited to work with you.” I was like, “Oh wait I should be saying that to you.” So that was cool. She is so great. I didn’t get to meet Angela Bassett until halfway through the season, so the first time I got to see her was the premiere party. But everyone is awesome.

This season the show captured the zeitgeist in a much bigger way, too. How did it feel being a witchy role model?

It’s always good to feel powerful and be able to fight back. But even in season one with Violet, she was a bit more fragile but she had a spunk to her. I love the characters who start off when they don’t know their confidence and they have to find it. I love that they have to search for it inside themselves and then they find it. Oh no then they whip out an ax, that’s what they do.

Did Ryan tell you from the beginning that you weren’t going to be the Supreme?

No, in the beginning it was up in the air. I know Ryan had so many ideas going back and forth. At one moment everyone was like, “Oh my god I’m going to be the Supreme.” Even as actors Ryan had us convinced. And then it’s a big surprise.

Do you and Vera have any kind of friendly competition as to whose show is scarier?

I don’t know if there’s competition. It’s more supportive. She was texting me because the finale was on last night and I said, “I know I know I’m working but I’m going to try and see it.” She’s just so awesome and so incredible on the show. She plays it so well. But I think my favorite thing though is when I watch Vera act and I can find some kind of gesture or she says something a certain way that’s so Vera. So I can turn to my friends and say, “That’s so Vera, it’s not Norma.” When you know someone you get so excited.

Is she still your big role model and guiding light?

Absolutely, absolutely. I was just texting her the other day and saying, “Hey, can I talk to you? I don’t know what to do. I need you.” And she’s always around. It’s so cool.

Although nothing is finalized, if you should come back to “American Horror Story,” what kind of freak would you want to play?

Oh man I haven’t thought about this… What kind of freak would I want to play… Shoot. I don’t know. You know, I like options. I can’t just pick.

Have you talked to Sofia Coppola about reteaming? She’s doing “The Little Mermaid” – have you talked to her at all about that?

No I haven’t. I didn’t realize she was doing “The Little Mermaid.” You know that app Boxer? You send audio messages. It’s like a walkie-talkie almost. And she got it a couple of months ago and I got a random message from Sofia saying, “Hey. I just got this new app. I want to see how you’re doing.”

You should send her one back that says, “Hey, I want to be the Little Mermaid.”

Yes! “I hear you’re doing this thing…”

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