From dramas to horror films to psychological thrillers, there doesn’t seem to be a genre in which Vera Farmiga can’t succeed. In starring, flashy roles like Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring franchise or supporting ones like Dr. Emma Russell in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Farmiga’s consistently brilliant (and critically acclaimed) performances prove that there’s no such thing as a small part.
Before she became a household name with Up in the Air and The Departed, her breakthrough performance came when she starred as a drug addict in Down to the Bone followed by appearances in films like Nothing But the Truth, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Now, Farmiga continues to churn out quality work no matter the genre or size of the role. After all, her Emmy and Oscar nominations don’t lie. She’s currently set to star in (and produce) the upcoming horror film Bad Bloom, as well as appearing in the mystery thriller The Salamander Lives Twice and the Apple TV+ miniseries Five Days at Memorial. But until then, here are Vera Farmiga’s seven most essential roles in film and TV over her 25 years on the big and small screen.
Norma Bates (Bates Motel)
Farmiga’s longest running performance is also perhaps her best. We never saw much of Norma Bates, Norman’s mother, in the original Psycho film or novel, but she’s featured prominently in its prequel series, Bates Motel. Farmiga pours every drop of herself into the role and succeeds at bringing the complicated Norma to beautiful three-dimensional life. From scenes with Norman (Freddie Highmore) that captivatingly vacillate between love, heartbreak, and anger, to quiet and solitary moments of deep sadness and regret, Farmiga clearly understands the character. Her commitment to the demanding role makes the Bates matriarch feel completely real and lived-in, gifting the audience with a beautiful and robust arc for a character who’s easy to fall in love with, even when we’re privy to some of her unsavory decisions.
Alex Goran (Up in the Air)
Farmiga brings a genuine sense of realness and humanity to Alex, a businesswoman who begins a relationship with a corporate downsizing expert (George Clooney) she meets while traveling. Alex is charming and easy to like, and Farmiga’s natural performance makes the audience both love her and be disappointed in her over the course of the film. Farmiga’s chemistry with Clooney is palpable and she manages to bring both gravitas and humor to a story of two people with the desire to escape from their “real” lives. Up in the Air features a surprising third act character reveal and it’s a testament to Farmiga’s acting chops that she manages to deliver and sell it in a deft and convincing way — not to mention earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Corinne Walker (Higher Ground)
Corrine Walker is one of Farmiga’s quieter and more understated roles, but it’s one that she completely dedicates herself to. Based on the memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs, Higher Ground is a story of the complicated and messy nature of religious faith, and Farmiga skillfully brings a beautiful humanity to Corinne as she grapples with her belief in God while navigating life in a very religious community. She manages to be a compelling and sympathetic character full of skepticism, curiosity, and grace. It’s also a credit to Farmiga’s performance that the film’s themes of faith and speaking out against authority manage to be delivered in a dexterous way rather than being heavy-handed. It’s an even more impressive feat considering that she also directed the film in her directorial debut.
Lorraine Warren (The Conjuring franchise)
In the hands of a lesser actress, the role of real-life clairvoyant Lorraine Warren could have easily become a clichéd horror movie character. Instead, Farmiga manages to take the role just as seriously as some of her more award-garnering dramatic ones. She brings a deep humanity to Lorraine and the series’ horror proceedings, instilling her with doubts, fears, hopes, and a pure and honest desire to help others experiencing demonic activity. Farmiga’s passionate performance and deeply expressive face completely sell it, her wide eyes oozing Lorraine’s love and compassion. It’s also a testament to her sincere portrayal that Lorraine’s chemistry with husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) shines so brightly. Whether in the series’ more overt horror sequences or quieter, contemplative moments with Ed, it sizzles on the screen, especially in The Conjuring 2, where their love and relationship is on full display. The character of Lorraine Warren may be one of Farmiga’s most well-known, but the way she beautifully builds all facets of the character also makes it one of her best.
Kate Coleman (Orphan)
In her role as Kate Coleman, Farmiga skillfully disrupts the “crazed mother” horror movie cliché by crafting a tough, smart, and capable character whose dark instincts about her daughter (Isabelle Fuhrman) are 100% accurate. Farmiga is no stranger to the horror genre and with Orphan she once again manages to bring a sense of authenticity and deep emotion to the film’s darker elements. The result is a dynamic character that you can’t help but root for. It’s a juicy role that gives Farmiga plenty to do, and she completely sells Kate’s fluctuating emotions and mental state with her performance and commitment to the material.
Abby Cairn (Joshua)
On the flip side of her performance in Orphan is her role as Abby Cairn in the psychological thriller Joshua. Abby’s depressive state is heightened to one of fear when she begins to become afraid of her own son’s sociopathic tendencies. As Joshua begins to take (and deny responsibility for) actions that make Abby believe she is going crazy, Farmiga plays the frazzled mother to perfection. She digs deep into Abby’s character and skillfully portrays the heartbreak, panic, and horror of her increasingly terrifying circumstances. Thanks to Farmiga choosing to play her as realistically as possible, Abby’s character skirts over-the-top melodrama and instead becomes a sympathetic protagonist.
Dr. Madolyn Madden (The Departed)
Farmiga’s part in Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed is a small one, but one that she sells. She gives herself completely to the role of police psychiatrist Madolyn Madden, and her honest performance allows the character to successfully serve as an avatar for the audience in the film’s latter developments. Madolyn manages to be an intriguing, strong, and emotionally honest character, and Farmiga’s chemistry with actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon feels genuine and easy-to-watch.