Even those who fail to recognize her name would instantly know the lithe, slightly diminutive, and ethereally beautiful Ukranian-American actress Vera Farmiga by her distinctive look.
Born August 6, 1973, in Passaic County, NJ, to Ukranian immigrant parents Michael and Luba Farmiga, Vera grew up with six brothers and sisters, in an isolated Ukranian enclave -- so isolated that the young girl purportedly did not learn spoken English until the age of six. As a teenager, she attended a Ukranian Catholic secondary school, and spent much of her free time touring with a Ukranian folk dancing troupe. Though she originally planned to build a career as an optometrist, Farmiga instead ventured off in the opposite direction by enrolling as an undergraduate at Syracuse University's School of Visual and Performing Arts. She began to tour as a theatrical performer shortly after graduation, in the American Conservatory Theater's 1996 production of Shakespeare's Tempest, then took her Broadway bow later that same year, as an understudy in David Jones' mounting of Ronald Harwood's Taking Sides.
Television work ensued, with spots in such series as Law & Order, Trinity, UC: Undercover, and Touching Evil. At about the same time (around 1998), Farmiga made her rather modest cinematic debut in Sleeping With the Enemy director Joseph Ruben's little-seen Return to Paradise, starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. Many additional roles followed throughout the first years of the new millennium, including that of Lisa, Richard Gere's estranged daughter, in the soapy melodrama Autumn in New York; Lorena, Adrien Brody's unemployment counselor in the Greg Pritikin-helmed 2002 comedy Dummy; and Allison in Eric Schaeffer's fine (albeit overlooked) ensemble film Mind the Gap (2004), where she appears alongside such notables as John Heard and the late Alan King. Farmiga joined the cast of Jonathan Demme's 2004 Manchurian Candidate remake, alongside Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber; though not among the top-billed performers, the appearance served her career favorably.
She fared much better (on all fronts) with a starring role in that same year's visceral indie addiction drama Down to the Bone, winner of the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and a critical darling. As Irene, a coke-addled supermarket checker and mother of two, Farmiga drew raves from such sources as The New York Times and The Village Voice for, in one reviewer's words, "a pitch-perfect performance." (She also reeled in a Los Angeles Film Critics' Association award for that role -- no small accomplishment, indeed.) 2006 brought with it a role as Teresa in Wayne Kramer's thriller Running Scared, and appearances in such features as Anthony Minghella's Breaking & Entering and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (both 2006). The Minghella drama concerns a group of ethnic locals whose lives intersect -- and catalyze violent hostilities -- in the scuzzy King's Cross section of London; as Oana, Farmiga draws heavily on her Eastern European background. In the Scorsese picture, a Beantown cops-and-mobsters crime drama, Farmiga plays Madeleine, the female lead opposite heavyweights Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jack Nicholson. Meanwhile, Farmiga signed for the role of Fiona, a woman who enters an affair with paraplegic radio personality Isaac (portrayed by In the Bedroom's Nick Stahl) in Carlos Brooks' Quid Pro Quo (2007).
In 2009 Farmiga appeared as a mother whose life is threatened by an evil foster child in Orphan, but it was her supporting turn opposite George Clooney in Up in the Air that earned her excellent reviews as well as acting nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy. In the coming years, Farmiga would appear in a host of other acclaimed films, like Source Code and Safe House. Farmiga would also earn massive critical praise for her directorial debut, helming and starring in the 2012 drama Higher Ground.