Dan Lybarger talks with The Bling Ring‘s Taissa FarmigaJune 21, 2013
By Dan Lybarger for the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette and blood, dirt & angels
Taissa Farmiga turns 19 in August, but the actress has already built up a formidable resume and learned a few lessons her older peers could benefit from. She made her debut in her sister Vera Farmiga’s directing effort Higher Ground, playing a younger version of Vera’s role, and she’s probably best known for playing the sarcastic Violet Harmon in American Horror Story.
Her latest role, however, may have been her most educational, even if it’s a classic example of how not to go through life. In Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, she plays part of a teenage gang who broke into the homes of tabloid celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and made off with their clothes.
According to Farmiga, simple greed wasn’t the motivation for these heists. None of the teens involved were poor, and the break-ins were surprisingly easy. Hilton and others often left keys outside where thieves could find them.
Farmiga explains why her character Sam thought breaking and entering was acceptable: “She wants the attention. She wants people to know who she is. She wants to be able to live that celebrity lifestyle for a little bit. It wasn’t just the robbing. It was the fact of going in and putting on their clothes that these celebrities wore — Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan wore — and chill out in their nightclub room and essentially be them for an hour or two.”
She adds that the Bling Ring members might not have known that success often required great effort and sacrifice. In the film and in Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article that inspired it, many of the ring members simply assume they’ll walk out of high school into lucrative careers designing clothes.
“But that’s just how kids are. They want this, and they want that,” Farmiga says. “They think that things can be handed to them. You can grow up in a privileged family, but if parents are substituting money for time, the kids aren’t getting the right attention that they need. It’s just the way the kids are thinking. They’re not taught otherwise.”
To get into the mindset, Coppola had Farmiga and her cast mates watch hours of reality shows like The Hills. Farmiga also says that Claire Julien, who hails from California, had to teach the rest of the cast the lingo and some of the dialect they’d need to pass for residents of Calabasas, where the movie was shot and the real-life Bling Ring members lived.
These lessons were essential because co-star Emma Watson is from England, leading lady Katie Chang is from Chicago and Farmiga is a Jersey girl.
According to Farmiga, the culture is vastly different from what she experienced on the East Coast. “It was completely different. Calabasas is just strange. The houses are so much bigger than what I’m used to,” she says.
“Hollywood can sometimes be a dirty place. The main industries there are movies and fashion. It’s all about image and getting to the top and being famous and having people know your name. There’s a lot of pretending going on, trying to climb that ladder and get to the top. There are some good people out there, but there are also some people who are in it just to get where they want to go.”
The actress says that Sam’s taste in fun is more “extreme” than her own and that her idea of acceptable attire is less comfortable and modest than what Farmiga wears off the set.
“That was one aspect that was really entertaining, trying on all theses short, tight dresses and jeans about a size too small. These girls were trying to get attention any way they can.
“My mom was at a couple of wardrobe fittings because I was a minor at the time. I could see her face as I was trying on some of the clothes. I said, ‘Mom, it’s not me. It’s Sam.’”
Farmiga has had a taste of fame, recalling how people started recognizing her after her first episode of American Horror Story aired, but she also recalls a major culture shock when she discovered the extent of former Harry Potter star Emma Watson’s popularity.
“With Emma, we were shooting in Venice Beach one day, and it was crazy with all the fans who were trying to get a photo of her. We were doing just a quick little scene where we were selling stuff on the Boardwalk. It was just crazy the attention that Emma got. I get a little bit, but it’s crazy to see it at that extreme,” she says.
Farmiga has been working on a new season of American Horror Story. Having played a ghost in one season and a real person in The Bling Ring (Sam is loosely based on real Bling Ring suspect Tess Taylor), it’s not surprising she has avoided being typecast. Her character in the new Horror Story season will be a different person entirely, and she plays Vera’s daughter in Middleton. It’s the first time the actresses had appeared on-screen together. Having an Oscar nominee (for Up in the Air) for a sibling and a co-star can be intimidating.
“The first day on set was the most nervous I’ve ever been on a set, just because she’s my sister and I hold her opinion so high,” she says.
Having a home in New Jersey is important for Farmiga, who regularly returns when she isn’t shooting. “Once I finish work, I go back to an environment that’s pretty far away from Hollywood and everything that goes with it. I grew up with my parents teaching me about hard work …. My old town is a good old little town in the middle of Jersey somewhere.”