But when financing for the project didn’t come through, co-screenwriter Tim Metcalfe proposed something he thought would guarantee budgetary backing: Farmiga could direct the film herself.
Suddenly this versatile performer faced doubts of her own. At that point, she had convincingly played a drug addict (“Down to the Bone”), a police psychiatrist (“The Departed”) and a frequent flier able to lure George Clooney into a relationship (“Up in the Air”) — but she had never directed a movie.
“There was kind of a moment of terror and a moment of adrenaline and a moment of not knowing,” Farmiga says as she slouches comfortably in an armchair at Georgetown’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I said, ‘Let me take a weekend to think about it.’ And still, that conviction didn’t come.”
The strength of that conviction would wax and wane — for reasons that will become clear — as the production’s start date inched closer. But ultimately, Farmiga, 38, did essentially what her character in “Higher Ground” does in the film’s opening baptism scene: She plunged in.
That appears to have been the right choice. “Higher Ground,” which has been rolling out in select cities and opens Friday in Washington, has received largely positive reviews, with critics — including those who write for faith-based publications — praising Farmiga for making an honest, reverent film about what it means to be a believer.
Frederica Mathewes-Green writes in “Christianity Today”: “This is a movie that will be touching for anyone who ever asked Jesus into his heart and years later felt, as Corinne confesses, ‘I’m still waiting for him to make himself at home.’ ”
“There’s two types of sermons,” explains Farmiga, who was raised Ukrainian Catholic but describes her personal faith as “self-styled.” “There are sermons that instill dogma. But the better sermons, in my experience, are the ones that promote discussion. That’s the kind of film I was trying to make.”
“She was the right person [to direct] because she understood it. She was sensitive to it,” says Briggs, who redrafted the screenplay with Farmiga after the actress agreed to helm the project. “We had the same goal of, ‘Let’s make Christians, let’s make believers three-dimensional. . . . Let’s flesh them out. Because we both know and love Christians. So let’s do something that people [in Hollywood] don’t do very often.’ ”
The subject matter — specifically, one woman’s desire to forge a relationship with God even as she questions the leaders of her small, Christian community — would be daunting for many veteran directors. The fact that Farmiga ventured into such potentially dicey territory as a first-timer marks another notable career move in what has been an intensely busy three years for her. During that time, she has acted in, by her count, six films, directed one, earned her first Academy Award nomination (for her work in 2009’s “Up in the Air”) and given birth to two children: son Fynn, 2, and daughter Gytta, 10 months.