SAN FRANCISCO — Vera Farmiga patiently waits until Lorraine Warren sits down and then slips into the chair next to her. Before Warren can talk about her life's work — a portion being the inspiration for the new feature film "The Conjuring" — a publicist removes a massive charm bracelet from the 86-year-old woman's left wrist.
"They don't want me to jangle," Warren says with a smile.
Warren is a soft-spoken professed clairvoyant and light-trance medium who with her husband, Ed, spent the majority of her life investigating — and often battling — the paranormal. Farmiga plays her in the movie, which looks at the work the Warrens did in the early 1970s with the Perron family after they moved into a home already occupied by a demon.
Before filming started, Farmiga and her co-star, Patrick Wilson, visited with Warren. They didn't get to spend a lot of time together — a total of three days — but Farmiga says she feels like she has known Warren "for a lifetime."
"During the time we spent together, I listened more than I asked. There's a lot of information online. So many YouTube videos. Countless interviews where all the obvious questions about her were answered for me," Farmiga says. "I just wanted to absorb her essence, see the details. I wanted to see the way she communicates with her hands. Her smile.
"For me, it all became about her gaze and the way she takes you in. These are little nuances. These are the details we wanted to incorporate into our telling of the stories."
Finding the details has been Farmiga's way of working since she put aside her plans to be an ophthalmologist and started acting professionally, making her Broadway debut in 1996 as an understudy in "Taking Sides."
She made her film debut two years later in the thriller "Return to Paradise" and can be seen playing Norma Bates in the cable series "The Bates Motel." She earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the 2009 film "Up In the Air."
Farmiga listens intently as Warren talks about the case portrayed in the movie. It was one of the husband-wife team's biggest challenges because the demon had taken so much control and the church was hesitant to help. No one in the house had been baptized. These kind of conversations are similar to what Farmiga listened to while trying to create her character.
Every role starts with a part of herself.
"I bring the details to the work, but I don't obsess over them. There's certain ways I might have pushed the role even more — like her accent — but it's finding the balance," Farmiga says. "I love having a real life model, but I do also flesh it out with my own personal experiences and I hope they mesh together."
Warren immediately says Farmiga's performance was just right. She had some concerns before the filming that the movie would take their story and try to sensationalize it, but when Warren saw the final product, she was happy with how closely it tells the story of what happened in that country house more than four decades ago.
It wasn't the supernatural element that was the biggest draw for Farmiga. She sees this film as a love story about the Warrens and the Perrons. Plus, the actress always has been attracted to roles that have some exploration of maternal angst. She likes that the movie didn't reduce the story to a standard horror film with a "jump here and a scream there," but that viewers can take something away from the movie about relationships.
It's a good thing Farmiga had the chance to meet and talk with Warren — she signed on to do two more movies based on the Warren cases.
If there is another movie, Warren would love if it dealt with one of the cases in a foreign country. England is the first country that comes to mind for her.
Farmiga smiles and asks Warren, "Anything in Hawaii?"
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.