Dax Shepard and Vera Farmiga co-star in “The Judge,” opening Friday.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — In “The Judge,” Vera Farmiga plays the old girlfriend of Robert Downey Jr.’s character. While he has moved to Chicago, she has remained in the Southern Indiana town where they both grew up. Dax Shepard plays an attorney who is more into his antiques business. His pretty inept character is brought in to defend Downey’s dad, the title character, played by Robert Duvall, who is charged with murder.
The film focuses on the contentious relationship between Downey and Duvall’s characters, with Downey stepping in to defend his father in the murder case. The film opens Friday, and I recently sat down with Farmiga and Shepard to chat about the movie — in which they really don’t work together!
Just before I walked into the Four Seasons Hotel suite to interview the two stars, Shepard’s wife, actress Kristen Bell, had just popped in to say hello to the two of them, carrying her and Shepard’s little daughter Lincoln, nearly 2 years old. Bell and Shepard recently have confirmed they are expecting a second child.
When I joked that coming in after a cute baby was “a tough act to follow,” Farmiga vigorously nodded her head.
“You can say that again!”
Continuing with my lame attempts at humor, I told Farmiga and Shepard, “The scenes the two of you had together were so amazing.” Shepard showed why he was the true comedian, interupting me with, “Those scenes were SO amazing — they were cut out of the movie, for fear they would overshadow Downey and Duvall!”
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The actor, who also stars in the long-running TV series “Parenthood,” quipped, “There was a subplot there about Vera and my characters hooking up.”
That led Farmiga to jump right in and laughingly say, “You would have found out who the real father is,” a reference to an important plot point that’s revealed near the end of “The Judge.”
Turning serious, Shepard explained he and Farmiga did meet at a table read — a run-through of the script — before they began filming. “Then we all had a couple of dinners together when we were all out in Western Massachusetts [which stands-in for Southern Indiana in the movie] while we were filming.”
Considering our interview took place the same weekend that Farmiga’s “Up In The Air” co-star George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin, I had to ask how she would compare the on-screening kisses she had with him and with Downey in this movie.
While Farmiga diplomatically called both “the best” and gave a “Congratulations!” shout-out to Clooney on his marriage, she did admit that making “The Judge” with Downey was “such good fun. He was terrific to work with.”
In the film, Farmiga’s character, Samantha Powell, is the “girl who stayed behind,” while Downey’s Hank Palmer has gone off to graduate first in his class at Northwestern Law School and become one of Chicago’s top criminal defense attorneys.
“It was clear that Sam was perfectly happy to stay in the hometown she loved, though, of course it’s obvious she’s still in love with Hank — and always will be,” said Farmiga.
Shepard also pointed out that “once someone leaves the nest and goes away, as Hank does in the movie, that person can escape the role they played in their original home life, whether it be the first born, the middle child, the baby, the star of the family or the outcast. … But when they come home, everything goes back to the way it was perceived when they were growing up. It can be kind of uncomfortable, especially if you’ve been fighting your whole life to shed that.
Added Shepard, “That’s one aspect of the story here I found fascinating.”
Shepard and Farmiga’s characters are not apologetic about having stayed back in their little hometown — and, in fact, revel in that lifestyle. That’s in contrast to so many Hollywood movies that depict returns to hometowns in a negative fashion.
“I think it’s because you see films written by people who see themselves as having escaped from their small hometowns,” Shepard said, “and now are out in Hollywood where they’ve become big shots.
“This script was co-written by Bill Dubuque who still lives in St. Louis, so he doesn’t have that kind of attitude and that’s why you get such a fresh voice here.”
I had to ask Shepard about the fact his character’s nerves always get the better of him — leading him to projectile vomit next to the courthouse steps every time he arrives to go into court.
“I had to do four takes of each time I had to throw up,” said Shepard. “Three were always fake, but the fourth was always real. I was told not to do it by the production folks, because they were worried I’d hurt myself if I threw up for real. But I wanted to do it, to make it real.”
That led an astonished Farmiga to ask, “How did you do that?”
“The old-fashioned way, and it worked like a charm every time: I stuck my finger down my throat,” said Shepard with a laugh. “I think there’s a sound you can’t replicate via movie magic. You hit an octave that is all too real.”
Farmiga then had to ask, “What did you eat beforehand?”
That was simple for Shepard. “Absolutely everything. I would just work my way down the craft services table with abandon.”