It's not really about the hair, but that's a good way to remember. Vera Farmiga, an actress who's been on the brink of big things for years, can look back at the crazy time in 2005 when she was shooting both The Departed , in which she plays a Boston police psychologist, and Breaking and Entering , in which she's Oana, a smoky-voiced London streetwalker, and think about her 'do.

“I had a six-week hiatus, when Jack Nicholson was to be working on The Departed , so I shipped off to London for Breaking and Entering ,” Farmiga recalls. “And I had my Departed extensions under my Oana wig.”

The whole process, from auditioning for the roles, confabbing with the respective (and respected) directors and shooting the two films, was an overlapping, keep-your-head-on-straight, scheduling free-for-all.

“It was a little nerve-racking,” Farmiga says about reading for the parts. “I really didn't believe either of them were going to pan out. I held my breath for a long time.”

In Farmiga's recent past, she's come tantalizingly close, then lost out at the eleventh hour to someone with a higher Hollywood profile. In fact, she'd met with Martin Scorsese, who directed her in The Departed , for his Bringing Out the Dead in the late '90s. “And here, all of a sudden, two extraordinary opportunities came at the same time. I had one foot on each scale, going between these two incredible directors.”

Scorsese took the podium to accept a Golden Globe for The Departed , for which he also received an Oscar nomination. Breaking and Entering was written and directed by Anthony Minghella, of The English Patient and Cold Mountain . It's set in King's Cross, a London neighborhood transitioning from grit and crime to gentrification.

Almost all of Farmiga's scenes are with Jude Law, who plays an architect overseeing an ambitious project that will change the fabric of the area. She's a hooker with a thick Romanian accent who spends her time between tricks sharing coffees with Law's character in his car. Why he is in his car in the middle of the night in King's Cross – when he has a wife (Robin Wright Penn) and a daughter and a nice flat across town – has to do with a burglary and its aftermath.

Farmiga's time in the film isn't long, but her performance is memorable. “It can be a cliche – you know, the prostitute character – but Anthony doesn't write cliche characters,” says Farmiga, 33, who grew up in Irvington, N.J.

“I loved her contradictions. She was so vivid to me,” she says. “Oftentimes, characters that I'm drawn to in scripts are women that I strive to be like, and for me, I found that Oana, despite her weariness and her profession, despite that downtrodden quality, [is] very refreshing ... I loved her bluntness, how insightful she was.”

As for Madolyn, the shrink who counsels the stressed-out Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed , and who takes to bed another Beantown law enforcer – played by Matt Damon – Farmiga says the role was a dream. The actress says it wasn't alienating being the sole femme in a film teeming with men. “It wasn't weird. They all have such feminine qualities – Leo and Matt and Marty,” she responds, with a chuckle.

Farmiga was in Sundance this year, where she had two titles in competition: Never Forever from director Gina Kim, and Joshua , by George Ratliff. Indeed, things seem to happen for Farmiga in twos.

© 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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