George Clooney, Vera Farmiga

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

George Clooney may not be in Vera Farmiga's directorial debut, Higher Ground, but he definitely had some influence on set.

Farmiga said she couldn't help but learn from Clooney when they were making Up In the Air. Sure, Clooney didn't direct the hit airport dramedy, but...

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"The things I learned from George are life lessons," Farmiga told me the other day while promoting Higher Ground (in theaters today), a drama about an ultra-religious Christian couple (Farmiga and Joshua Leonard) whose marriage unravels as the wife begins to question her faith. "He knows how to operate on a set. He's so unselfish. He's a goofball and he's so affectionate with the crew and loving and nurturing."

He never pulls any diva shenanigans. "He doesn't hang out in his trailer and escape between shots," Farmiga said. "He's present and he's engaging. He makes you feel like you're the most important person in the room. He's truly invested and curious about who you are. That's rare for a movie star."

Farmiga never had any intentions of directing, but agreed to call the shots on Higher Ground after realizing financing would come easier if she starred in and directed the flick. She was pregnant during the shoot.

Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Higher Ground

Sony Picture Classics

"About four or dive days after giving birth, we were back in post-production because Sundance had already seen an early cut and wanted it for the festival," Farmiga said. "I brought my daughter to the final sound edits."

Farmiga's younger sister, Taissa, makes her acting debut playing her character in high school. "She's very directable," Vera laughed. "She was 15 at the time and she was just looking for an adventure. She's very open and very courageous. It wasn't something she was necessarily looking to achieve, but she had no choice because I asked her to do it." (Things turned out quite nicely—Taissa costars in the upcoming Ryan Murphy-created FX series, American Horror Story.)

Any plans to direct a more multiplex-friendly popcorn movie? "No," Farmiga said. "It's such a commitment, but act in a popcorn movie and replenish my bank account? Yes."

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