Fortunately, another director mesmerized by Farmiga’s Down to the Bone performance stepped up. Jason Reitman, the young tyro whose 2007 low-budget Juno was a critical and commercial smash, recalls seeing Farmiga’s Sundance hit two years before his own debut feature, Thank You for Smoking, screened there. “I see 30 to 40 films at Sundance,” Reitman says. “I read the synopsis, and it sounded interesting. So I attended the premiere, and like every other director who saw it, I wondered, ‘Who is this woman, and how soon can I work with her?’ ”

The Farmiga of Up in the Air is an altogether different actress than the one who faced the spotlight at Sundance five years ago. No longer hosting the gaunt, bone-thin frame of her addict character in Down to the Bone, she’s wonderfully voluptuous in the new picture. Her cheekbones, while well defined, don’t look nearly as angular or dagger sharp. And, of course, there’s a knowing, savvy sparkle to her new character, who gives Clooney as good as she gets and then some.

Farmiga’s Alex turns out to be more complex than expected. But it’s a wonder Farmiga was able to keep a straight face, given Clooney’s clowning on the set. “He continually played every scene using that Billy Bob Thornton voice from Sling Blade,” she recalls. “He’d do it before scenes, during scenes, and when he was [off camera] feeding me lines during my [close-up] takes. It made me shriek like a banshee.”

Audiences will be able to see Farmiga again soon, this time portraying a French baroness in a nineteenth-century costume drama titled The Vintner’s Luck. Recently, she’s starred in a pair of World War II ¬prison-camp films, In Tranzit and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, as well as in two horror movies, the recent Orphan and 2007’s Joshua. Farmiga, who’s made roughly three movies a year over the past decade, says she’s drawn to scripts for their characters. “I hardly ever care about the end result, and collaboration is everything to me,” she explains. “I care more about working with great cinematographers and hair-and-makeup teams than with all-star directors or actors.”

The characters she’s portrayed have varied greatly, and though she’s unsure as to what kinds of roles she’ll pursue from this point on, she knows they’ll only be those that grab her the right way.

“If I had compassion for a character in Transformers 3, I would absolutely take the part,” she says. “For me, it’s about the material. I want something my brain can chew on; I want to be challenged. I want to be tickled, to be prodded; I want enlightenment, a career that makes me perceive and question more, a career that doesn’t define me.”

As if her wish list had grown too long, she sums up her desires succinctly. “I envision a career based on inspiration, compassion, and creativity,” she says. “Is that too much to ask?”

And before you can answer, her eyes already have.