Before They Were Famous: Farmiga and Kendrick

Before They Were Famous: Farmiga and Kendrick

In the airport-and-hotel drama "Up in the Air," characters played by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick teach a frequent flier (George Clooney) very different lessons about life transitions, values and what to carry in a backpack. With the movie's fantastic success at the box office and multiple Oscar nominations, both actresses seem positioned for long and illustrious film careers.

Watch "Before They Were Famous" on a special edition of "20/20" tonight at 10 p.m. ET

Oscar Noms: Before They Were Stars

But a bright future isn't all Farmiga and Kendrick have in common. Both come from modest beginnings.Both began their careers in New York theater. And both have been nominated for Academy Awards for best supporting actress for their work in "Up in the Air."

Vera Farmiga

Farmiga, 36, was born in Passaic County, N.J., to Ukrainian parents. She didn't speak English until she was 6 years old. She toured with a Ukrainian dance troupe called Syzokryli for 10 years.

In 1996, Farmiga made her Broadway debut as an understudy in the play "Taking Sides." The same year, she played Miranda in a production of "The Tempest" at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

Farmiga's long road to fame included a 1997 Fox TV series called "Roar" in which she acted alongside a then-unknown Australian, Heath Ledger. In 2001, she landed a role opposite Robert De Niro in the film "15 Minutes." Then, her turn as an uber-gritty drug addict in the indie flick "Down to the Bone" left audiences and critics at Sundance asking, "Who is that girl?"

In 2006, Martin Scorsese tapped Farmiga for "The Departed."

And now, there's "Up in the Air."

"Vera Farmiga pulls off the impossible in 'Up in the Air,'" Gold Derby columnist Tom O'Neil said. "She is not only George Clooney's lover but his equal. She has this commanding presence on the screen that is so formidable she can go shoulder to shoulder with George Clooney in a love relationship and business relationship throughout the movie and make it work. That's pretty tough."

Anna Kendrick

Farmiga's other co-star in "Up in the Air," Anna Kendrick, is also a contender for the best supporting actress Oscar this year.

Kendrick, 24, caught the acting bug at age 5, when she played an orphan in a community production of "Annie" in her hometown of Portland, Maine.

Kendrick and her brother, Michael Cooke Kendrick, would travel six hours by bus to New York City for casting calls. They weathered a lot of rejection. "There are Pop Tart commercials and kid hair product commercials [that I didn't get]," Kendrick told ABC News' Nick Watt. "My hair was just so frizzy and all. ... I looked like Shirley Temple. So I feel like I had no business auditioning for kids' hair products."

At 12, Kendrick landed the role of Dinah in "High Society" on Broadway. Filmmaker Todd Graff, who would go on to write and direct Kendrick's first film, "Camp," recalled the first time he met her.

"My cousin Randy Graff happened to be one of the stars of ["High Society"]," Graff said. "And I remember Randy saying, 'There is a kid named Anna Kendrick, who is in the show, who we all have to watch out for. And she was joking, like, 'I better watch my back. This little girl's going to be after my job at some point in the future.'"

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