Michelle Monaghan

Photography Matthew Welch

On the move: From mega blockbusters to the indie gem Trucker, Michelle Monaghan is navigating a new direction for her career on the silver screen

Michelle Monaghan is not what one might consider a house-hold name. Yet, there is a good chance that if anyone has been out to the movies in the past five years, they will recognize her immediately. She has worked alongside leading men like Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible III), Matt Damon (The Bourne Supremacy) Ben Stiller (The Heartbreak Kid) and Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye). Her films have grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide. And while she continues to sign on with what will certainly be future blockbusters (the most recent being The Hangover’s director/producer Todd Phillips’ Due Date), it is her recent work on a small independent film, Trucker, that is gaining notice from critics and audiences alike and distinguishing herself as a Hollywood star capable of holding her own without playing a “strong woman in distress that needs to be saved.”

The film is a significant departure for the 33-year-old actress from Winthrop, Iowa. In Trucker Monaghan seems to be holding the movie together with a character that is falling apart. Walking out of the theater, one incredulous viewer was overheard saying, “I know her from somewhere. Wait, that was not the girl from Made of Honor was it?” To which their friend or acquaintance assured them, “No way…you must be thinking of someone else.” (Monaghan was actually in Made of Honor.) Trucker, which will have its theatrical release this October, has her playing a hard drinking, tough-around-the-edges truck driver weary of relationships, and who considers her past a cancelled check. Her character, Diane Ford, is stripped of pretension and accustomed to a independent life, yet finds herself caring for her child who she has disowned after an unfortunate turn of events. There is a line in the movie that was ultimately taken out. “There are about a billion women in the world; you would guess one or two might not be cut out for motherhood.” Diane is such a person. SOMA spoke with Monaghan about becoming a tough-as-nails leading lady, being a new mother and the importance of believing in independent films.

You just signed on to Due Date, with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. What led you to this part?
Well, I am a really big fan of The Hangover and I was excited to work with Todd Phillips, but more importantly, I worked with Robert Downey Jr. on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang a few years ago and he is obviously a big part of the film. So, I jumped at the chance to work with him again. He is so fantastic and we have a great working relationship.

When someone looks at the list of people you have worked with, like Downey Jr., it’s like a who’s who of Hollywood. As a small-town girl born and raised in Iowa, do you still ever get starstruck? Do you find yourself thinking, “Hey, I’m hanging out with Morgan Freedman right now” or “Look at this, I’m eating a burrito with Tom Cruise?” Are you past the point of being star struck?
[laughs] Absolutely not! I don’t think it matters how long you have been in the business or what kind of success you have garnered. I think you admire people in your field and I certainly admire lots of actors and actresses. When I get the chance to meet them I think, “Wow… here they are.” [laughs] But that moment goes away because people are very normal and that is nice too, because you can actually have
a real conversation with them.

Do you keep a diary of these moments?
Each experience has been like on-the-job training for me and I have taken so much from every film set I have been on, from the director to my fellow actors. It’s always something I can take with me and treasure.

It seems like those experiences have culminated in a sense with this film Trucker. Not to say it’s your vehicle (yeah, I know, very punny ha-ha…) but you are driving this film. Well…look, I’ll try not to have any driving reference or witty headline on this feature.
[laughs] Oh, I totally know what you mean!

Photography Matthew Welch

What was the most challenging aspect working on an independent film after coming from J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III or the Paul Greengrass’ Bourne Supremacy mega blockbusters?
Certainly, I think anyone working on an independent film will say it’s the money or lack thereof. You have to find to people that will give you the money, but that also means you have to find people that truly believe in you and the project.

How much was needed for the film to see the light of day? We made it for about $1.5 million.

You know it’s crazy, but that’s nothing in Hollywood.
Yeah, it’s incredible. To be honest, I wish I could make more films like that. Everything you go through is on the surface and palatable and it is an extraordinarily gratifying to see the film coming out. We have a wonderful distributor and people who believe in this film. That’s what these little films need…like The Little Engine That Could, they need people to believe in them. It was a real labor of love for everyone involved and in the end it is really gratifying.

What do you think you were looking for going into this role? It bears little resemblance to say, The Heartbreak Kid or Made of Honor.
I think what drew me to the role initially, is that it is a very honest look at a woman that is not one-dimensional. I mean she is not necessarily likeable by most people’s standards, and I was really inspired and challenged to play someone who was not really likable. I hope that by the end of the film, people have a different understanding of her. I also got a chance to learn how to drive a truck. At least I got to take that away from it.

You know it’s funny that is what everyone is mentioning. I was trying to avoid that question because all these celebrity blogs are like “Michelle learned how to parallel park an 18 wheeler.” That’s impressive, but there is also your transformation into the character Diane. There is a physicality that looks like it was tougher than learning to drive a truck. What did you want to get across with this person? God, that’s a good question. [laughs] I really wanted it to be honest. I think as an actor the last thing you want to do is judge your character. That can really hinder your performance and the audience’s experience as well. I spent a lot of time with female truck drivers—women who were moms and were not moms. This character was just not cut out to be a mom. She makes a decision to leave her husband and son, but then her son comes back into her life. I wanted her to take a hard look and answer questions about herself that she was not prepared to answer, and maybe did not even know the answers. At the end of the film, I wanted people to think that she was going to live her life differently, over the next five years. I wanted her to be open in a way she had not been before… God I hope that makes any sense.

Photography Matthew Welch

What is the first thing that you notice about these individuals that you convey or portray?
Gosh it is so different for each one. Sometimes it is just their cadence and the way they speak or talk. There was a certain way Diane spoke in Trucker that got me. Typically it is the writing that sucks me in.

Your upcoming character in Due Date is a woman about to give birth, and you are just wrapping up press for a movie where the main character is the antithesis of what a good mother should be. You had a baby like seven months ago.
Yeah, let me tell ya, it’s going to be really easy transition into the Due Date role. [laughs]

So do you have any idea how this new motherhood role might inform your performances?
Well, I’ll tell you, I am certainly excited to go back to work and the challenge now is to find roles that inspire me. I don’t know how my roles that I choose will be different after having a daughter, but I suppose we will see.

You are from a small town and you have landed these incredibly big gigs. What’s your secret?
I am very open to everything. I am reading scripts constantly—big, small, dramatic, comedic, action, you name it. As an actor, I just want to be challenged and work with people I have not worked with before or do things that I wouldn’t expect myself to do. I kind of like to put myself in uncomfortable positions or situations. I have been very fortunate, but I have also worked hard and persevered. There are so many auditions I have done and continue to do, and sometimes there are auditions that you don’t get, but you got to keep your chin up and move forward.

So, you see the past as a cancelled check?
Well, I don’t dwell on things. I think that is really important to do especially in this town because everything is fleeting at the end of the day.

This is the “People Issue” so I should ask, “Who was the most inspiring person you encountered today.” Good question! I really have to say, and it is going to sound cliché, but my mom really inspires me. I know it is lame but I got to say my mom.

You have been involved in film; both massively mainstream and small. Is there anything that still just knocks your socks off about the process of making a film?
I guess the amount of money it takes to make a film really blows my mind. What astounds me is how much money it takes to make a good film by Hollywood standards. It also astounds me that we made an amazing movie for 1.5 million and that’s mysterious to me as well. Why can’t we make more of those movies for a million or three million dollars? Why is it such a struggle to get money to make movies like that? Those are some of the best stories. They are character pieces and really honest films. I don’t think we see enough of them. That is what I truly do not understand!

– Patrick Knowles