From big action hits, such as Mission Impossible 3 and Eagle Eye, to intense dramas like Gone, Baby, Gone and North Country, Michelle Monaghan has been delighting filmgoers with her girl-next-door charm, laced with edgy intensity. Monaghan’s performance as Diane Ford in her latest film, Trucker, is turning the heads of audiences and critics alike (with many of those critics demanding a nomination in the Best Actress category). Michelle took a few minutes to talk to HollywoodJam about her latest film, big rigs, and what it takes to “keep on truckin’.”
You’ve been doing some very high profile films lately. How did you get hooked up with the indie film Trucker?
Well, Trucker kind of came to me the old-fashioned way, really. James Mottern (director) had seen me in a film called North Country. And I think he saw [my character] Diane, in the role that I had done – maybe facets of Diane –and he sent my agent the movie. My agent said, ‘You know, I think you’re going to like this, I thinkm you’re going to want to do it.’ And I read it and I met with James the next day and I immediately attached myself to it.
You looked really comfortable behind the wheel of the big rig – did you do any special training for it?
I went to truck-driving school to get my CDL and that was imperative for me because I knew that in exploring the culture that it would help inform the character. For Diane Ford, her truck driving is her livelihood and it really defines her. I knew that it would help in my performance and give it honesty.
Can you talk about your character and the movie in general?
It’s a story about a woman who decides as a young woman, a young mother,
to leave her family. She essentially abandons her son, really doesn’t feel like she’s cut out for motherhood. The movie opens with her son coming back into her life at age 10 and their journey on the road together and her really taking responsibility for a life that she left behind. It’s a real honest and hard look at a woman who is pretty carefree and independent in her life and really is struggling with the idea of having to curtail all that and take responsibility for her son.
I really personally love the role so much because I was able to inhabit qualities that I don’t typically get to do in Hollywood: she’s not a victim, she’s unsentimental, she’s very honest,she
never lies. And she’s not really likable by most people’s standards and those are unusual traits
in Hollywood these days. For me, as an actor, it was the role of a lifetime to play somebody that
people aren’t used to seeing, and not having you necessarily like her in the end, but hopefully be
able to understand why she makes the choices she does.
There are a lot of very “real-life” moments throughout the movie and you don’t see that a lot in film today.
Well, and that’s a real testament to our director, James Mottern. This is his first feature, he comes from a documentary background, but I’m always still so impressed with the fact that we shot the movie for $1.5 million in 19 days. And he allowed the camera to linger for quiet moments and was patient enough to not, as soon as the scene ended, yell, ‘Cut!’ and move on, youknow? And in those moments I think you really discover who Diane is and who all the other
characters are. You know, you don’t have the opportunity these days for an actor to just act. A lot of times we’re so bogged down with dialogue. If you were to look at any person throughout the day, and if they were having a quiet moment in their house, you know, just sitting there and thinking. If you just put a camera on their face, you would know their internal struggles and internal dialogue. We just don’t see that on film, and so I think what James
did was really refreshing. That’s why people are connecting to the movie and to the material
because they’re given a chance to.
Nathan Fillion and Benjamin Bratt both gave great performances. Let’s talk about Nathan Fillion. The scenes you had together were incredibly well done. What was it like working with him on set?
He’s got a real old-Hollywood quality. He’s just so good at everything he does because he’s so natural. And he’s the sort of actor that, in those scenes that we had together, he made my performance so much better. When you don’t have rehearsal time, you imagine what the scene is going to be like so you can be prepared. But every time I acted with him, he would do something so surprising that it would change my whole performance from what I thought I was going to do. So, he brought so much to, not just his role, but he allowed me to bring so much to my role. On top of all that he’s truly one of the nicest guys you could ever, ever meet. I don’t know a person who doesn’t love Nathan.
Could you talk a couple moments about working with Benjamin Bratt?
He was so great. Again, I have to say that every actor really
understood the tone of this film and tone was what the
dialogue was. It was all in this sub-text, we didn’t want to play into the dialogue and be over-dramatic about that. But those are real moments, and what do you do when you’re in a hospital room where you have unfinished business? But you’re on your deathbed and you don’t want to have to address it, but there is that tension there. He played it so well and I could never get a
foothold, and I couldn’t deny it, I couldn’t arguewith it – you can’t argue with anyone at that stage no matter what your history is. She really has a difficult time connecting with people and I think at one point she wanted to let him off the hook in a way. And there was a nice moment where she could never say, ‘I really liked you’ or ‘I love you,’ but she was able to lean in and give him a kiss and say, ’I like that mouth,’ – which was as best as she could give him. And he does something that is so visceral, at that moment where he licks his lips or, sort of, smacks his lips after she kisses him. That moment gets me every time because it was like he just savors that last bit and, I think it’s just a really powerful thing.
What do you want those people to come away with after they’ve rented the movie?
You know, honestly, I really think, I’ve gone to every Q&A throughout the country for this movie because I really believe in it. People in middle-America and in the suburbs who like blockbusters and who also just like really quiet films are really taken with this movie. I think it’s because there’s not a lot of bells and whistles and it’s just a really honest look at a slice of life of America – about working-class America, and struggles. I don’t know what they’ll take from it, but I know they’ll be moved by it because…I wish I could articulate it, but I can’t, but when people stand up in a Q&A and they have this compelling need to talk about Diane, that she’s provocative. Sometimes they get angry at her initially then they understand her and then they say, ‘thank you,’ to James (the director) for writing a movie like this. I really just want people to give it a chance, to be honest, you know. And I don’t think they’ll be disappointed