Ah, Michelle Monaghan. The absolutely lovely female lead in Shane Black’s brilliantly fun Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang took the time to sit with a group of us here at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Monaghan seemed a tad nervous at first but before long loosened up and proved to be quite the charming and engaging femme. Oh yes, I think I fell for her a bit. Ms. Monaghan, you wouldn’t by any chance be available and interested in seeing an internet writer would you? Would you?!
*sigh* A man can hope.
Oh, and if you haven’t already (Shame on you!), check out my sit-down with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer right here. Those fellas are simply too cool.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is now in limited release and goes wide on November 10th. Don’t miss it, suckas!
Q: Your character, Harmony, shows a lot of attitude onscreen. How much of that was you and how much of that was just inherent in Shane’s script?
Monaghan: Well, I was working opposite Robert Downey and Val, so you just sort of follow by example I guess. She’s so clearly written to be that way and that’s the most amazing thing about Shane’s writing and his dialogue. Somebody asked me a question, how does he direct? And I was like he doesn’t even have to direct because it’s all in his script. It’s so vivid what he wants from all of the characters. And all you have to do is just really, really trust that. And he completely trusted us. I just love this character so it was fun to have that kind of attitude. You don’t often get to have a character that gets to do all these different things in one role. Comedy, be sassy, and do action and be vulnerable. It was a dream job.
Q: How was your audition for the role?
Monaghan: Well, I’m always surprised to get any role to be quite honest. People ask me, is this your breakthrough role and I think, well, God, every job that I ever get that I’ve never had is like a breakthrough role for me. I think with anybody, you know what I mean? That Secret deodorant commercial I did six years ago was a breakout thing for me. So it was really great. When I first read the script, it was one of those that you just can’t put down. I read it literally in an hour which is a record for me. And I had such an idea, it just spawned all these ideas in my head. I just got really excited about auditioning but at the same time, I went, "Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can do this." And I did it and I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months and then they called. They had me come in from Berlin. I was working on The Bourne Supremacy and they flew me over quickly. I auditioned with Robert, had a great audition with him, a lot of chemistry. We improv’ed a little bit. It was really fun. And then I started three days later and that was it.
Q: This was before North Country?
Monaghan: It was before North Country, yeah. We finished [Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang] last year, April, and then this April, we finished North Country.
Q: How was it to step back down into a supporting role?
Monaghan: Well, to me, it wasn’t stepping down. I guess on the page it’s a smaller role, but it was such a prominent role to me. It was just a completely different character than I’ve ever played. And also the caliber of actors and working with Niki Caro was amazing. I mean, what is it? There’s no small jobs, only small actors? It’s such a cliché thing but it truly is, as an actor, if you’ve never tried something or challenged yourself in a different way, something speaks to you, then you’re going to do it. It didn’t feel to me that I was stepping down in any way.
Q: So would you say this has been your best year, career-wise?
Monaghan: Yeah, I’d say it’s been a pretty good year for me. If I started complaining about anything right now, you should all shoot me. [Laughs]
Q: Are people getting excited about what’s next for you?
Monaghan: I have to be honest, I’m not getting offers. I’m still reading scripts, I’m still auditioning. I’m not by any means near that level or anything. It’s easier to get meetings, you know what I mean? That’s been really great. But certainly you can feel the energy. The intensity is building and it’s wonderful because everything is kind of coming to fruition now which is really exciting.
Q: Is it true you that were cast in Syriana?
Monaghan: Yes, I was in Syriana. I actually shot that film. We shot that after Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but at the end of the day, my storyline was cut from the film. So I’m not in there.
Q: I know that there’s been some confusion about your role in M:I-3 as to whether or not you’re the leading lady. Can you talk about that?
Monaghan: Yeah, I think there’s been some misunderstanding for that in the press. That was in regards to a different role in the film. We didn’t release it to the public, but I got my role around Easter. J.J. Abrams had seen an audition tape of mine, actually from Constantine, and he had written a role. I met with him and he thought I was right for the part and he had me go meet Paula Wagner. That was really positive. I was working on North Country and I was in Santa Fe at the time. The following week I came up and auditioned with Tom and J.J. and then on Easter Sunday found out I got the job.
Q: So it’s not the former Scarlett Johansson role?
Monaghan: No, that’s a different role. Keri Russell is playing that one.
Q: Once you got onto M:I-3, did this seem like nothing?
Monaghan: Oh gosh, no, no, no. Just in the scale of the movie, the number of people that are working on it, but absolutely not. I’m always anxiety ridden over any job that I do.
Q: How about with the action?
Monaghan: Well, my character isn’t so active.
Q: How is it working with Tom Cruise?
Monaghan: He’s amazing. I mean, what you see is what you get.
Monaghan: Well, come on. He’s absolutely been so incredible to work with. I mean, once again, it’s another outstanding actor. Getting to work with him, he’s so professional. He’s one of the most present actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s really, really there for you in every single moment. He’s incredible.
Q: What about Robert and Val?
Monaghan: I never encountered anything but goodness from them, truly. I can really honestly say that. One thing that I think is important, what I’ve realized, is that we all were in a really unique position as actors and even as Shane, I mean, this is his first time directing. For Val, it was his first time really in years since he’s done comedy. And Robert’s kind of making a comeback. For me, it’s like a breakout role. And Robert and Val, as far as working with them; they’re just bold. I’m in awe of them every time I see them work. Especially the two of them working together. They’re two peas in a pod. What blows my mind is that neither of them had met each other prior to this. Maybe that’s a good thing. But it’s just incredible and they were just so supportive of me. I don’t have any dirt or anything like that. It was nothing but a really wonderful experience for me.
Q: You have a pretty icky scene involving a spider. Was that weird or did you get freaked out at all?
Monaghan: Oh, this is the great thing. I’m not afraid of bugs or that sort of thing, but Robert and Shane were freaking out. They couldn’t even watch. Shane was like he couldn’t even watch the scene being done. But my whole thing was it’s different if you’re watching something crawl on you. I mean, I had my eyes closed and it was just like, ehhh. It started to spin its web after a while, which got a little bit weird, but that wasn’t that bad actually.
Q: So it was real?
Monaghan: Oh yeah, it was a real spider. You know what the oddest thing is? They actually have spider wranglers. Have you ever heard of such a thing? They had two guys wrangling this spider.
Q: On your breast?
Monaghan: I think Robert was doing that.
Q: How did you feel when doing your nude scenes?
Monaghan: I was absolutely okay with the nude scene. Before they offered the role to me, they said, "You know, this is necessary in the film" and I understood that this is something that was really, really important to him and certainly we went through the whole rigamarole of okay, we’re going to show this and not this, and this is going to be a closed set and this and this and this. So at the end of the day, Shane’s so respectful and I loved the way aesthetically it was shot, in the mirror, and that I just loved so much. To be honest, I’m not that modest of a person, so I didn’t really have a problem with it.
Q: Do you show up to work with butterflies?
Monaghan: Oh absolutely, how
can you not? But at the same time, you have to have that level of
confidence where it’s like, "All right, they’ve hired me to do this
job, they believe in me." I really love the audition
process, for example. Certainly there’s some level of being nervous when
you go in to audition, but at the same time, they’ve invited you there.
They want you to get that job and you kind of just keep that in the
back of your mind. You realize that you actually have control of the
situation as opposed to them. I’m really positive like
that. It may sound cheesy but it’s the same as a work day. Like oh my
God, I’ve got this really intense scene and oh my God, I’m so nervous,
can I do it? Of course I can do it. I auditioned, they hired me, they
believe in me to do this job. And maybe it’s just a line of bullshit I’m
feeding myself, but I have to continue doing it because it’s been
working. It’s just really about psyching myself up so I don’t pee
Q: Had you read at all any of these hard-boiled detective novels that the film references and is somewhat based upon?
Monaghan: No, I knew nothing. I learned of Shane’s love for them through him and in preparing for this role. He shared with me all these pulp novels and things like that, but honestly, I didn’t know anything about them.
Q: Was the whole Hollywood party scene accurately depicted?
Monaghan: I have to be honest. I’ve lived in New York, I always have, so I’ve never done the dating scene certainly in LA and I don’t do the party scene. I know that sort of exists and I think there’s some sort of accuracy to it. Let’s be real. It’s an industry town. It’s Hollywood, so I think people are most fascinated by people who are in the industry. And mainly if you’re famous. You’ve got to be a famous producer or director and I think that’s what appeals to most people in the dating crowd. Well, I shouldn’t say most people. Maybe I don’t know, I don’t want to get in trouble for saying that. You know, it’s not really fair. But certainly it does exist, otherwise we wouldn’t be riffing on it I’m sure.
Q: Where did you grow up and how did you get into acting?
Monaghan: I grew up in a little town in Northeastern Iowa. I always wanted to be a journalist. It was a little town, a farming/rural community. And I actually went to school in Chicago. I studied journalism and it was after the end of my third year, I think I had a semester left and it was just something my heart told me, I didn’t want to be a journalist. I wanted to pursue something creative but I didn’t know what. I knew I wanted to move to New York City so I moved to New York. I’d been modeling in Chicago at the time, putting myself through school, so I just continued that when I moved to New York for lack of anything else to do. And then slowly but surely started doing commercials, like the Secret deodorant one I mentioned and such. And kind of did the rite of passage. Law and Order, those shows in New York.
Q: Where in Iowa?
Q: You could probably really relate then to your character in the film then.
Monaghan: Yeah. I loved shooting that commercial, the beer commercial. Because you think that’s her one shot and maybe she hasn’t worked in years. She’s really gonna ham it up because that’s her moment. I loved that.
Q: But the acting thing never really crossed your mind as a child?
Monaghan: No. I think it’s interesting. I did plays in high school but I never really thought that you could be an actress. When you grow up in a town of 700 people, everyone around you, they work in a factory. My dad’s a part time farmer as well. It’s just certain other goals and aspirations and I always thought, "Okay, journalist. That’s what I want to do." And you never think that you can be on TV. But at the same time, kind of the world was your oyster.
Q: What do people from your small town think of you now?
Monaghan: They’re so excited. I’m as big as the mayor now. They’re thrilled. You go home, it’s kind of similar, but it’s really small. I’m still the daughter of Robert and Sharon. My parents still live there and all my family is still there. They’re all excited for me, but you go to church and they’re like, "Oh, Michelle’s home."
Q: If you win an Oscar, they’ll probably name a street after you.
Monaghan: [Laughs] I don’t know, we’ll see.