The multiples faces of Michelle Monaghan
The irresistible American actress, seen in films by the Farrelly brothers but also in Mission Impossible III, Source Code and the first season of True Detective, tells Numéro about her choice of roles, between blockbusters and more offbeat choices.
Michelle Monaghan has spent more than a decade in Hollywood, often working with oddball talents like director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) or the Farrelly brothers. Spruce and striking, the freckly brunette has also starred in action films like Mission: Impossible III and the excellent thriller Source Code… A few weeks after the release of Pixels, a mainstream comedy with Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage, she talked to Numéro about her career, which recently included a role in the first season of the series True Detective.
Numéro: You first came to fame in the off-the-wall crime film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). Do you have good memories of that movie?
Michelle Monaghan: It was the picture that launched my career, and it also relaunched Robert Downey Jr.’s. Not everyone gets to hang out with such a talented actor. Along with Tom Cruise, he’s the one I learned most from. The kind of partner who makes you better. I bumped into Robert a few weeks ago at an event, and we immediately started talking about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and its importance in our lives. We loved the atmosphere on set. Since then I’ve made an effort to look for variety in the films I shoot. I might start a big commercial film and then do an impulse project with hyper-creative types. There’s a conscious and unconscious side to my choices. The conscious part is that I can’t be put in a box. That might also help me to last in the profession. In fact I even think it’s key…
Have you achieved your goals?
I had fairly different dreams: I didn’t want to be an actress but a journalist. I started my university studies, but at 20-something changed my mind, and, through acting, discovered another world. I saw the John Cassevetes film A Woman Under the Influence with Gena Rowlands - it’s still my favourite performance of all time by an actress. For me that film is like a beacon in the night. It’s the first one I watched through the eyes of an actress, and I still find inspiration in it. I think of myself as intuitive - I didn’t really learn my craft, even if I did take a few classes. I like Gena Rowlands because she put herself in danger in her films, and that’s why they’re so good. You can’t but admire her. In her heart, in her body, something grabs you. It’s a privilege to be able to express yourself like that through a character. When I act, I don’t want just to mime someone else, I want to incarnate that person and do it with as much authenticity as possible. Which can really take me very far, going over to the dark side for a while for example... But I always come back.
How do you prepare your roles?
I look for a constant dialogue with the director so that together we can find the emotional truth of the character, scene by scene, line by line… The story has to fill my head. Over a period of several weeks we’ll be dedicating 15 hours a day to this job, so it has to be worth it… There’s also a more specific preparation with regard to the reality of each character - getting yourself into the right physical shape to play a mother or to do an action film… Sometimes I just observe people and get ideas from them. There always comes a moment when I sit down and write all day, in the form of notes… until I’m inhabited by the character. That’s what I did with True Detective. I was both conscious of and happy about the fact that the series was provocative. Some feminists thought it was misogynist, because it’s told from the point of view of the two male characters who aren’t exactly angels. But people confused the characters’ point of view with the director’s … I liked playing this girl who takes decisions, who stands up for herself...
Can you tell us about Pixels, your new film with Adam Sandler.
It’s a blockbuster, somewhere between action and comedy, directed by Chris Columbus, who did Mrs. Doubtfire. When characters from 80s video games, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, attack New York, the experts, of which I’m one, try to stop them… The challenge is to make sure that it’s all anchored in feelings that can be shared, in concrete emotions. That’s what I’m there for.
Interview by Olivier Joyard, photos by Frederic Auerbach