Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with the second of four interviews I did at the SXSW Film Festival for its Open Night offering, SOURCE CODE, directed by MOON's Duncan Jones. Previously, I posted my talk with star Jake Gyllenhaal, and today I have his co-star Michelle Monaghan, who plays Christina, a woman on a train that Gyllenhaal's character is sitting across from when he suddenly finds himself in another man's body in an effort to locate a bomber on the high-speed train heading for Chicago.
Like many, I kind of fell in love with Monaghan thanks to a scene-stealing run in KISS KISS BANG BANG, in which she effortlessly held her own opposite Robert Downey Jr. In the same year, she continued to steal the spotlight, opposite Charlize Theron and Jeremy Renner in the sexual harassment drama NORTH COUNTRY. I've never been as interested in Monaghan playing second fiddle to anyone or simply "the girlfriend" in films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, THE HEARTBREAK KID, MAID OF HONOR, or even the action-oriented EAGLE EYE. I'm drawn more to her blue-collar portrayal of tough, confident women in films like NORTH COUNTRY, GONE BABY GONE, and TRUCKER, the film that got me on the phone with Monaghan to interview her a year and a half ago.
About six months after that interview, I met Monaghan at Ebertfest in Champaign, Illinois, Roger Ebert annual overlooked film festival, which last year featured TRUCKER. When I was introduced to her by Ebert, she immediately remembered me as "the guy that interviewed me about TRUCKER," as in, the ONLY guy who interviewed her about that great little movie from writer-director James Mottern. And at one point during the festival, Monaghan, Mottern, and I spent several hours sitting together watching great movies presented by Ebert. I found out that Michelle had just traveled from Chicago, where she shot some of SOURCE CODE's final images around Millennium Park. Those familiar with the park will notice that the Bean is featured quite beautifully in SOURCE CODE.
I spoke to Monaghan a couple weeks ago at SXSW, and thankfully she remembered our time together watching films (I choose to think of that day as our first date, and I'm sure she remembers it the same…yeah). There is truly no actress I have ever met that is more fun to talk to than Monaghan, and I hope that comes through. Please enjoy Michelle Monathan…
Michelle Monaghan: Hey you. Oh my god, I remember you from Roger Ebert's thing.
Capone: Yeah, from Ebertfest.
MM: Yeah, how are you?
Capone: I’m good.
MM: Awesome. It’s good to see you again.
Capone: I remember when we saw each other there, you had just come from Chicago to shoot the scenes in the park.
MM: That is exactly right. That’s so funny.
Capone: You wouldn’t tell me anything about the movie.
MM: I know, and now I’ve just shown it to you, so there you go. That’s really funny. Okay, that’s right.
Capone: You were talking about the Bean and everything…
MM: Oh, it’s so pretty, the Bean. I know, that’s probably all I said too. I was probably still trying to work out what the source code was.
Capone: I talked to Jake [Gyllenhaal] a little bit yesterday, but having to, especially you, do variations on the same thing like 50 times. Did that drive you crazy after a while?
MM: No, you know what it was? I think it was the initial source code, that is what truly drove me to the movie, aside from the fact that Duncan Jones and Jake Gyllenhaal were a part of it of course, but I thought, “Wow, what an extraordinary exercise in performance and acting that this could be,” and the idea of it was daunting. But the challenge of it really intrigued me, because I thought, “Wow, I’ve got eight minutes…”
I don’t know how many source codes there are now, eight times or something, and tonally they all need to be different. I mean, obviously, what’s the point in making a movie that you are going to have the same performance over and over again? Nobody wanted that, so the first source code was the most challenging. I don’t know if Jake told you, but it took us hours to choreograph that, because once we knew the timing of it with all of the actors in the movie, once we knew and set that in motion, that was basically set in stone and that was going to dictate everything else down the line. The one luxury we did have was that we shot it all in chronological order.
Capone: He mentioned that.
MM: Yeah, which was really great, so once we sat that in motion, then at least it gave me something to build from, and then I could veer in different ways. But Duncan and I had pretty much decided…I pretty much shared with him my though, my arc over all of the source codes. The first source code I wanted her to present herself as somebody quite mysterious, where maybe you don’t know the full story, maybe she could be kind of a little bit sinister, maybe kind of a Hitchcockian sort of thing.
Capone: There’s definitely some of that running through this story, yeah.
MM: Yeah, absolutely. And then they all kind of have different feelings and tones from that.
Capone: Jake also mentioned that Duncan kind of mapped out on paper every passenger’s journey for each source code. Was that helpful? I assume that meant you, too.
MM: Yeah, it was really helpful. I mean Duncan and I just had to be really clear. It was really kind of confusing as far as the continuity, and we knew if each passenger had their own journey, well then the whole story would ultimately add up, and I was very, very clear in my journey. We were all very, very clear in each source code what we needed to achieve as far as the story, or how the connection needed to be met as far as Jake and myself. Then we set about in doing the best way we could to meet that goal. I literally, at the start of the film, separated my script and went “Source code. Pod. [laughs] I don’t need to know anything about the pod, I’m just going to concentrate on this.” Poor old Jake had to make sense of all of it, but yeah I just concentrated on the eight minutes over and over again.
Capone: I can see why shooting it chronologically would help Jake, because he’s accumulating information each time, but for you you’re not supposed to be doing that, you are supposed to be new every time. That’s got to be hell.
MM: [Laughs] That's exactly right. That was the thing, and I hate to use the phrase, but it was "the same, but different.” So, I was like “Okay, it’s got to be the same.” So everything was really subtle and nuanced. Some of the source codes were just a little bit more vulnerable, or one of them was the connection, or I’m a little bit starting to like him a little bit or not like him at all. It was all just a real exercise in acting; that’s what it really felt like, and I think it works in the end.
Capone: It’s funny, every actor that I think I’ve ever talked to about MOON thinks it’s one of the greatest acting exercises they've ever seen. How did you land in Duncan's sites for this role?
MM: MOON played a huge part in it. I think, like most people, when I went and saw that movie, I was just blown away. What an extraordinary performance by Sam Rockwell, of course, but really how minimalist the story was, how simple, and Duncan just did so much with that movie. So, when I met him…I didn’t actually meet him, I Skyped with him, and it was actually my first time ever Skyping, and I was like, “Honey, how do I do this?” He was like, “You're meeting a director who's one of the most tech savvy guy.” I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my God, how embarrassing.” [Laughs] But we Skyped and we had a great conversation about the movie and what he wanted and his vision for it and everything, and it was really cool and exciting. Then Jake and I read, and it went really well, and then I think within a month, we were shooting. It was really, really quick.
Capone: When I was talking to Jake, he did things came together really fast.
MM: Yeah, it was like “boom,” all of a sudden it was done. That is not supposed to happen for an independent film.
Capone: You mentioned before that we don’t really know that much about Christina. We just get little clues here and there. Did you in your head work out what her story was?
MM: Totally, I did. I kind of created a backstory with her and I felt like she’s a gal that goes to work everyday, takes the 8:20 train in from Dekalb.
Capone: Dekalb. Poor woman.
MM: I don’t know. [Laughs] You know what I mean? She goes into Chicago and she sits in the same train car, and you sit across from the same folks. I’ve always felt like thematically like this movie is about living your life to the fullest. That was my take on it, and I just never felt like she was living her like to the fullest. Again, you don’t necessarily know this, but this is what was in my head. I don't know if this is what you're…
Capone: Oh I get it. That’s what I want to hear.
MM: Okay. And I never really thought that she was living her life to the fullest and I think sometimes when you spend a lot of time with people, or sometimes you meet complete strangers and you strike up a conversation over the course of a span of a week or a couple of months or whatever and you start shooting the shit, sometimes it’s easy to be more honest with strangers than it is with yourself or other people. And I think this is just a guy that she just starts sharing her life with, and then he kind of has a different perspective on it and inspires her to change her life. I think that really resonates with her and so I think then when she sits down in that scene, she’s like “I took your advice,” and in my mind this has been going for months.
Capone: They're not strangers, but they're not friends outside that train ride.
MM: Right. So that’s my whole…what do you call that? A prequel? So that’s the prequel, right? So that was my backstory for that, and then so I always just assumed that once he found that connection with her, and he understood his mission as Cpt. Colter Stevens, then he just started to listen to her, and that’s why I start to really kind of becomes why I can fall for him every eight minutes, because he’s a guy that listens to a woman, and that’s attractive.
Capone: It is an exercise in falling in love in eight minutes, that’s true. It’s quite a challenge.
MM: I don’t know if that answers your question.
Capone: It definitely does. And she seems like just an inherently decent person, as much as we don’t know that much about her, we kind of figure that out pretty fast. It’s interesting that you two have to sell us on a chemistry that’s supposed to come together. Now obviously they know each other to a certain degree, so you’ve got that, but that’s got to be tough too.
MM: Especially in the first two source codes, because we're not supposed to have any chemistry at all, and that was a really hard. Actually, we had a really difficult time, we couldn’t work it out why the scene wasn’t working, but we were in two separate realities, and that was the problem. So I remember we decided ultimately to shoot the scene… We were shooting at the same time and then we realized we couldn’t shoot it with two cameras, because I couldn’t react the way that he needed me to react and vice versa. So that was kind of a real struggle, and then obviously we start to then have chemistry, and fortunately Jake is such a supportive actor. He is one of the most supportive actors I have ever worked with. It’s so easy to work with him, and he likes to try things. We spent a lot of time together, 12 hours a day like this [she measures the short distance between our faces with her hand] for five weeks.
Capone: In that one train set.
MM: Exactly, with the gimbal going back and forth. We would get off the train, and we would be like “Whoa,” and watching play back like this [indicates that she and Gyllenhaal had to hold each other steady]. It was sort of disorienting, but was fun.
Capone: And we have to buy it, because most of the decisions he makes during the course of this story are based on him falling for her.
MM: That’s exactly right, and I think that’s a great thing about Duncan too and what works about this film is that it’s not just a real cerebral sci-fi sort of film. Do you know what I mean? It’s really infused with romance. It’s not just a journey of the mind… That sounds so cheesy, but it’s really a journey of the heart as well, and he made that very apparent. When we went into it, he was like “You know what? There’s an ethical dilemma that Vera [Farmiga] is faced with, and we really need to buy into this. We really need to be invested with this, otherwise it doesn’t matter how good the special effects are or how good that explosion is, but we really have to care about wanting these people to be saved and making the right decisions.”
Capone: Because of the science fiction aspect of this story, did you feel like you needed to ask a few more up-front questions about it, or since that wasn’t really part of your story, did you just go “I’m just going to wash my hands of it.”
MM: It wasn’t. I did, I kind of washed my hands clean of it, I really did. I really did separate the two parts of the script, and I mean obviously I bought into it, I believed in it, because I’ll never make a movie that I don’t believe in that I wouldn’t actually go see in the theater myself. So, I had signed up for that, but I didn’t feel really married to the science of it. Jake needed to really just work it out in his own head for his own performance; mine was just a real specific journey.
Capone: When we spoke about a year and a half ago, when we were talking about TRUCKER, you had mentioned that you were developing something like a thriller of sort.
MM: I am. THE BLONDE? It’s based on a book called THE BLONDE by Duane Swierczynski, and it’s got a new title, it’s called PROXIMITY, and I’m developing that with Atlas Entertainment with Chuck Roven and Alex Gartner, they did THE DARK KNIGHT. Yeah, it’s going very, very well.
Capone: Do you know about when you are going to start shooting or is it not there yet?
MM: We're not quite there yet. We are getting our guy, because we got the girl. [Laughs] I’m the girl.
Capone: So then there was MACHINE GUN PREACHER. What is that?
MM: I’m so excited about this, it’s a Marc Forster film. Yeah, a drama based on a true story starring myself and Michael Shannon, Gerard Butler, and Kathy Baker. I just saw it two weeks ago, and it is extraordinary. I’m so proud of it, and it’s a really important story and an important film, and I’m just really, really proud of it.
Capone: So that’s coming out this year?
MM: That’s going to be coming out in the fall.
Capone: You had an absolutely awesome cameo in SOMEWHERE. I thought that was the funniest thing in that movie, by far.
MM: Thank you.
Capone: When I watched that scene and a few others in that press junket section, I just thought, “I don’t ever want to do a junket interview again, because I feel like that’s what I’m really dealing with when I’m not in the room.”
MM: That is so funny. That’s the genius of Sofia Coppola.
Capone: I just liked when you said, “You look great.”
MM: Yeah, exactly and then him being on the little stool, that box. That’s what it is; it’s so real yeah. I’m so happy you mentioned that.
Capone: How did you get into that?
MM: I think she had seen something maybe and she asked to meet me, and I came in and met her and you know it was one of those things were she’s like “Do you want to do a little cameo?” We went in there and we just sort of improved, and this was the idea that we were going to do, and I was like, “I’ll do anything for Sofia Coppola.” I’m happy to get her coffee, tie her shoes, whatever she needs me to do. She is such an awesome woman.
Capone: I remember seeing that scene and going “I want to see a different movie about what led to that moment.”
MM: Exactly. It was so much fun when they had the poster behind them, I was like, “Oh my Gosh, this is so real.” It was so funny. We laughed, and it was a great couple of days. It was really cool.
Capone: So when you went to school at Columbia [in Chicago], was Millennium Park even there?
MM: No. That’s the thing, because when we were shooting there I got really sentimental, because I could look down the street and see Columbia, and I was like “I used to go to school there.” It’s right there and I was just like “Gosh, this is just so annoying that this didn’t exist while I went to school, because I would have been over there every single day.” It’s such a beautiful spot. I love Chicago. I love it.
Capone: Thank you so much. It was great to see you again.
MM: Steve, it was so good to see you too. I’m really, really excited, and thank you so much.
Capone: We’ll watch movies again sometime.
MM: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, yea, that would be awesome. See you later, Steve. Enjoy the rest of the festival.
-- Capone email@example.com
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