By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Michelle Monaghan is on a streak. She has two action-packed films due out Jan. 13—“Patriots Day” and “Sleepless”—and her well-received TV drama series “The Path,” returns Jan. 25 for its second season on Hulu. She also recently wrapped production on Shawn Christensen’s independent drama “Sidney Hall,” in which she co-stars with Logan Lerman and Elle Fanning. That drama, centering on a young author who disappears after writing a bestselling book, is due out later this year.
The youngest of three children, Monaghan grew up in Iowa, the daughter of a retired factory worker and a stay-at-home mom. She studied journalism at Chicago’s Columbia College before turning to modeling, which afforded her a chance to travel the world.
The brunette beauty made her TV debut in a two-episode arc of the short-lived series “Young Americans” in 2000, and subsequently made her feature film debut in the modeling-world drama “Perfume” a year later. Her breakout role was as the leading lady opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible III.” Over the years, Monaghan frequently has been cast opposite Hollywood’s top leading men, including Patrick Dempsey (“Made of Honor”), Robert Downey Jr. (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), Gerard Butler in “Machine Gun Preacher” and Matt Damon (“The Bourne Supremacy”). Her other credits “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “North Country” and the acclaimed HBO drama “True Detective,” in which she co-starred opposite Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Hailing from a traditional, working-class family, Monaghan has gravitated toward independent-minded, working-class characters. A mother of two, she is married to Australian graphic artist Peter White, and spends whatever free time she has with her family.
The busy actress and mom arrives for an interview dressed in a sparkly jacket and pants ensemble. In the Peter Berg-directed “Patriots Day,” she plays the wife of a Boston police officer (played by Mark Wahlberg) who happens to be at the annual Boston Marathon the day of the deadly 2013 terrorist attack. In “Sleepless,” she plays an internal affairs investigator who boldly follows her hunch about a suspected bad cop (played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) on the take in the Las Vegas police department. When she follows him to a casino, she uncovers more than she anticipated.
Q: Baron Bo Odar, your director in “Sleepless,” said he gave you one word to connect you with your character, Jennifer Bryant. He said the word for your character was “angry.”
Monaghan: I will say that is a quality which I love about great directors, is the ability to give you one word that can inspire you and so I appreciate a director with a very good vocabulary. There’s so many directors that I’ve worked with that can just give you one word and when Bo and I sat down to talk about Jennifer Bryant, we discussed that this was a woman that was very frustrated, that was living in a man’s world. As you see, the movie opens and she’s kind of fresh off a bust gone bad, where she was injured. She takes that into the workplace and she really just wants to put it behind her, but she’s catching a lot of flack from it from the guys. She uses that frustration, that anger, that perhaps mistake that she made, and really puts it forth in this hunt for (the bad cop), maybe even to her own detriment.
So I see her that she’s kind of a flawed character. She lives in a grey world. That was one of the things that spoke to me about both the characters really, sort of doing morally ambiguous things and living in that kind of world.
Q: You have a knock down, drag out fight scene in that film with Jamie Foxx. You even chipped his tooth when you two were tussling in the hotel room, right?
Monaghan: Yeah, I did. I was a little quick on the draw. He told me, “Keep going. Keep going.” I had split my knuckle and I was like, “All right.” It was funny the next day because we didn’t bring it up and I felt very sheepish. I was trying to sneak a look, and I was like, “Oh my God.” But I didn’t know.
Q: Your scenes with Mark in “Patriots Day,” where you play his supportive wife, particularly in the beginning of the film, were such a fascinating counterpoint to the horror we see later. How did you go about creating that kind of warmth and comfort that you really get from the domestic scenes?
Monaghan: Mark kind of naturally has it. Mark and I sat down with Pete (Berg, the director) for an afternoon and we worked on the scenes. I must say that it’s really great working with Pete because he really allows the actors to have a lot of freedom. You essentially have one large stage and you have three or four cameras rolling all at once. You really just continuously do the scene. When you do that, you start to become more comfortable. It’s a really great atmosphere for actors. All of our hearts were in the right place and we really just wanted to convey a side of the story—the untold story—where it was just every day normal people coming together and uniting and feeling fear and helplessness, but at the same time conveying strength and doing heroic things. So starting the film off with just everyday people getting coffee and sending each other off to work and then at the end of the day doing extraordinary things was remarkable.
Q: This is a business that sometimes burns people out—you’re hot and then you’re gone. But you’ve managed to have sustained a strong and steady career.
Monaghan: I have been working for a long time.
Q: One of your earliest films was “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” with Robert Downey Jr. 12 years ago. How have you managed to stay at the top of your game after all these years?
Monaghan: I think the first thing is to recognize that there’s an ebb and flow to your career. There are going to be moments that are really, really high and then you’re going to have moments where you step away for a little bit and maybe that’s by choice, or maybe you have a family. For me, something that’s been always really important to me that also really served me well in hindsight is doing different things, trying to cross different genres and dipping my toes into comedy and drama and action here and there. Fortunately, as I’ve been working, the industry has also changed, where you’re able to dip your toes into different mediums, whereas it’s not just independent film and studio film, but now you’ve got TV and you’re able to do all these different things.
For me, it’s just a matter of continually pushing myself and challenging myself. I have a lot of fun. I’m passionate about what I do. I really, really love that. I feel blessed beyond words that I’m in a career that I love, and as a result of that, I will continue to work as long as the industry will have me, and when they won’t, I’ll still tell them they need to.
Q: What’s a typical Sunday for you?
Monaghan: I have two young kids, so Sundays are about getting up and we like to make breakfast together. We like blueberry pancakes. That’s my husband’s specialty, so we do that every Sunday. We usually go to the park and without a doubt I enjoy Sunday football. My daughter (who’s eight years old) does too, so we sit in front of the tube and I usually bang it out when our 3- year old takes a nap. I sneak in a little afternoon game there. But it’s all about hanging out at home. Usually our family will have another family or another couple come over and it’s nice. I love Sundays.
Q: Your show, “The Path,” starts again on this month, right?
Monaghan: Yeah, January 25. Season two.
Q: You’ve completed all the episodes for the season, right?
Monaghan: Yeah, it’s all in the can.