One of a handful of actresses who’ve co–starred with Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible III), Michelle Monaghan would probably prefer it if you knew her from her lesser–known but more challenging roles, such as the troubled small town girl in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or the driven detective in Ben Affleck’s Boston crime drama Gone Baby Gone.
The 36–year–old Iowa native comes to Savannah to accept a Spotlight Award and to present the latest film she stars in, Tomorrow You’re Gone, directed by David Jacobsen (who’s also scheduled to attend). We spoke to Michelle recently about that film and her many other projects.
You’ve been so busy! You have a ridiculous number of movies coming out in the next couple of years.
Michelle Monaghan: It’s been a very busy year, and a very fulfilling year. It’s certainly been busy! I’m doing some things I haven’t done before, things that are a little more challenging and complex. Some things that hopefully I will learn something from.
What are the highlights? Of course there’s Tomorrow You’re Gone, the film you’re showing here.
Michelle Monaghan: I worked with David Jacobsen on that, whose work I’ve loved ever since I saw Dahmer. I really love his filmmaking style and his storytelling. He does real character studies, with really unique characters. That’s hard to come by in this town.
Then there’s Penthouse North. I play a blind woman. It’s a thriller with Michael Keaton. Joseph Ruben is really good at directing those parts, he’s really very adept at these very tense scenes, he really pulled that off.
Then I actually found time to do a little comedy! I found a great little script called Gus and I’m in it along with Radha Mitchell. It’s just been submitted to Sundance. It’s really a fun character to play, somebody who doesn’t filter anything. It’s very therapeutic behaving that way! I’m a mom now, so I do have to filter everything, though I’m not always successful (laughs).
And then there’s Fort Bliss, a movie I’m extraordinarily proud of. It’s an indie film, a very small drama about an Army medic returning home from Afghanistan and trying to reconnect with her family. It’s a true story about what our soldiers have to go through.
It seems like you’re specifically choosing roles that are sort of all over the place, that are as different as possible.
Michelle Monaghan: It’s always a goal of mine. This town is so fickle, I gotta tell you. But I love my job so much, I love the opportunities it’s afforded me thus far. I want to be able to continue on this path as long as I can, and in wanting that I have to be wise, I have to choose roles that are different and that will challenge me.
A lot of roles out there you have to dig and be patient, and I’ve discovered you mostly find them in indie films. They might not always be that lucrative, but they can be incredibly, deeply fulfilling.
Diane Lane is also coming to the Film Festival. Of course she’s become almost the poster child for Hollywood actresses aging gracefully. Are you at the point you’re worried about the apparent scarcity of good roles for actresses as they grow older?
Michelle Monaghan: I love Diane Lane! I’m a huge admirer. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of roles as a wife or girlfriend. I don’t want to play the same character over and over again. I do find in indie films that the characters, whether male/female of any age, they’re just more interesting stories, compelling stories in roles that are complex and have lots of layers.
You co–starred in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone, a fantastic film. He’s blowing up again with Argo. What did you learn from Ben? He’s quite a talent.
Michelle Monaghan: Who knew? (laughs) He’s incredibly bright. What struck me most about his work on Gone Baby Gone is how adept he is in all departments of filmmaking, not just working with actors, which you would already assume he’s good at.
He has a deep understanding of photography, of production, of design. And of course it really helps if you’re shooting in your own backyard. People were clamoring to be part of that film. People in neighborhoods all over Boston were providing extraordinary background.
Ben’s also been really smart about the projects he’s chosen. He’s a great actor, a terrific director, and of course he’ll have long career ahead of him no matter what he pursues.
So tell us a bit more about Tomorrow You’re Gone.
Michelle Monaghan: It has a unique, very European quality, it’s very mysterious and the characters are very mysterious. There are two characters who are a little bit lost in their lives and seeking some resolution about who they are and where they’re going. It was a great opportunity to work with Willem Dafoe.
I’m really excited about showing it in Savannah — I think it’s a perfect home for it. There’s something very special about the music as well, the soundtrack is really unique. There are a lot of musicians from New Orleans, so it has a very Southern quality.
Your character Florence Jane sounds like a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Are you familiar with that phrase?
Michelle Monaghan: No!
It’s a screenwriting term for a quirky, sexy female free spirit who acts as the catalyst for the male protagonist.
Michelle Monaghan: That’s her! (laughs) She has a very ethereal quality about her, not a care in the world. But she’s streetwise as well. Yep, she’s definitely the catalyst.
With all your indie films, you must really be enjoying the festival circuit.
Michelle Monaghan: I love the festival circuit. It’s full of real people, and you have real fans — real audiences — coming to see these films. It’s great to sit down and watch a movie with an audience who’s excited about a particular filmmaker or actor. You have that energy surrounding the film. And especially in the case of the Savannah Film Festival, you have students eager to appreciate film, who want to go into filmmaking.
I consider myself a student of film, I really do. It’s like being with your own. It’s all so exciting to me, the struggles, the challenges, the triumphs.
Tomorrow You’re Gone screens Nov. 1 at 9:30 p.m. Michelle Monaghan and director David Jacobsen will attend a Q&A.