Interview with Michelle Monaghan

| January 20, 2010

Hollywood actress Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible 3) recently received the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress of 2009 for her leading role in the independent film Trucker. She plays Diane Ford, a female truck driver who enjoys a life of freedom until her estranged son is left in her care, forcing her to be a parent for the first time in her life. During our interview, Michelle talked about what drove her to this character, what makes her different from Diane, and what it was like driving a semi-truck.
Me: First of all, congratulations on receiving the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress. What was your reaction upon receiving the award?
Michelle: Thank you. I was thrilled. It’s a really really nice honor. I’m just really proud of Trucker and everyone that was a part of it. It was just great.
Me: You received this award for your role as Diane Ford in the independent film Trucker. What interested you about this character?
Michelle: When I read it and finished it, it was just like nothing else. As an actress, I have read a lot of the same roles that are so uninspired. This character actually inspired me. So many female characters are powerless. Diane Ford is unsentimental, which isn’t a positive characteristic. She wasn’t likable. She’s a hard-ass. She’s a strong woman who is not easily identifiable. I liked that challenge.
Me: James Mottern made his directing debut with Trucker. What was it like working with him?
Michelle: He was incredible. I never would have guessed it was his first time directing. I never felt that his experience hindered my work or the production. He comes from a documentary background and with this film being a realistic character piece, I was confident in his abilities. I was confident in his background. With me wanting to make this role real and his documentary experience, I felt we were two peas in a pod, working for the same goal.
Me: You had to actually learn how to drive a truck for this part. What was that experience like?
Michelle: It was really hard, really challenging, but really exciting. I had to get my class C license. There was no other option for me. I wanted to portray this character just as she was written, meaning I would have to drive the truck. But it was definitely scary. I do miss it, though. I really do.
Me: What other ways did you prepare for this role?
Michelle: You know, I spent a lot of time with female truck drivers. I went on short hauls with them. I got to experience first-hand the challenges they face. They really do sacrifice a lot. They don’t get to see their families for great lengths of time. I felt it was imperative to understand their perspective. I also spent a lot of time at truck stops, just to get a feel for the culture.
Me: As a fairly new mother, what was it like playing the reluctant and estranged mother of a young boy?
Michelle: Well, I didn’t actually have my baby until well after we were done with Trucker. Thinking about it, I’m unsure how it would have changed things. I don’t think it would have. I can separate my life from the life of my character. I’m just happy that I seem to have taken to motherhood better than Diane did. Or at least I hope I have.
Me: What personal experiences did you gain from working on the set?
Michelle: I always learn with every new experience, whether it’s about my craft or learning how to drive a truck. I always take something away from each set. This time, I learned a lot about working on an independent film set. There is a lot more collaboration, and I got to see that happen.
Me: Having worked on both Hollywood and independent productions, what are the differences you see while working on set?
Michelle: I think for me, I like both. Each have advantages and disadvantages. Trucker was such a great collaboration. With a small crew, people were so close, and you knew that these people weren’t doing it for the money. It felt almost like high school, working on a short together. There was more creative control. I had more freedom to explore my character. With a studio, there is less creative control. There is still freedom, but sometimes changes are made without your knowledge.
Me: Would you say you prefer independent film over studio?
Michelle: Oh no, I’m not saying that. I don’t have a preference. I really like them both, and I’m hoping I can continue doing both in the future.
Me: You just completed two films, Due Date and Somewhere. What is next for you?
Michelle: Well, yes. You’ll find out tomorrow when you read the trades.
Me: One last thing, at, we have a lot of writers and readers from Columbia College Chicago, where you formerly attended. Do you have anything you would like to share about your experience at Columbia?
Michelle: Really? That’s great! I had such a tremendous time at Columbia. I took a lot of night classes, so I was taught by working professionals who were eating, living, breathing the industry. I thought it was great that Columbia had experienced professionals passing on their knowledge to the students. It was such a small good with a positive atmosphere. I loved it. I just wish that I would have realized earlier that I wanted to act. Maybe then I would have studied acting or film there instead. I enjoyed my journalism classes, but I discovered, as most college students do, that it wasn’t the right path for me. But it is a great school.
It was a pleasure speaking with Ms. Monaghan. She was very cordial and genuine. This Hollywood-slash-independent film actress is the real deal. She may not be anything like Diane Ford in real life, but she brings the character to life on screen. Check out Trucker to see Michelle Monaghan in her award-winning role.

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