M I C H E L L E M O N A G H A N
Interview} John Russo
Photographs by} John Russo
Makeup by} Sarah Uslan for Visionaries Agency
Hair by} Dennis Gotts for forward Artists
Styling by} Jennifer Austin
Manicure by} Tracey Clemens
Location} 1Hotel West Hollywood
Produced by} Photohouse Productions
JR: You have had this career that most actors dream of. How do you stay so consistent in the game without burning out?
MM: Firstly, I will say that I am so grateful to be working as solidly as I am, really, for what is the last 20 years. I’ve been very fortunate in terms of the projects that I’ve been able to do, the range I’ve explored and the different genres I’ve gotten to play in. I think I’ve dabbled in the things that are facets of myself – somewhat dramatic and comedic and physical. I enjoy working in spaces that are small, such as the independent world, which is fulfilling in terms of collaborating with young filmmakers and bringing something to life. And the bigger films, the Mission Impossible movies, for example, feed a different creative beast in me. That’s on the professional side, of course, but personally, I have a rich family life that I get to go home to – a beautiful little family that I just treasure, more than anything.
JR: That’s amazing!
JR: It’s like hitting the lottery every day of your life.
MM: I do feel like I have hit the lottery. That’s a lovely way of putting it, and I pinch myself. My husband and I both have a lot of gratitude for where we are in our lives. What I always try to remember, especially in this career, is there’s a natural ebb and flow and it’s not just in this industry; it’s in any career. Having been through many ebbs and flows of my own, there’s something to be said for being able to sit back and keep a healthy perspective.
JR: So you have these two projects that are both so cool and so unique and different, Echoes and Nanny, they are both thrillers. Let’s talk about Echoes first. You play two characters, Leni and Gina, identical twins. I would think that that would be so difficult, playing two characters simultaneously, but obviously, you nailed it. Can you tell me about your preparation for these two roles?
MM: Yes. It was one of the hardest creative endeavors I’ve tackled. (laughs) First, I went to Staples and bought about two hundred dollars worth of post-Its, markers, and organizational tools to divide these women into their own worlds and essentially create a map of their intersecting lives. Fundamentally, in terms of prepping both, they share the foundational trauma of losing their mother, yet how each twin remembers that loss is really what informs their decisions and life choices. It was a huge challenge, but once I inhabited the roles, I was able to jump back and forth from one to the other as it was necessary throughout the day. In pre-production, there were days I was paralyzed with fear. I really believed in my mind I had no idea what I was going to do. Then once we start rolling cameras, I slid into their respective skin. I won’t say it completely effortlessly, but since I’d done the prep work, I was able to execute it. However, I was exhausted by the end of the series. I was ready to hang up their hats, so to speak!
JR: And that plays back into the first question, how you have maintained this consistency in the game, in the industry, obviously people love to work with you and you deliver. And I think that’s what people look for, is that this is a person that simply delivers, and I think that’s like applause and a testament to who you are and what you bring to the table.
MM: Well, I appreciate that so much. I really know that it’s so much of a collaborative process and I respect each individual player, whether they are my co-stars, my director, my writer, or hair and makeup, we are all spokes on a wheel. That doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly, but for people to be in the room at this level, people are there for a reason. Being inspired by everyone that I’m working with enables me to always put my best foot forward.
JR: Do you think this type of scenario in this movie could play out in real life?
(laughs) Nope. I think from some of the research that I was doing, kids who are twins do it to keep out of trouble or have fun. As adults, it’s not feasible but fun to watch! A lot of women who have watched the show would love to live both lives! Live in LA and be married to Daniel Sunjata and then switch and be married to Matt Bomer, living on a farm!? I get the audience appeal, a little vicarious living, perhaps.
JR: So, speaking of Matt Bomer, you got to work with our amazing friend. Can we just have a Mattfest right now? (laughs) What do you love about working with Matt Bomer?
MM: Oh gosh, I love that guy so much. I had heard through the grapevine for years that people just loved and adored him, but really it didn’t prepare me to quite understand what a gentleman he is and a consummate professional. As I mentioned earlier, I really am so inspired by the people that I get to work with, and Matt is at the top of my list.
JR: What are your pros and cons to working on a miniseries instead of being a regular on a show?
MM: I would look at both as luxuries. I had such an amazing experience working on The Path for three seasons with a terrific cast, amazing crew, and great creatives all around. We loved it. I was sad when it ended, but three years kind of felt like we had a beginning, middle, and end. For example, True Detective and Echoes, were limited. And for me creatively, for both of those, I can’t imagine the story going beyond what was written. I like the finality of a limited series, but still, maintain the time and space for a creative deep dive.
JR: So your other project, The Nanny, we all hear these real-life horror stories, Nanny horror stories. But to see one play out on the screen is always exciting. As a mother and a wife, I’m sure you had some reservations or ideas about hiring the right Nanny. What are the things you would look for and things you would avoid in this search?
MM: Indeed. It takes a village. (Laughs) It’s interesting because my husband, for whatever reason, has been the one that has taken the lead in hiring a nanny when needed. We’ve always been happy with our nannies, babysitters, and anybody that’s helped us out. The most important thing when hiring is looking for the qualities you look for in your friends or people that you want to spend time with. I want to spend time with people that are fun, and have a sense of humor. Those are characteristics that I love in my husband, and we adore in our children. We don’t take things too seriously. If you can make a mean snack, that helps too! (laughs)
JR: The film takes on many hot topics, including race and gender, and socio-economic status. Do you think there’s any lesson that comes out of this film?
MM: I am so proud to be a part of this film. Nikyatu Jusu is our writer and director and it’s her first feature. There are just certain voices that are critical and “of the time” and hers is one of them. This film shines a light on a perspective that we don’t often see which is seeing the world through the eyes of an immigrant. The very people that are taking care of our children have often left their own children behind, in pursuit of what they consider the “American Dream”. It’s a confronting and haunting truth. The role made me uncomfortable, in the most perfect way. And as an actor, I felt compelled to lean into that discomfort with Nikyatu and our brilliant leading lady, Anna Diop. It’s tense and nuanced. And it will stick with you long after you watch it.
JR: I love hearing this; it entices me, and it gets me very excited to see it; I can’t wait; I’m really, really stoked about it!
MM: Thank you.
JR: So we will go off topic with the current Hollywood, which is quite cause-driven; everyone has a cause, a stance, an opinion. What is your cause or causes, do you have any?
MM: First and foremost, right now with elections right around the corner, Roe v. Wade, a woman’s right to choose is just of paramount importance right now; there’s no question about it. We need to codify it into law because there’s too much at stake. It’s not just a woman’s issue. It’s a civil rights issue. I want to live in a world where women and families and men can decide when and with whom they want to have a baby. That is so important to me.
JR: The current Hollywood has also adopted a strong you are with us or against us stance on issues. So if you have an opinion that is not in alignment with the current popular movement or trend, you are called out and potentially canceled. Do you think this has gone to the extreme and is forcing people to conform to get work and stay in the game?
MM: There are really two sides to it, right? I can’t say that we can deduce it to Hollywood because it really extends to every industry. In our industry we espouse tolerance, yet we have very little of it at times. It’s certainly important to call out offensive behavior and hold people accountable. I think it’s important for people to think twice before they say something or before they do something harmful to other people or potentially themselves. I think that the pendulum will swing, but I do think the threat of being canceled encourages people to act responsibly and respectfully.
JR: So the world has changed a lot in the last few years, some things for the better and others for the worse. So if you had to identify a few silver linings for you personally, what would they be?
MM: I really loved the slowdown and being at home. That’s not to say that being at home wasn’t stressful for other reasons; home school, of course, not knowing when anybody was going back to work, that’s all a given. But getting that one-on-one time for several months with our children and my husband was gold for us as a family; it was special. We did a lot of dishes (laughs). I remember that period fondly because I remember that was really when I instituted, and my husband as well, a lot of teamwork, a lot of team building, like not too indifferent about what was going on in the rest of the world, we were all collectively a team. We were banging pots with the neighbors at 5 PM and now when I look back, those were such fleeting moments, but they touched me to a core.
JR: So the dream role, some actors have had it, and some are searching for it. Have you had your dream role, and if so, what was it, and if not, what would you like to be?
MM: Oh gosh, that is a good question. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a dream role, my roles in Fort Bliss and Trucker were dream roles, roles, where I’m able to experience a whole new way of life & culture, have been so memorable because I have had the opportunity to walk in other people’s shoes and that’s been awe-inspiring to me. But there is one thing that I haven’t tackled, and I don’t believe my career will feel complete until I do…is to have a role on stage one day. I really want to do a play.
JR: So in years to come, when a class of young actors is discussing your career, and they will be, what is one thing they should know about Michelle Monaghan?
MM: Oh my gosh, (laughs) oh gosh, that is so hard. (Laughs) That I am perpetually tired, (laughter) that I really, really treasured every job, every role, and gave it my all. I have loved every single role that I have done and am grateful for the opportunities that I have had. I wish I had something cleverer. (laughs)