Michelle Monaghan has achieved her Hollywood stardom through versatility. In the past seven years, she’s seduced audiences as the lovely object of affection in movies like Made of Honor and The Heartbreak Kid and kicked butt as the action hero in Eagle Eye and Mission: Impossible III. So when she wanted to change it up a bit and take a role that presented a new challenge, Monaghan went the route of all risk-taking actors: she starred in a tiny independent film, taking a role that‘s as stripped-down and weighty as her other parts have been glamorous and light-hearted.
In Trucker, audiences see an entirely different side of Monaghan. She plays a hard-living, fiercely independent truck driver who regards the entire world with suspicion and who is forced to re-evaluate her life when her ex (Benjamin Bratt) falls ill and sends their 11-year-old son (Jimmy Bennett) to live with her.
In person, Monaghan presents herself in minimal makeup and tied-back hair, suggesting a rough-and-tumble personality similar to her character, But she‘s quick with smiles and generous laughter when she talks about her career and personal life choices.
Although she recently became a mother herself, and found herself rapping into her maternal instinct in Trucker, Monaghan says she was thrilled to be playing a female character who isn’t particularly motherly or nurturing, and to have the unique experience of learning about herself by meeting with women who actually work as long-haul truck drivers.
“These roles never come along,” comments Monaghan, speaking about not only the opportunity to play a tough woman, but finding a character who is that well-rounded and so well-written. As someone who has been in a string of big-budget Hollywood comedies and action movies, Monaghan may know that better than anyone.
KATEY RICH: This kind of female role — the tough, unsentimental woman who isn’t a natural mother — is really unusual. How did you prepare for this challenge? How many roles like this come along for you?
MICHELLE MONAGHAN: These roles never come along. A studio is not going to make a film like this. I have a lot of friends who are unsentimental. Just because we’re women doesn’t mean that we’re maternal, doesn’t mean that we’re not tough and play the victim — that we’re not fierce. I was so inspired by that.
There was a line in the movie that informed the character for me: “You know there’s about a billion women on this planet. You’d guess maybe one or two of them might not be cut out for motherhood.”
When I saw that, when I read that, it struck me. “I want to play that one or two women.” It’s such a double standard in society. If a man abandons his family, it’s frowned upon, but no one’s really surprised. But if a woman does it, it’s the biggest crime ever committed, and no one understands. I wanted [to play] the character not so that you even like her at the end, but you understand her and some of the decisions she makes.
RICH: You met with long-haul truck drivers to prepare for the role. Can you talk about what you took from them?
MONAGHAN: These women are remarkable women. A lot of times you get a misconception about truckers, that they’re butch and really hardcore, and they’re not. These women are really feminine. They’re strong, but they’re feminine. They get their nails done, they wear their makeup and they’re beautiful and they’re educated and they’re mothers. They’re mothers who sacrifice a lot being away from their families, but they do it because this is their career. They love being on the open road, and they’re really independent thinkers, so that was really important. I think it was the love of the road, having that freedom and being their own boss, which was really, really important to them. They saw a lot of careers where they couldn’t be their own boss.
RICH: I imagine that there are resonances there to an acting career. Do you see similarities between being on the road as a long-haul driver and traveling for your work as an actor?
MONAGHAN: Definitely, yeah. You’re living your life sort of like a vagabond. I could definitely connect with that. You do have to leave your family, you do have to sacrifice a bit.
RICH: What did you tap into with this character that you haven’t been able to tap into before in your acting career?
MONAGHAN: There’s a certain strength that I really, really love about this character. Really the honesty of her. She never lies, she never ever lies, which was a really big thing for me. She never makes any promises. There’s a real simplicity to her, a real quietude, I think that this character has that I haven’t been able to explore. I could really play into the subtext of what was between all the lines. That was because James (Mottern, the director) let the camera linger, and you can really act and discover who this person is.