SXSW Interview: Michelle Monaghan talks about ‘Source Code’ and getting her face melted off

In Source Code, Michelle Monaghan plays a woman on a train that only has eight minutes before it explodes. I’d tell you more but then I would ruin the movie. I can tell you that she has the difficult task of re-creating that same 8 minute scene over and over again. Each scene had to be the same, but different. Imagine how hard that would be!

Well, she does a fantastic job and when you see the film, you’ll definitely agree with me.

I talked to Michelle in a roundtable interview at SXSW about the challenges of doing the same scene over and over, if she did any research into the Source Code and what it’s like to get her face melted off.

Oh, and just an observation: Michelle has some guns on her. Seriously! There’s no doubt in my mind that she could kick my butt… without breaking a sweat.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Can you talk a little bit about what it was with this script that really sort of attracted you with the project?

Michelle Monaghan: Yeah, I think initially, I was just really struck at, kind of what an original idea it was, and from an actor’s point of view for the role of Christina, I thought it was just gonna be a really cool exercise and performance and a real challenge. It felt really daunting to me initially and then, then I got really, really intrigued, and I especially became more intrigued after I spoke to Duncan. We Skyped and for me it became very, very apparent that it was, he wanted it to be character driven more than anything. I haven’t really kind of ventured into sci-fi as far as the genre, don’t lot of other things, but sci-fi was not one of them, and so I really thought, wow why not go on this endeavor with somebody who’s cool, young and energetic as Duncan Jones. And he’s great at telling a story, so I thought if anybody can do it I don’t, necessarily think it can work in anybody’s hands and it was difficult material, for all of the actors I think. And it was really fun, it was a really fun experience, and it felt like we were making a student film a lot of the time ‘cause we were just sitting in this commuter train that one car, and we would huddled and like work it out each Source Code, and it was really fun, it was really cool.

Basically, you have to do the same scene like 12 different times. What kind of challenge did that pose?

Michelle Monaghan: Well, that was the challenge. The first Source Code was the most challenging Source Code and I think, fortunately we got to shoot them chronologically, so that was really, that was a luxury that you don’t usually have in any film. So that was cool, but the first one was really, really important because everything was gonna be set in stone from that point on. So, working out the choreography for that for all of the actors on the train was really long and hard. And also Jake’s and my character – Sean Fentress and I – are really disconnected at that point so from a performance stand point that wasn’t something that I had ever come across where you actually not supposed to connect with the actor? We’re both in two different realities. Does that make sense? It made the acting really difficult but we worked that out by doing something kind of clever. So that was hard.

Duncan and I during rehearsal process, I sort of came up with an idea of how I wanted each Source Code to be tonally. Out of example, like the first Source Code, I really wanted her to be a bit mysterious, almost more like Hitchcock, so there was a certain posture, there’s a certain voice, there’s a certain direct eye contact that was sort of unwavering, and then everything started to kind of loosen up as they started to connect a little bit more than. Duncan and I were always talking about it, so to make sure that were always on the same page, and so that there would be an arc by the end of it.

But it’s amazing being in a Source Code, you still manage to have the same smile and deliver the same line in the same way. Was that difficult for you?

Michelle Monaghan: No, because you know for continuity… I mean, yes, my leg was here, yes,I took that, I mean that’s where the choreography, the technical stuff was really sort of challenging. And if you go back there are like little different variations of, “I took your advice, it was very good advice.” And then there was like, I don’t wanna do line reads but it was like, “It was good advice” and then I left out the “very’s.” it’s like, “It was very, very good.” There’s just like little sort of different things that would help ‘cause that was one line that kind of then made the whole rest of it come together. That was the thing the challenge of doing something subtle and nuanced but not, not too much that it kind of threw the audience.

Did you do any research into the science?

Michelle Monaghan: Hell no!

No?

Michelle Monaghan: Hell no! I took pod and I took Source Code, I separated them, and I thought that’s their business, they can work out all of that on their own. I mean I understood it, but I couldn’t go into that ‘cause I was really just sort of overwhelmed with the same thing, and I was thinking how could I just make the same 6 pages essentially, how can I make them into like 40 pages. I just didn’t worry myself with that. And I’m sure Vera probably did the same thing, separated her stuff. It was challenging for everyone. Vera I’m so impressed with. Jake as well but Vera in particular, I mean that’s not an easy thing to do… to act with a camera, yeah, it’s really tricky, testament to her talent, totally.

Do you get to watch a lot of movies, like just for fun, is that like a way you unwind?

Michelle Monaghan: Yeah, you know what honestly, I really like documentaries a lot. I’m a really a big fan of documentaries so, it’s a really big tossed up when I go to the movies ‘cause first of all I have a kid so, we don’t go to the movies that much anymore, but it’s usually like, “Oh this movie or documentary, and probably 7 out of 10 times the documentary wins.

With your part, how was it on set to keep it fresh and keep it funny, but keep it from going Groundhog Day?

Michelle Monaghan: Do you know what it was? Duncan’s was really smart, it’s like a film that knows it’s a movie, so it doesn’t take itself so seriously. Improvisation became easier as the Source Codes moved on because we’re able to free ourselves up from this story once everybody kind of started the puzzle, the puzzle pieces started to come together. So I think there was one day, it was the end of the Source Code and there’s this, there’s the scene in the movie where Jake’s like, “Do you wanna go get coffee?” And it’s like, I think there’s the, the two shot, the profile shot or whatever. And everyone was just like, “Oh my God, this is so, like get her a coffee already!” I mean it was like, it’s the same thing and we’re like, the audience is gonna buy this? And then he was like, “I’ll be right back.” And we’re just like that poor girl, so like that long suffering like girl, and he had said, “I’ll be right back, I’ll gotta go save the world.” And it was just like, he improved that and I was like, “Oh, I knew he was a keeper.” And so we improv that right and then we cut and I was like, “Oh, that was so funny, that’s great.”, and so, the crew, everybody kinda got the joke, right? And that was like, ok let’s do it again and kinda go back, but those were those sort of things, but that actually worked.

Duncan had those instincts always from the very beginning, and so did Jake, like they’re very subtle things like where you know, he, just the way he moved, or a delivery, he’s very smart actor.

How did it feel to see your face get melted off?

Michelle Monaghan: You know when you see that scene, that really happened, because they put a wind thing on me. This thing where it makes your [facial expression] and it shoots like these things and it was the last night of filming, and they brought in the special effects to do that and they were like, “You don’t wanna do that, do you?” And I was like, “Of course, I wanna do that, that’s awesome!” So they did it, and we probably did it 4 or 5 different times and they did it, like I forget like how slow they played it back. It was seriously, the ugliest thing. [laughs] Everybody’s like, “Oh my God!” ‘cause it was like my lip was like over my nose, my gum was like that, and then they paused it I was like, “Holy shit! I need braces I need…”, I had no idea. It was just the craziest thing. So, I kinda was, I must have been red for like 2 hours, but it was really a fun effect to do, I was like glad they ask me to do it. But then when I saw the movie I was like, “Wait a second, I didn’t think they were actually gonna use it. I thought they were gonna like, fix my lips. But I was cool that they left it like that, but it was neat ‘cause it was really how we shot it, it was really cool, it was really, really cool.

What’s your advice to actors?

Michelle Monaghan: Perseverance man. Like from the beginning, to someone at my success or lack thereof, whatever it is, I’m such a firm believer in that. You have good days, you have bad days, and just let it roll right off your back. You can’t dwell, I don’t dwell. But just perseverance, I think that’s the most, in any field, especially in any creative field.

4 Comments

  1. Acting

    April 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I agree, Michelle is it going for her, very talented.

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