Friday, October 23, 2009

Film feature: 'Trucker' star Monaghan found role refreshing

Actress Michelle Monaghan.

By Hap Erstein

Eye candy with a comic flair. That sums up most of the roles that 33-year-old, Winthrop, Iowa-born Michelle Monaghan has played (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mission Impossible: 3, Eagle Eye) in her decade-long career. But Hollywood is going to look at her differently once Trucker, in which she play tough-talking, hard-drinking, stubborn big rig driver Diane Ford, gets seen.

She arrived today in South Florida, jetting in to receive a Star on the Horizon Award at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, where the low-budget, independent Trucker screens Saturday at 6 p.m. Can’t wait? Then head to Lake Park’s Mos’Art Theatre, where the film opens today, a state-wide theatrical exclusive the out-of-the-way art house wangled for the week, with an extension likely once word-of-mouth gets out on the film.

Although I tried to get Monaghan to complain about the way Hollywood had been typecasting her as the sexy appendage, she would have none of it.

“I’ve never felt that I’ve been typecast,” she says by phone from Los Angeles. “There’s definitely a mix of comedy in there and drama and action.”

But nothing that prepares us for her work in Trucker, playing a reluctant mother reunited with her bratty, 11-year-old son. “Well, y’know, they don’t make a lot of movies like Trucker, to be quite honest,” she says. “If a studio’s going to make a film like that, that’s a miracle.

“And if they did, certainly it would have to be with an A-list actor. I’m not deluded in any way to think that they would go with me at this point in my career.”

Perhaps, but she gives a stunning, gritty performance that is going to make a lot of casting directors look at Monaghan completely differently from here on.

“Time will tell, I guess,” she says. “There are no guarantees in this industry. I realize that it’s fickle and fleeting. I don’t want to change the course of my career by any stretch of the imagination.”

Because Trucker was a $1.5 million movie with an untested director-writer, it was relatively easy for Monaghan to gain the title role. “James (Mottern) has seen me in a movie called North Country,” about women miners crashing through the gender barrier in that field.

“That’s where he says he saw Diane, in that movie. So he sent the script to my agent, my agent sent it to me, I read it and met with him the next day and immediately attached myself. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make this movie. I had never been more passionate or excited about something.”

It was a character that Monaghan says she instinctively understood, but also a stretch for her as an actress. “It was definitely a challenge for me, without a doubt. It also felt like a familiar place for me, a familiar world,” she says. “I grew up in a working-class family, a working-class environment, and here was a real woman, sort of your woman next door, a really honest and hard look at a woman. So that’s what drew me to it certainly.

“I don’t read roles like this very often -- a woman who’s not a victim, who is unsentimental, who’s just very honest through and through. And somebody who’s flawed upon first glance. I was really intrigued to play somebody that maybe wasn’t even likeable initially. But hopefully, by the end of the movie, you would at least understand her.”

Comparing herself to Diane, Monaghan says, “I think that she’s pretty stubborn, and I’m very stubborn. She’s not very maternal, or she hasn’t found her maternal side yet. And certainly I am maternal,” doting on her 11-month-old daughter Willow, whom she had with her husband of four years, graphic designer Peter White. “Unlike Diane, I’m going to stick around.”

To prepare for the role, Monaghan insisted that she learn to drive trucks and do all of the character’s driving in the film.

“It was very daunting,” she concedes. “I don’t even drive a five-speed. I walked into truck driving school and the first thing that somebody said to me was, ‘You don’t look like a truck driver.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what am I doing?’ But I knew that it would inform me as an actress so much to immerse myself in that culture. I don’t even know if my performance would have been half the performance it is if I hadn’t learned how to drive a truck.”

First screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in the spring of 2008, Trucker’s fate was in limbo for a long time. Why? “Well, the bottom fell out of the economy, unfortunately,” says Monaghan, and distributors were suddenly scared off from dramatic films. “I honestly question if we wanted to make this movie today, if we’d get the $1.5 million to do it. I don’t think so. It’s that bleak.”

But it found a distributor in Monterey Media, has opened in a few cities and is already garnering positive reviews, especially for Monaghan.

No matter what Trucker eventually means for her career, Monaghan is proud she made the film. “I love the idea that it’s about a woman in a male-dominated field, a woman who makes no apologies, who really sort of lives her life the way she wants to live it. I just think that’s a really refreshing perspective.”

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