Michelle Monaghan stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Duncan Jones’ sophomore feature film Source Code. Michelle was very happy to sit down and talk with us about the move and all the what ifs that come with seeing a film like Source Code. Make sure you check the film out yourself. Warning: this interview may contain spoilers.
So, on a movie like this, is the continuity not a problem, since each time it’s a different time? You don’t have to —
Michelle: NO! It was completely and totally a problem. I think the most challenging thing that we had to deal with was the very first Source Code. The one luxury we had was that we were shooting inside the commuter train. It was essentially the only set I was on. We were able to shoot all of the Source Code’s chronologically. So that was a really great benefit. That being said, when we shot the first Source Code, all the choreography had to be the same — the coffee spill, the ticket, the whole thing; so that very first day, shooting that very first Source Code was pretty arduous. It was like, really trying to figure out what…it was going to be set in stone from there on out. Also, the acting was really difficult, I mean, just the performances on that first Source Code, because on the first couple, I believe, were literally all in alternate realities. We actually just kind of made up separate dialog and shot them totally separate, because what I was saying was in a completely different reality. So it was really actually hard performance wise to act. It’s a really long answer to your question. Sorry. (Laughter) But it was really…the first one, and Jake will admit — all of us, it was like hours for us to get, you know, with all the commuters, and we always kept saying with each Source Code, “Well, if we don’t get it, if we miss something, we can always go back and get it,” because we’ll get it tomorrow, we’ll get it a week from now. I think maybe we picked up one shot or something, but we had to take a lot of time. We had to huddle before each Source Code — and each Source Code was about every three days and we’d tackle a new one — but we would huddle, for like, an hour before and we would say, OK, what is – they each sort of have their own arc, their own sort of story, you know, the same but different. That’s literally a line that I use in the movie. But, how are we going to nuance it? What’s our goal in each of these Source Codes, as far as the story? What pieces of the puzzle do we need to put in? That was really the biggest challenge as an actor, all the way throughout, but also the most fun and intriguing as an exorcise for an actor to do that, and try to nuance something — make it subtle and still make it really engaging for the audience. It was a struggle with the Source Code, getting there, but I also think we managed to do it. Each one was kind of fresh — hopefully, anyway.
Well, over time, I know that through Source Codes, Christina and Colter develop a relationship. But I guess the question that was lingering in my mind when I left last night is, did Christina fall in love with Colter, or the man he appeared to be?
Michelle: Well, that’s a tricky thing. She’s greedy — she likes them both. (Laughter) That’s kind of a debate, which I like, because this movie kind of leaves you pondering you know? It was one thing when we went to dinner last night, and everybody was sort of talking about what really was the ending. I thought, wow, that’s really such a great movie to be a part of when people leave, and it’s that provocative — or thought provoking, anyway. I believe she fell in love with Sean Fentress. Michell Monaghan fell in love with Jake Gyllenhaal. (Laughter)
Was there any room for any kind of ad lib, or changing?
Michelle: We did a lot of that, actually. You know, that’s the great thing about Duncan as a filmmaker, he really infused the script and in each of these Source Codes with a lot of energy. We ad-libbed quite a bit. And sometimes we’d ultimately go back to the dialog, but we just sort of did it to get out of that, sort of zone of like doing the same thing. We were really sitting across from each other for twelve of thirteen hours a day for about four or five weeks. It was like, “I took your advice — it was really good advice.” Just trying to do different things, like, “I took your advice, and it was terrible advice!” We never used that, but you know it was just changing it up here and there. Duncan’s really collaborative like that, and it really felt at times like we were making a student film, in a way.
In a way, with Sean and the captain, the ‘book and cover’ kind of thing? You said that Christina fell in love with Sean, but Sean is just a cover, as opposed to the whole book — which is what I was talking about when I left the theater. In the end, you want them to be together…of course you do. Certainly there has to be some kind of difference — I mean, expectations, was there a difference in how that character behaved as opposed to…see what I’m saying? When he first arrived, he was obviously disoriented and stuff, but he never says, “I’m somebody else.” He never tries to convince you of that. Was that a purposeful thing?
Michelle: I think he was sticking obviously to the mission at hand, but I think what we wanted from the relationship to be, and how I really felt about my character was the inspiration that a stranger can give you. I always saw, and I’m kind of giving you a round about answer to your question. It might not be an answer at all — it might be a better question for Duncan or even Jake. I really like the idea of people get on the same train, the eight twenty train into Chicago. Every single day you sit in the same train car, you sit across from the same people, and you get to know them. Here’s a woman I didn’t believe was living her life to the fullest, maybe, and not really making the best decisions for herself, and not really living to her fullest potential. Which I think is really thematically the theme of the movie — living your life to the fullest. You kind of strike up a conversation, and it’s kind of random, and you talk sort of nonchalantly about your life, and then all of a sudden, somebody sees something and you. It kind of gives you a different perspective of on things. It inspires you to maybe live your life a little differently. That’s what I was sort of connecting with. So I felt as though there was clearly all around already a connection with Sean Fentress that I had.
But it was just on the train?
Michelle: It was just on the train. That’ right, just on the train. Then, he obviously comes in (Colter Stevens comes in) and realizes there’s this connection, and I feel like he just progresses that connection, and really embodies that relationship that they already have. So I don’t feel like it would have been any different necessarily, because it was always on the right track. He didn’t sort of take advantage of it, does that make sense?
Well she said she always wanted, well waited for weeks for him to say —
Michelle: To ask him for coffee, I’ve been waiting…yeah. I hope she got that coffee, gosh! (Laughter) That was like the ongoing joke, and I really like that. Speaking of improv, there was that, “I’ll be right back, I’ve got to go save the world.” “My God, I knew he was a keeper.” (Laughter) That whole bit, that was improv. Because at that point it was like, the last Source Code and we were like, ‘Oh my God, the audience is going to be like Jesus, get her a coffee already!’ That was one of those things where we were like alright, let’s just play around with these. He was like, “Excuse me, I have to go save the world,” and it was sort of an inside joke for us in the film and the crew. It actually really kind of worked, and it was kind of cute and sweet, and so it’s a movie that kind of knows it’s a movie, and it’s kind of taking a joke on itself. I was so pleased when audiences saw it last night, and they laughed at those jokes, and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m glad the kind of got our our joke,’ or those moments of levity that I think movies like this need to be infused with. So often times they’re not, and then they’re taking themselves too seriously.
Can you talk a little bit about…(inaudible)…Most Sci-Fi is very dark and bleak, and this was very light and upbeat. Can you talk about how important this was to him?
Michelle: It’s very character driven, this Sci-Fi. It obviously is based in Sci-Fi, it’s talking about the future, your past, and what you can do to change it. It is thought provoking, as I said before. I don’t know if maybe it’s kind of a trend, it feels like everything is not straight Sci-Fi. There’s the elements of romance, and it’s a love story, and that’s what excited me the most about working with Duncan. When I sat down with him…I think we had a Skype conversation, was the first time we met — actually it was the first time I’d ever Skyped, and I was like, oh my gosh, I’ve got to Skype, how do I do this?! (Laughter) I thought, if I can’t even Skype, how’s he going to hire me for a Sci-Fi movie, or a tech movie? I’m going to sound like the biggest idiot. Fortunately that worked out, but it was really important to him, and he was like, ‘Listen, if nobody’s invested in these characters, then nothing else matters.’ And it’s so true. You can tell me that something’s going to blow up, and I’m like where? I’m supposed to look at the green screen? I want to know how I’m going to feel, or how the audience is going to feel, or how the relationship’s going to progress and everything. that was always his priority going into it. I think just that in itself made it emotional. It had weight to it. It wasn’t so cerebral, but it had a lot of heart. That’s the point, and it just took me five minutes to get there. (Laughter)
Is this the most theatrical of all the films that you’ve made? I mean you are literally in the train for a majority of the story. And how claustrophobic is that just being on that single set for the majority of the time?
Michelle: You know, it’s kind of the most theatrical. We were talking about that, because it’s almost kind of felt like a play, a lot of the times. It was the kind of the most theatrical, which is cool, because that’s kind of what I ultimately want to do, is do theater. Eventually — not full time, but I want to do it a couple times. (Laughter) Yeah, it was a little claustrophobic, but thank God we all got along like a house on fire. All the other extras and actors, everybody was so dynamite. It was kind of difficult — you know a lot of crew in that small, confined space, so it was a great bunch of people. Tho only thing is that it was on…um…
Michelle: Thank you! Thank you! OK! (Laughter)
Read your mind.
Michelle: Thank you, I love you!
What is a gimbal?
Michelle: A gimbal is — the actual commuter car is on a thing, and it rocks. Every scene, it would rock, so it was rocking all day long. Jake and I would get off, you know how it is, if you’re on a trampoline? We would actually get down on the ground and have to hold onto to each other to steady ourselves. It was, like, every day it was like that. We’d go look at play back, and we were like doing that . So that was the only thing sort of, a little bit disorientating — was the gimbal and doing that. Other than that. the seats were comfy, which was a good thing.
When you first saw the first explosion, how did you feel when you first saw it fleshed out?
Michelle: Well, that was amazing, I mean, I thought the special effects were dynamite. I thought all the explosion scenes were really great. I thought the scene where Jake jumps out of the train, and when he rolls on the ground, I thought was incredible. Also, my particular favorite, which was a really hard shot to get (it took a lot of time to set up, but I think we only shot it like, once, or twice, or maybe three times) was the end shot when Jake and I, you see us from the front of the train and we kiss; and then the camera pulls back, pulls back and everybody’s frozen. Everybody’s really frozen. I think that is such an amazing shot. It doesn’t look like that, but it was a really amazing shot. Everybody is so animated, and I just thought that was such a cool shot, and I just — it was really, really amazing. So, I thought the special effects were fantastic.
Did you have to pick any other…like, over another role to take this one? Were you torn between a couple projects?
Michelle: You know, I’m trying to think, at that time…No I wasn’t, because I had taken two years off because I had a daughter, I had a little girl. This was the first script that I read that I really liked that I really wanted to do. It was something that I hadn’t really done before. They sent it to me, and I met with Duncan, and Jake and I read, and we were all just like, ‘awesome, let’s do it.’ So, no.
Was this shot before Due Date?
Michelle: Mmmm, huh-uh. No. I did Due Date. But I didn’t really count it, I only worked a few days. (Laughter) And it was with Robert, so it was like working with a friend.
Were you pregnant? (Laughs)
Michelle: No, I wasn’t, I wasn’t, but it made me all “clucky” again once I put that on, I was like, ‘ooh.’
So what can you tell us about Machine Gun Preacher, that I believe you just made with Gerard Butler?
Michelle: Oh, I’m so excited about this one.
It sounds very interesting. Sounds like one of those roles that could put Butler in the Oscar race.
Michelle: He is absolutely extraordinary. I just saw it two weeks ago, and this is a really, really powerful film. It’s a drama, it’s directed by Marc Forster, based on a true story about Sam and Lynn Childers, this couple. Michael Shannon also stars in it, and Gerry is — nobody has ever seen him like this, it’s his, I think personally, his best work ever. I thought I was witnessing greatness when I worked with him, and after having seen it. Marc Forster is just an incredible, incredible filmmaker. It’s really special, so I’m really excited about it.
When is it slated to come out?
Michelle: In the fall. I don’t think they know specifically when in the fall, but they’re going to release it sometime.
Now you mentioned Skype. Does an actor in today’s environment have to be up on the latest Skype, Facebook —
Michelle: I hope not! (Laughter) Listen, for me personally, I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Facebook. I don’t necessarily thinks so. Maybe for some people it’s great, I mean, I’m not a tech-savvy person. I’ve never been really tech-savvy. I have an iPhone, I have a computer, I probably utilize twenty five percent of the functions, and that’s it. I download photos, send them to family members, you know, just really basic stuff. That’s me, and it really frustrates my husband. (Laughter) He’s a graphic designer, so he knows everything about the computer, so I use as an excuse, really, to not learn anything which is really awful. I’m terrible.
That’s how I am. I’ve got a husband, he can do it all.
Michelle: That’s the thing. I’ll empty the dishwasher, do the dishes, sweep the floor, just show me how to do that.
What would you think about a technology like Source Code, if it really existed today, something like that? Would you embrace it, or would you be opposed to it because it could get in the wrong hands, maybe?
Michelle: If you look at all the things that you could avoid…
Like say it was just a perfect environment?
Michelle: I don’t think I’d really — me just having said I’m not really tech-savvy — I mean, there’s always the risk of having it get into the wrong hands, so obviously you think of all the terrible things that could happen, but then you look at all the things that could be avoided. All the catastrophes, which happen all around us, happened this week. Who’s to say something like that won’t exist someday? There’s a lot of things that I don’t think any of us thought that would have existed, so, I’m kind of a big believer in ‘anything could happen.’ There’s the good in things, and there’s the bad in things.
One of the big questions in the film is whether or not it’s ethical, what they’re doing to Colter Stevens, especially at the end. It’s a big question mark, so I was wondering, what side do you belong on that?
Michelle: Well, that’s the thing. Do you risk one person’s life to save thousands, or hundreds of people? It’s kind of an unethical thing. I can’t say that’s an ethical thing to do, each person has their own right to make their own decision about their mind and their body. If I signed a waiver and said, oh yeah, I don’t mind if you go into my brain. I mean, that’s like you’re an organ donor — it would be some sort of check box…I don’t know what it would be called. Then I’d say, OK that’s fair enough. That’s what’s great about this story; it’s a very, very gray area. It’s not just black and white, and I’m sure various people would feel differently about it.
I’ll ask a question from the film. If you had one minute to live, what would you do?
Michelle: Oh my gosh, I would I-I-I, I would be, would be like this, for the last minute! (Laughter) No, hopefully I’d be surrounded by my husband and my daughter, or family, and I would just be looking into their eyes probably; hugging them kissing them, crying. Hopefully I’d get a ten second laugh in there, like somebody would tell me a really good joke. I’d like to go out laughing. (Laughter) For sure.
Thank yous and goodbyes.
by Angela Davis
transcription by Rachael Edwards