Michelle Monaghan of ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ poses for a portrait during 2011 Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2011 in Toronto, Canada.
TORONTO – Had the fates cooperated, Michelle Monaghan would be sitting in this chair as the bedraggled reporter, not the glamorous actor in sheer leopard print.
Monaghan studied journalism and had hopes of being one of the invisible and inky, but instead ended up on the other side of the fence of fame as one of the beautiful people – first as a model, and, not long after, as an up-and-comer in film and TV.
The change of plans panned out for the pixie-faced talent, but the inner voice that led her to her first passion remains intact. Monaghan is committed to making the world a better place, and at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the Iowa-born actor is one of a select few to be honoured by the Creative Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing and supporting people and projects in the creative community that inform and enlighten the general public, as well as itself.
“To be honoured with a Spotlight Award means a lot to me, actually,” she says. “I think it’s important to recognize projects that take a risk, and this one isn’t afraid to confront the audience with some tough material.”
Monaghan is talking about Machine Gun Preacher, the new film from Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) that tells the real-life story of Sam Childers, a former biker and convicted criminal who found Jesus Christ, and soon became the unlikely defender of the orphans of Sudanese genocide.
“I think this film has such an important message behind it, because it says one person can make a difference. And it doesn’t matter what that person may have done in the past, because it’s about what you can do today.”
They are simple messages, but with Gerard Butler playing Childers and Monaghan playing the loyal wife who is forced to stand by and watch as her entire home life is turned upside-down by her husband’s self-assigned mission, the movie finds beats that vibrate on a deeper level.
“I think what’s happening in the Sudan . . . is something we’ve learned to ignore. This movie has a chance of bringing it home to people,” she says.
By taking on the role of Lynn, wife to Childers, Monaghan says she found her own entrance to the narrative: through personal conflict.
“There is one scene in the film where I really had to fight my own instincts. My instincts told me to get emotional and to be upset and angry. But then I had to remind myself that I’m playing a real person. And you have to honour that,” she says. “Lynn just did not have that angry energy. She was just so incredibly strong and calm. I was constantly humbled by her self-sacrifice.”
Monaghan says it’s often easier playing women who are completely different than herself, but it’s all a process of self-discovery.
“This job gives me so much self-awareness because, in every person I play, there is a little piece of myself. Even the pitfalls I appreciate wholeheartedly, because I end up discovering something new about myself. You know:Why I am this way when this (character) acts completely differently? Or, Why is this scene so hard when others can be so easy?”
As far as hard goes, Monaghan says comedy would have to be the most demanding task.
“People tell me I’m funny, and then they say, ‘Just play yourself,’ and that’s the hardest thing of all. But I love action movies. They’re a complete departure for me. But I love moving around and they’re a lot of fun.”
Monaghan has actually assumed Linda Hamilton’s mantle as the gal with heroic mettle in movies such as Source Code opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Mission: Impossible III opposite Tom Cruise, and she’s revelling in it. The young mother who gave birth to her daughter Willow Katherine in 2008 (with partner Peter White) is actually so fond of crash-bang-boom movies, she’s decided to produce one of her own.
“I’m so excited. We just got financing for the project, so we are moving ahead,” she says with a truly giddy expression crawling across her features.
Based on the book The Blonde, by Duane Swierczynski, the new film will feature Monaghan – “of course I’m going to be in it!” – as well as a group of like-minded collaborators, because that’s how Monaghan works: “I feel like I have a family of supportive friends and colleagues. I like working with like-minded people, because then, you really are sharing. You can be bold. You can improvise. So much of this business is about confidence,” she says.
All the spunkiness that Monaghan embodies on film is present in the flesh, too. She loves being physical and she’s got tomboy energy – despite the glam look du jour, and the animal-print blouse.
“I think I’m doing exactly what I was meant to be doing . . . even if it started off as something that I thought, ‘Well, you got an acting job, just roll with it.’ . . . Now, I really can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Machine Gun Preacher is slated for a release later this fall, but in the meantime, Monaghan will finish production duties on The Blonde, as well as wrap up Better Living Through Chemistry, in which she stars opposite Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde.