In the last few years, several just-a-pretty-face actresses have proved otherwise, vaulting their careers and credibility with harrowing roles in micro-budgeted art house fare. Hilary Swank did it in Boys Don’t Cry, Halle Berry did with Monster’s Ball, and Charlize Theron in Monster. It’s too early to tell if Michelle Monaghan’s latest role will end with her at the podium, but after supporting roles alongside Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3, Shia Labeouf in Eagle Eye, and Ben Stiller in The Heartbreak Kid. But her new film Trucker is the actress’ coming out party, playing a care-free truck driver who is forced to reexamine her life once her son is reintroduced into her life. We spoke with her earlier this week.
Has acting always been a passion of yours? No, I wanted to be a journalist. I went to Columbia, had no aspiration to become an actress. I did plays in high school that I loved but it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I started to act.
How did you get your first big break with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer? I’m still counting my lucky stars on that one, seriously. That really was my first really big break.
Any funny behind-the-scenes stories with Robert and Val? Oh, god they are all R-rated. The interesting thing about those two is that they had never met each other prior to making that film, which I find crazy because they’re like two peas in a pod. At the end of the day they really hit it off.
Before this you did Eagle Eye, which was full of action. Do you prefer more intimate films like Trucker? Technically, the action scenes are more difficult and you have to get it right and you don’t want to be the person who fucks it up. But I like those because I really like action a lot too, it’s part of my personality. But I really like dramatic scenes where you can really dig deep and sink your teeth into it and when it comes out right, and they say cut and you’ve felt it—there’s nothing better than that feeling.
Did you have to work hard to get cast in Trucker? It was the first role I didn’t have to audition for. James Mottern, the director had seen one particular scene in a movie called North Country that I had done and he said, “That’s Diane,” and he sent the script to my agent and she showed it to me and said I was going to love it. I read it and I was so bowled over that I met him the next day and attached myself to it and it took us about a year to get the financing for it.
Did you did have to take truck driving lessons and get your trucker’s permit? I did! That was probably one of the biggest challenges I have ever put myself against. I made a deal with myself and James that if I couldn’t get my permit I wasn’t going to make the movie, so I was pretty scared but I got it.
I don’t think I could ever possibly do that. No! But listen, truly if I can do it anyone can because I shit you not, I still can’t drive a five speed.
Are there any references you based your character around? There was a lot of 70’s films that James Mottern had informed me of. But also, for me, I grew up in a working class environment and I was just inspired by how real of a woman she was. These are women that most people know and so that’s what I was inspired by, having the opportunity to play someone who is truly your woman next door.
What do you do after a day of filming? Is it hard to snap back into your regular life or do you stay in character? It is. That one was really hard, it took months to recover from. But on a daily basis, I don’t know, have a couple of beers.
Is there any actor or director that you’d really love to work with? I would love to work with the Coen Brothers. Sean Penn is amazing too. I would to love to work with some of my costars from the past; Robert Downey and I are working together again actually on the Todd Phillips film Due Date—I am so excited about that.
Zach Galifianakis is in that too. Are you looking forward to working with him? Yeah! I can’t believe you said his name right! Say it again! I had no idea how to say it and he’s my costar!