Roundtable Interview With Michelle Monaghan On Source Code

Michelle Monaghan co-stars in the sleek sci-fi thriller Source Code, in theatres April 1st. It premiered at Austin’s popular SXSW Film Festival, and Michelle took some time to sit down with me and discuss the project. Check it out below. Audio version included at the end of the page.

Source Code is a sci-fi film that finds a satisfying balance between the technical, emotional and romantic elements of the story. The movie follows Captain Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he wakes up in someone else’s body. Before long, he learns the disturbing truth that he is part of a new program called the source code, which makes it possible to send his consciousness back into another person for eight minutes before that person’s death. Colter must discover who put a bomb on the train to try and stop him from doing it again. Monaghan plays Colter’s love interest, Christina. Before long, Colter has fallen for her, and fights to save her and the rest of the train passengers. 

To start things off, Monoghan discussed the confusing aspects of the story (as there is plenty of time-jumping and replays). “I think the first time I read it I had to read it again. The great thing about the movie is that it’s totally engaging, I mean it grabs you from the first 10…20…30 pages. But you’re in an alternate reality part of the time so it definitely is sort of confusing. You’re trying to work out…you know when you see the words on the page you’re trying to work it out in your head. When it came time to shoot it, yeah it was really tricky because we were trying to do the same scene over and over again, essentially for eight minutes.

That was the most intriguing and challenging thing as an actor was to play those eight minutes over and over again and still make it engaging, and being able to nuance it and add all the sort of subtleties. We would have a pow-wow, seriously we would have a huddle for a good half-hour to an hour prior to each source code which took place every three days. We shot them chronologically which was a nice luxury to have. But to really really make sure where we were all at in the story…and that was for my character, I kind of separated the source code from the pod part, and really was just like ‘what’s the story in each source code that we need to achieve?’ and as long as we started each source code with a clear idea and told that story and put that piece of the puzzle in there, that was our main goal.

The first source code was the most difficult thing. Everything would be set in stone from that moment forward. Jake and I were really truly in different realities for the first couple of source codes so we weren’t connecting and it was really hard in terms of acting. We couldn’t connect and it was challenging. We also wanted the first source code to be kind of Hitchcock-y as well, as in you don’t really know who this woman is yet.”

Monaghan talked about the difficult technical level of the story, “I think that’s why I was most intrigued about doing it, and doing that, and going on that endeavor with someone like Duncan Jones, who‘s a great storyteller…and I’m sure you all love Moon, if you don’t get out [laughs]…I was excited because I wasn’t sure it would work in anyone’s hands, I wasn’t sure it would work at all, but I was like let’s go give it a go, and it was super collaborative…it was a really great group effort.”

She added, “Jake was so good and supportive in that he understood that she (Monaghan’s character) had to have a story as well. So we had a real goal about the relationship and how we wanted the relationship to develop with each source code. So we went into that specifically knowing his performance would allow me to be able to open up or react or be able to be a little more vulnerable or frightened…it was a really big act in communication. So when we improved it was really nice.”

She discussed getting the role, and her first meeting with director Duncan Jones via Skype. “Yeah, it was, it’s the first time I ever Skyped. I was thinking to myself if I can’t Skype how is he ever going to hire me…I’m like the least tech-y person ever, I was like, I’m going to look like the biggest tool. But anyway, it worked, and it was such an odd meeting, but yeah that was kind of an interesting meeting and then I met Jake and we all sat down and I read with Jake and we all hit it off.”

On the sci-fi genre, Monaghan said, “I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, yeah I like sci fi a lot, I like anything that’s thought-provoking and sci-fi tends to be not just necessarily black and white, it’s sort of grey, and I think that’s the nice thing about this film too is that it kind of leaves you pondering a little bit. This movie sort of deals with ethical things, what’s right or wrong, and I appreciate that a lot, and I think sci-fi deals with that. And also just personally it’s not something I had done as an actress. The idea of diving into doing something new with somebody as kind of promising and that has sort of a young energetic perspective like Duncan Jones was just like, oh wow I can’t miss out on this chance. I think there’s a real resurgence of that genre now with him sort of linked to it, so to speak.”

Monaghan said she didn‘t concern herself too much about the sci-fi aspects of the storyline. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it, because there’s so much I felt like I needed to do to try and make the same eight minutes interesting. That was challenging.”

She added about the problem of things getting repetitive, “Well I really spoke in depth about it daily with Duncan…we had about two weeks rehearsal and that was invaluable having that time with this movie. Most of the time I don’t really care about rehearsal, I like to just go for it, wing it or whatever, but on this particular film technically we had to do it. We just sat down, and I had worked out in my head what I wanted each source code to be, and obviously the first one I wanted to be…she’s a little more mysterious and I talked to him about my posture and my voice…and a lot of things like that. And then it loosens up a little bit, and there’s each specific one and there’s room to veer but there’s a tone to each one. And it’s incredibly intimidating because if one of them didn’t work…and maybe one of them doesn’t work…but they all needed to be specifically different.”

When asked how she developed a love interest in only eight minutes, Monaghan said, “I think we’ve all met somebody in your life that you just kind of immediately know that you dig that person and there’s a future there. I mean I had that with my husband. I think that was really plausible to me that you could have a conversation with somebody and know there was a potential for something. And if you’re a guy that listens and pays attention, it really doesn’t take much for a girl. It became that relationship where they’re very disconnected at the beginning but then he starts to listen to her and to her problems, and that’s one of the things I really really liked thematically about this movie is that it’s about kind of living your life to the fullest, and that you’re somebody who’s just on a train.”

That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Michelle very much for talking with us. Remember to go out and see Source Code on April 1st. Also, check out our interviews with Jake Gyllenhaal, director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley, as well as our Source Code review.