SXSW Interview: Michelle Monaghan Discusses ‘Source Code’, Hipsters, and Pee-wee Herman

By  · Published on March 18th, 2011

SXSW Interview: Michelle Monaghan Discusses ‘Source Code’, Hipsters, and Pee-wee Herman

Pee-wee Herman and hipsters were not topics of discussions I was looking to tackle with Michelle Monaghan. Knowing I only had 10-minutes with Monaghan, I wanted to make every second count… so obviously, discussing how hipster infested Austin is and how I just had a run in with Pee-wee ‘frickin’ Herman before the interview probably were somewhat of sidetracks, and so was some nice small talk at the beginning.

As for Source Code, it’s a tricky film to discuss. To fully delve into the film and its ideas, one most go into spoiler territory to get a fully meaty convo about the film, so beware of one or two spoiler alerts. But mainly, Monaghan and I briefly discuss Jake Gyllenhaal’s grey area and likable hero, attempting to grasp unique ideas in script form, and the questions the film raises.

Note: the beginning of this interview starts at the end of the Pee-wee discussion, but it gets mentioned later on in the chat.

It felt like a David Lynch film having him walk by, and he wasn’t even wearing his jacket.

Oh my god. That’s just super cool. That’s really funny.

Are you enjoying SXSW?

I love it. I’ve never been here before, but it’s great. It’s like a real festival [sarcasm], no. I’ve been to a lot of festivals, and this one that I feel like has a lot of energy to it. It’s really young and very hip. It’s like a hipster place. It’s going 24/7. But see, the young people got enough energy to last a week.

Most of them here are really smug it seems, but they are hipsters…

Yeah, exactly. There ya go. It’s nice because we did a great Q and A today, and I was so happy with the people that were there. They were true filmgoers and fans. It was great. There were great questions from people that were composers, editors, writers, directors and actors. It was really great to see people supporting their particular craft.

Do you enjoy this whole press tour process?

Oh yeah, for sure. I think it just depends on what area you are in. I really love the festival circuit. I’ve done a lot of indie films that have gone to a lot of indie festivals, and it’s precisely this type of community that I think is imperative to film, especially outside of the Hollywood juggernaut. The purest are here. These are just the people that really love and appreciate the form of entertainment, and it’s not necessarily dollars and cents, or what you’re foreign numbers are. It’s nice to come and be able to talk about the process.

Getting into Source Code, Colter Stevens is an interesting action-hero lead in the sense of how vulnerable he is and how much “questionable” he acts, at times. Do you see him that way?

Yeah, he is a little bit of a jerk here and there. He’s very brash, but he also feels like he’s in a sim. He’s just really confused and disoriented, but yeah, it’s nice to see that side of Jake as an actor, which is grey. The movie is grey. It’s not all black and white, which is something I really appreciate about it.

Colter has his charms, too. He’s not dark and mopey, like most action leads.

I think he’s always likable [laughs]. I just think it starts out the way, but he has a journey where he doesn’t understand his mission and is unclear about it, and that’s where you see the darker side of him. When he actually understands what’s required of him and what he’s actually capable of doing, which is saving all these people, then you see that lighter side of him and that hero comes out. If he was like that from the very beginning, then there wouldn’t be that very nice journey and catharsis. It’s important, so I think you read into that really well.

Are certain ideas tough to comprehend or visualize when reading the script for a film like this?

Yeah, it was. The film certainly grabbed me right away. I mean, probably within the first 10 or 15-pages. It just throws you in there. I don’t really think too much about special effects because that’s not really something I can clearly visualize, so I leave that to the pros. Just the idea of him being somebody else and looking into the mirror is just one of those things when you read it you find it to be really confusing, but when you see it, it works. That can be a little bit tricky, but it pays off.

So that’s just where you have to put trust in Duncan, right?

Totally. Before I started the film, I totally separated the pod from the source code, because I had nothing to do with that side of the film. I just thought it was enough for me to concentrate and to focus to make those eight minutes as interesting as possible over and over again. I’ll leave all the science to Jake [Gyllenhaal] and Vera [Farmiga], and I’m sure Vera probably did the same [saying], “Okay, I’ll take this, but wont even worry about that.” For me, I thought that was the wisest thing to do.

You mentioned how the film does play in grey areas earlier, and when it comes to Jeffrey Wright’s character, he could be argued as being either a villain or very noble —

Yeah, absolutely. It’s grey. I think, typically, sci-fi can be a little bit grey and thought provoking. Sometimes it leaves you pondering certain questions and things. Everyone has got their own little dilemma with personal dilemmas, emotional dilemmas, or ethical dilemmas. Duncan does a great job of exploring each characters dilemma. I mean, we’re all flawed. Except for you and Paul Reubens [Laughs]… no one is going to get that. You don’t have to keep that.

I’m going to keep that.

Everyone will just think, “She’s so random.”

I’ll make it an exclusive.

[Laughs] Exactly, an exclusive on Paul Reubens. But yeah, I think that’s one of the great things about a director with capturing flaws. People are flawed, and you want movies and characters to be reflective of that. That makes it more interesting, and I think this film does that.

The grey area is definitely there, especially with how you could argue what they’re doing to Colter is justifiable.

Yeah, that’s right. I mean, I would argue that it’s not [Laughs]. I totally get your point, though. It’s funny because I went to dinner last night with some friends, and we were sitting there still talking about the film. It was great because that’s the type of movies I want to make and that people want to see, where you feel like you get your moneys worth and get to question and argue over it. Hopefully people will walk away from this with some pretty strong feelings or that it emotionally resonates with them, in some way.

[Spoiler Alert]

A lot of people say that the ending is a closed ending, but do you see it that way? Could it be argued as being ambiguous?

Yeah, yeah. I think it’s definitely ambiguous, and that’s one of the debates we were having last night. It’s like, is it really Sean Fentress? It is an ambiguous ending, and everyone can take from it whatever they want. Maybe it’s open-ended for a reason, who knows?

The question of “What happened to Sean Fentress?” is a pretty dark idea and really contrasts the upbeat nature of the ending. Is that how you interpret it?

Yeah, it is a very dark idea. It’s very twisted indeed. I agree. I mean, poor Sean Fentress. Lucky Christina, though! She gets to live happily ever after.

Well, he was just a schoolteacher anyway…

[Laughs] Yeah, they’re a dime a dozen.

Source Code is in theaters April 1st.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.