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Michelle Monaghan on Source Code, Mullets, and the Celebrities Who Go to Her Gym

In Duncan Jones's sci-fi adventure Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal must relive eight minutes on a train over and over to find a terrorist, which doesn't give him very much time to fall for his comely fellow passenger Michelle Monaghan. Still, Monaghan's good at making an impression (it only takes a couple of tries before Gyllenhaal would rather pitch woo at her than complete his mission) and has been since her breakout role opposite Robert Downey Jr. in Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; she'll next be seen with Gerard Butler in Marc Forster's Machine Gun Preacher, and she'll then segue to the star-studded Better Living Through Chemistry, which stars Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Garner, and Judi Dench. This month, Monaghan sat down with Vulture at The Four Seasons in Los Angeles to discuss reliving those eight minutes over and over, her excitement over Black's new gig directing Iron Man 3, and her favorite mullet.

Is this the Four Seasons where you shot the press-day scenes for Somewhere?
Yes! Wow, yes it is.

And that was the first movie you shot after you had your daughter, right? Do you feel like a different actress since that's happened?
If anything, life is just a little bit more complicated, I guess. As any mom knows, it's about figuring out the day-to-day and figuring out child care, and it's a lot of organization, but I don't think it's changed me as an actress, and I hope it doesn't. It may inspire me and open me up, but I haven't encountered that yet.

Now, let's talk Source Code. Because of the conceit of the film, did it feel at times like you were doing very different takes of the same scene for the entire production?
No, and had it been like that, then I wouldn't have signed up to do it. What was intriguing to me was that even though we were going to shoot the same eight minutes over and over again, we were going to add nuance and subtly change it, and that was the exciting part. We approached it with a tonal change each time, so I kind of created the performance even before I went in to actually shoot it, which is something that I would never, ever dream of doing.

Why?
It needed to have an emotional arc because it's the same dialogue over and over. I needed to know early on what I was going to do with the performance for it to be interesting, and I had to think of her own story within the bigger story. At first glance, you'd look at this script and think, Oh, that's not going to require much preparation, but it's some of the most significant preparation I've done for a movie.

The movie is almost like a metaphor for filmmaking, I thought. Vera is like the director, giving Jake motivation from behind this monitor, always telling him "Do it different" after each take.
[Laughs.] Wow, you really dove into it, didn't you?

And Jeffrey Wright's character could be the meddling studio suit who controls the purse strings.
I thought this movie was thought-provoking, but you really took it to a whole other level! You know, the movie is challenging enough as it is, and I really just separated the science of it from the emotion. It's hard enough living in one reality!

Is there a sort of claustrophobia that sets in when you spend so much of your shooting in one location?
There was.

And you're surrounded by green-screen windows in that train car.
And it's not even a pretty shade of green, you know? The first couple of days, the reality that we would be on that train for six weeks was setting in, and it was a bit daunting.

And you'd have to wear the same thing every day.
Yeah, I had to wear the same thing, and the set was on a gimbal that goes at slow, medium, and fast speeds … after twelve or thirteen hours, I'd go to bed at night and still feel like I was moving. Fortunately, we had a great group of actors on that train, and Jake has a great sense of humor. But I was really, really bored with my wardrobe at the end of shooting. [Laughs.]

Did you ever have a moment where you geeked out and thought, Oh, that's right, my director is David Bowie's son?
I mean, of course I always knew that, but I never brought it up to him. I still haven't really talked to him about it! I would feel a little bit silly. Duncan's a wonderful, wonderful guy, and I think he's a really exciting filmmaker. He's brought this resurgence to the [sci-fi] genre, and I feel really lucky to have worked with him at this stage of his career. He's really humble, very collaborative, and he still storyboards, which is amazing.

You met him for this role over Skype, right? That seems appropriate for this movie.
But really inappropriate for a gal who had never Skyped before. I didn't know how to do it, and I thought, Oh my gosh, I don't know how to Skype, and I've got to Skype with the most tech-savvy sci-fi director around? This is going to be a really bad first impression. But we had a great meeting.

What do you think of Shane Black doing Iron Man 3?
Ohhhhh my gosh, I'm so excited about that.

What do you think he's going to bring to that franchise?
I just think he's a great writer, a great director. He's gonna bring a lot to it. Having worked with both him and Robert, they're almost telepathic; they have such great communication. They're really just in sync creatively. We've all remained good friends over the last few years … I would do catering for that movie! I'm really excited for that franchise, because Downey's great and I love the Iron Man movies, but to have them reconnect on something like this is really exciting.

Let's talk about Gerard Butler's mullet in Machine Gun Preacher. Magnificent in person?
Do you know what? There was a lot of discussion about that mullet. Are you being serious?

I am being serious.
It's a really great mullet, isn't it?

Yes, and not everybody can pull one off.
Not everyone can. It's impressive. I don't even know many people who would want to try to pull it off, so that, I just have to tip my hat to. It's not authentic, but it looks real.

Here is a very important line of trivia from your IMDb profile: Member of the same Los Angeles gym as Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Jodie Foster, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Ashley Tisdale. First of all, how do they know that?
[Gasps.] I have no idea. Are you serious?

It's there! Second of all, how many of those people have you worked out with?
I have never seen any of those people at my gym. No, wait, actually I have seen Jodie Foster.

Because I was envisioning Jodie spotting you while you guys gossip about Ryan Gosling's gym outfit.
Exactly. Or that I would bench press more than Bradley Cooper. [Laughs.]

Photo: Patrick McMullan