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Michelle Monaghan Talks Every Breath You Take And What It's Really Like Working With RDJ, Tom Cruise - Exclusive Interview

While Michelle Monaghan was well on her way to establishing herself in the film business with early supporting turns in 2002's Unfaithful and 2004's The Bourne Supremacy, she scored her breakthrough role in the 2005 action comedy Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and she's been a high-profile fixture in Hollywood ever since.

Monaghan couldn't have asked for a better film for her first major part, considering that she was starring opposite Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. The actor's dazzling turn in the film as Harmony Faith Lane almost instantly yielded opportunities with some of the industry's biggest names, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Charlize Theron and Jeremy Renner in North Country, and Mission: Impossible III opposite Tom Cruise — the first of three Mission: Impossible blockbusters she would star in.

Another familiar actor Monaghan would work with along the way was Casey Affleck, under the direction of his brother Ben, in the acclaimed 2007 crime thriller Gone Baby Gone. Now, 14 years later, Monaghan and Casey Affleck have reunited as the leads in the new psychological thriller Every Breath You Take, which is available in select theaters and video on demand.

In the film, Affleck stars as Phillip, whose career as a psychiatrist goes into a tailspin when a patient, Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind) — despite a major breakthrough in her treatment — mysteriously takes her own life. Worse yet, because Phillip, his teen daughter Lisa (India Eisley), and wife Grace (Monaghan) are already in a vulnerable state because of a deep family tragedy, it gives Daphne's brother James (Sam Claflin) an opportunity to manipulate his way into their lives. Coming off as caring individual who wants to share his grief with the family, James' intentions are much more sinister as he preys upon Lisa and Grace in an effort to destroy Phillip because of their association with Daphne.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Monaghan discussed her role in Every Breath You Take as well as some of the highlights of her prolific career, including her work with Downey and Cruise. Monaghan talked by phone during a break in filming in Australia, where she was shooting the action thriller Black Site with Jason Clark and Jai Courtney.

A reunion 14 years in the making

Congratulations on making me lose some sleep after watching Every Breath You Take. It's an unnerving film and it really defies convention when it comes to psychological thrillers, not only because of great acting across the board, but an extremely smart script that had to have led you to one of the easiest dotted lines you ever signed.

Yes, it's true. You're absolutely right. When I read it, it was just so beautifully written. It was truly heart-wrenching and really just pulls at my heartstrings and then I just found it to be very weird and beautiful and very human in terms of this family and what they were going through, and how grief-stricken they were. And then to see how a person then could come and essentially infiltrate that loss and that trauma that the family's enduring and then really manipulate it to their own benefit, I found to be really just, as you said, like a loss of sleep and very scary. It's so beautifully portrayed by Casey and India, and then the performance of Sam is utterly chilling. So yeah, it was a good group to be involved in and really, we just had such a beautiful script to work with.

Speaking of Casey, what a great opportunity to reunite with him after Gone Baby Gone, which is such a great film. Reuniting for a film isn't easy, and you don't want to reunite with Casey for the sake of reuniting. I mean, you want a film that's going to have an impact because you really did set a high bar, I think, for Gone Baby Gone. And I think you reached that bar with this film. You had to feel good while this thing was going on to be able to say, "You know what, I think this is a film worth reuniting for."

Yeah. Thank you so much. You know, still to this day Gone Baby Gone remains a huge high for me in terms of my career and experience, so it was really nice to get to reconnect with Casey with this project. And they're very different films, of course. This one was a very different dynamic that the two characters had and so it made sense to creatively delve into this film together. And it's been so amazing watching his career after all these years, and the one thing that remains so evident is his passion for acting, his talent maintains, and he's just such a devoted actor to the art.

I was saying [to him] that it was just so nice to be reminded of why I enjoyed working with him and to be in that creative space together and really delving into these scenes. And although the characters are so disconnected as written, it was so nice to be able to be so connected as actors that had that history of working together and just being reminded of the depth of his talent. It was a real pleasure.

Confronting dark thoughts of a profound loss

The root of the story is so incredibly devastating, for both yours and Casey's characters, and India's, too. I was first thinking, with Casey and how his character suffered a similar devastating loss in Manchester by the Sea, did you take him aside at any time and say, "Why do you want to put yourself in this torturous position again?" Because I can't imagine a more heartbreaking scenario than what this film is rooted in with Every Breath You Take.

Yes. It is true. I think it's also, as a parent, and it sounds so morbid to say, but, as a parent, we do imagine worst-case scenarios. It's what keeps us up at night, is truly saying, "God forbid, if anything happened to my child..." It is the most unimaginable thing that you could endure, and you see, we see it on the news. We see it in our personal lives, losing family members and the devastation that other families incur.

I think that's why, as actors, we're so compelled to help tell that story and share that story and to actually convey all the different ways in which people do grieve with that process. Some people completely shut down — much like Casey's character, Phillip, who by all means has all the resources and tools to help navigate that grief. In fact, he's able to do that on a daily basis with his patients, and yet, for himself, he completely shuts down and become completely emotionally inaccessible. Whereas with Grace's character, she's just suffering on the inside in such a profound way over the guilt of having been behind the wheel of the vehicle when her son passed, and the trauma that she's enduring from that, and just desperately needs connection. I feel like that sets this film up so beautifully for someone so manipulative, and also, it's just full of deception by [James]. The family's ripe for that, for someone to come in and take advantage of that.

No question. And that's what makes this film even more tragic — somebody is exploiting this grief for their own personal gain. And I asked Sam, because I talked with him too, "How do you wrap your head around something like that?" Similarly, how do you wrap your head around becoming, this person in this sort of situation? Especially because we know that there are people out there who take advantage of people who are vulnerable, so it must be a different sort of headspace to play in.

I think when you're in a vulnerable position, as you mentioned, I think that you're just desperate for connection. And I think that in comes in this man who is very open-hearted. He's charming, he's mysterious, and he's also seemingly in a place of loss. It's people connecting over loss, and I think that for Grace, she wasn't getting any meaningful connection from Phillip. And she was really in need of that to be able to express herself and to kind of go through the motions, really, of what she's been through, and here she thought this was someone that she could trust. So I think when you've been unable to do that for three years and all of a sudden a man comes into your life, it's like it was just this huge relief to her to be able to have that.

Michelle Monaghan reflects on her breakthrough role

I mentioned to you just as we got on the phone how we first talked for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. How pivotal do you think that movie was to your career? I mean, how many people get the opportunity to act opposite the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in the same film for your first major film role? And then to be under the direction of Shane Black on top of that?

It was so integral to my success at the beginning of my career, for sure. That role really did put me on the map. And it also taught me a lot. I hadn't studied acting, so turning up to set every single day, working with the likes of Robert and Val, was just invaluable. I learned how to find my mark on that movie. Like, every single day basically it was, "Michelle, your mark, your mark, your mark," and Robert taught me how to do improv on that film. It was such a profound experience personally and professionally. It still remains one of the most special experiences I've ever had, and I think I'm even more grateful as the years go by. As I reflect on my career and the path it's taken, I realize how unique of an opportunity that really was, and how fortunate I was to have had it, and had such a positive experience.

Now, obviously we saw him go on to do Iron Man and then Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I'm sure you've tracked that. Any desire that you have to be in the Marvel films? And if there is, what character would you like to play?

Oh my God. Oh my gosh. That is such a good question. I'd have to think about specifics. But what they're doing is so fantastic right now. It's such a rich, colorful world that they've created. And listen, I'd love to be a part of it. They're shooting... listen, I'm in the right country, that's for sure. I'm currently in Australia, so they're doing a lot of it over here at the moment and yeah, I'd definitely welcome the opportunity.

What film are they shooting right now?

You know what, I'm not for sure which one it is, but I believe they're taking over all the Fox studios in Sydney. They're going to be shooting a number of their films here now.

Living the (Mission) Impossible Dream

I also have to bring up Mission: Impossible. I mean, how great it must have been to be a part of another great franchise — and opposite Tom Cruise. I love the energy that he's brought to every single project he's been involved in. Just talking with his co-stars and filmmakers he's been associated over the years, you find out he's so integrally involved in all aspects of filmmaking.

There's no one like him. He really is amongst the best of the best. And speaking of learning on the job, I feel like that's been my career with every role. It's like Acting 101, Acting 202. I've been so blessed to work with so many talented people, and he's definitely someone who I look up to and I enjoy getting to work with every time we hit the screen together. He is someone who truly, truly connects with you as an actor, as a person, and really draws out an incredible performance. He's 100% made me a better actor in everything that I do.

One last question to wrap it up. Talking about both Robert and Tom, what's the most valuable thing you think you took away from working with both of them?

Wow. I would say with Robert, timing. He's just got the most incredible timing, and it would take flexibility. He's so loose. And I would say with Tom, [he creates] just a true connection with your fellow actor. I don't know if I've ever worked with an actor that I've been more connected to in the moment, and when I work with him where you're really, really in the zone, and I think that's something that you take into the jobs that come next. With every scene you see what that kind of connection elicits, which is a great performance between the two of you. Definitely.

Every Breath You Take is playing now in select theaters and on video on demand.