Michelle Monaghan And Sophia Banks Discuss Their Female-Fronted Action-Thriller Black Site - Exclusive Interview

In the world of cinema, the action genre tends to be a boys' club, both in front of and behind the camera. These movies tend to involve a ton of testosterone as men go around kicking butt and saving the day. But women are just as capable of beating the bad guys as the boys, and fortunately, there's been a growing trend in films that allow women to get in on the action

One of the latest following this trajectory is "Black Site." The film follows CIA agent Abby Trent (Michelle Monaghan), who's in charge of an underground black site that's home to some of the most dangerous detainees in the world. Right before she's set to leave, Special Ops brings in a man on the Most Wanted list who goes by the name Hatchet (Jason Clarke). He then gets loose and goes on a rampage, with only Abby capable of stopping him.

Looper had the chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Michelle Monaghan as well as the film's director, Sophia Banks. They spoke about all things related to the picture, from filming on a budget to shooting some of the more difficult action sequences.

The movies that inspired Black Site

Can you talk about some of your favorite movies of all time?

Michelle Monaghan: Sure — I guess in the action space for this genre, "Alien." Probably my all-time favorite female performance is "[A] Woman Under the Influence."

Sophia Banks: Mine would be "The Godfather," "Aliens," "Alien," "Terminator," "Klute," "Die Hard" ... lots of action movies.

Monaghan: Now you can see what attracted me to Sophia.

Would you say that those movies helped inspire your take on "Black Site" at all, Sophia?

Banks: Yes. Michelle and I, when we got together, I was attached to this movie. We knew it was going to be challenging — $10 million, 26 days during the pandemic, and we wanted to ... Both of us were passionate about investing the audience in a character and creating a grounded female character. I have to say, Ripley [from "Alien"] and Linda [from the "Terminator" series] and the way a woman reacts — the way you feel them — they're not always walking around with a gun blasting everyone. They're afraid sometimes. They outsmart sometimes. It's very clever. That was really important to us, to make her real. Abby's a real person and [we wanted to] feel that. And I'm sure Michelle can speak to that, too.

Monaghan: What attracted both of us to this film was the idea that we are both drawn to action, and we wanted a strong female protagonist. But we also understand that it has to be more than that. We have to understand what's motivating the character, and we work diligently about finding those human moments that audiences could connect to so that we could understand what was driving her, and that we would root for her, specifically a woman who plays by the book and knows the difference between right and wrong. And so that when we see her assert herself in a very physical way, to protect herself and those around her, we're cheering for her.

Filming during the pandemic

Were there any particular challenges you had to overcome with the pandemic that you had to get creative with?

Banks: So many. We filmed it on a –

Monaghan: Budget.

Banks: Exactly, budget. It took a lot of our budget. There was a two-week quarantine to get into Australia, which meant ... Michelle and I had a week or two before some of the actors [started] arriving. Then, right before we started filming, there was a breakout in Sydney. Our DP got locked down there, [and] actors. We spent a lot of time. We had an incredible cast, and Michelle and I worked together with Jason [Clarke], with Jai [Courtney], with everybody on making sure we knew what we were doing when we arrived on set, because we knew we didn't have much time.

Monaghan: Yeah. Also, as filming crews will tell you, the last two years have been ... Obviously, the industry's been very challenged in terms of how things get made. It requires an extra level of investment from all the creatives. And when you have a limited amount of time, say 26 days — and as Sophia so aptly said, a very small window for rehearsal or anything like that — it requires cast and the directors to work on the weekends once they're in person. It's unusual to have a cast that was as invested as this one was. We spent hours during our lunch breaks after we got them shooting, and our weekends, doing all the training that would normally take place prior to shooting. That would be part of pre-production, but we had a limited time for pre-production.

That was a huge challenge because if you can imagine, it's such a physical film. We were learning a lot of things on the fly. Thankfully, we had an incredible stunt team that was really astute that was available to us essentially 24/7. Sophia gave us everything that we needed. Because we're serious actors, too. We really want to do these scenes.

That's part of my love of action. It's like, if I don't want to do the action, the actual action, then there's no point in actually doing an action film for myself. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I love getting to learn the combinations, and I love to be able to sell it. As an audience, I love to watch action films. I want it to be fun, and I want it to feel real. That was among our biggest challenges. [It] wasn't a little indie drama that we were making in a pandemic, but it was a full-fledged indie action film, so there were a number of different challenges that presented themselves. And I think we pulled it off.

Michelle Monaghan on doing her own stunts

Michelle, were there any stunts you had to perform in the film that stand out in your mind or were challenging?

Monaghan: Yeah, that fight sequence with Pallavi [Sharda]. That was a really, really intense scene. What we loved about it is that it was scrappy, and it was real. But when it's scrappy and real, it's down and dirty and it hurts.

Banks: No, she was so good. She kicked butt the whole entire time.

Monaghan: It was really fun. I loved it. I loved, "Put me in a harness and explode something in front of me and pull me." You're talking to a gal that loves to skydive and bungee jump and all the things. So they were all certainly ... I had a lot of bruises and things to show for it, but that's what I live for. I love that.

What was it like working with Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney?

Monaghan: Most of my scenes were with Jai — as you well know; you've seen the film. He is a firecracker. I love working with him. He has an energy about him that's so palpable. I'd never met Jai. I was familiar with his work, and he's super talented. There's no question about that, but he comes in like a bull every day to set, and it's so inspiring to be around because he's got so much energy. That's what we needed. We were working at such a quick pace, and he has this real motivating energy, which is incredible.

And Jason, despite him playing such a real sinister role, couldn't be lovelier, opening up doors for you and all. He's an outstanding actor. I've known him for a long time. They're so professional. These are actors who know what they're doing and [are] invested in the material, regardless if it was physical or we were shooting actual scenes. It was a real pleasure.

Banks: Yeah. I hope I'm so lucky that all three of them come into another movie with me. It was so great out. The entire cast was amazing and so professional, and everyone was so invested. We simply wouldn't have made it through the shoot with all the challenges had the cast not fully [been] dedicated and so willing to make it happen.

What the future holds for Monaghan and Banks

For both of you, who's an actor or a director you'd love to work with in the future?

Banks: I'm going to say Michelle Monaghan, Jason Clarke, and Jai Courtney. No, I had a great time working with them, but yes, I'm going to let Michelle answer the rest of that.

Monaghan: I would love the Coen brothers, for sure.

Can you talk about what projects each of you has coming up next?

Monaghan: I have a little indie film with another female filmmaker. I love them. It's called "Nanny" by Nikyatu Jusu — her first feature as well. That'll be coming out in the fall, and then I have a drama, a limited series for Netflix called "Echoes." I'm currently shooting "Bad Monkey," an Apple TV series, opposite Vince Vaughn, by creator Bill Lawrence.

Banks: Awesome. I'm working on a science fiction called "Street Rat Allie" with Bill Mechanic. We're developing that script. A short I did, "Proxy," is being turned into a TV show. And then I'm writing a project called "Mrs. Robinson is a Bad B***h" — halfway through that, so we'll see.

"Black Site" is available now in select theaters, on demand, and in Redbox kiosks.

This interview was edited for clarity.