In director James Mottern’s film-festival hit, Monaghan plays Diane, a free-wheeling truck driver forced to reconnect with her estranged 11-year-old son, played by Jimmy Bennett, when his father, played by Benjamin Bratt, becomes ill.
“I think you’re always looking for this kind of material,” the married mother of a year-old daughter told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. “[Movies like this] are certainly few and far between. I was definitely always interested in doing something like this . . . James Mottern had written this script and then had subsequently seen me in a movie called ‘North Country’ and I believe there was a particular scene he had seen in that movie where he was able to say, ‘That’s Diane.’ So, he sent the script to my agent and my agent sent the script to me and I read it and there was just no doubt about it.”
Although the 33-year-old Iowa native said she didn’t know at first precisely how to bring Diane from the page to the screen, the actress emphasized she always felt a bond with the woman.
“I immediately connected to her,” recalled Monaghan, whose performance is generating loads of buzz in the run-up to awards season. “Playing her frightened me a little bit, because she is a real powerhouse and she’s a very honest woman and she doesn’t play the victim and she doesn’t make any promises and she’s unsentimental. All of those qualities sort of frightened me, but also really, really intrigued me.”
So, did the former model find herself growing protective of her on-screen alter-ego, a woman who isn’t maternal?
“Oh, yeah,” Monaghan laughed. “I love her. I’m so protective of her. I know that sounds so ridiculous, but I’m very protective over her. Sometimes I hear someone say, ‘She’s so mean!’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t judge her!’ I do [defend her.] I think most actors will tell you they never want to judge their characters. You kind of do a disservice to them . . . I think people are inevitably drawn to this character because she is a real woman and you understand her and you understand why she makes the choices that she makes.”
To prepare for the role, Monaghan said she spent time with female drivers to familiarize herself with their culture, careers and the personal sacrifices they make. She also went to truck-driving school and earned her CDL permit, so she could actually drive the vehicle in the film.
“It was really hard for me,” Monaghan said of learning to navigate the big rigs. “I can’t even drive a 5-speed and me making the movie depended on it. I really made a deal with myself and with James that I wouldn’t make the movie unless I could get the license. I had a very patient and brave driving instructor for two and a half weeks and he taught me how to drive the truck and parallel park and drop and hook; the whole kit and kaboodle. He was amazing.”
While the actress confessed she was a little surprised she was actually able to get her license, she said her director expressed only unwavering confidence that she would accomplish her goal.
“I remember calling him to tell him I got the license and I was probably near tears and his reaction was, ‘Well, yeah, I knew you were going to. There was never any doubt.’ He had more faith in me than I had in myself.”
Teased about how she now has a fall-back career if the acting doesn’t work out, Monaghan good-naturedly agreed, “I’ve got a second job all lined up.”
Just when it seemed she couldn’t be any more likable, the down-to-earth brunette beauty also said she proudly identifies herself as Irish-American and hopes to visit Ireland some day.
“I’ve never been to Ireland, but my folks were there. They’re from Monaghan,” she said. “I’ve never been there, but I’m proud [of my heritage] . . . My parents had the best time there. They went there last year with all my aunts and uncles and it just so happened their arrival there coincided with their town party. Oh, my gosh! They woke up with one hell of a hangover.”
“Trucker” is in theaters now. It is set for release on DVD Jan. 12.