ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to him Paradise Highway Star Cameron Monaghan on working with Morgan Freeman, what drew him to his latest film, and what he thinks of the upcoming film Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.
“In order to save her brother’s (Frank Grillo) life, Sally (Juliette Binoche), a truck driver, reluctantly agrees to smuggle illegal cargo: a girl named Leila (Hala Finley),” reads the synopsis. “As Sally and Leila embark on a perilous journey across state lines, a tenacious FBI agent (Morgan Freeman) gets on their trail, determined to do whatever it takes to end a human trafficking operation — and keep Sally and Leila safe.”
Tyler Treese: I imagine there’s no easier way to sell a role than being told you can play alongside Morgan Freeman, right?
Cameron Monaghan: Yeah, I mean that’s definitely a big part of it. When I first learned about this project, both Morgan Freeman and Juliette Binoche were involved. These are two of my favorite actors. I think for a lot of people watching movies these are two phenomenally talented and respected actors and yes. Having the opportunity to play with them is definitely quite an amazing thing. And on top of that, I really liked the script. It’s something I heard about while working on another project and I was able to kind of refine the approach to that script to see what, what was that thing people were talking about? And I was really impressed with it and basically followed the project to be a part of it.
There’s such a fun dynamic between your character and Morgan’s character, he’s sort of your mentor. He just seems to have had the most fun in this role. He scolds about your character. He drops some F-bombs. You’ve worked with so many great actors, but that must be a bit surreal, right?
Yes. It’s funny when you’re working on a project like this, you have these really tight schedules, these tight budgets, and you work fast and efficiently. So often when you’re on set, just think about what you’re going to do next. And besides, you get so few opportunities to actually step back and appreciate what you’re doing. Every once in a while we’d pause between setups or something, and I’d actually have to say, “Holy shit, I’m on set with Morgan Freeman right now.” But so much of what was incredible was just sharing those words with me to exchange information with him and to be able to watch him doing it.
There’s something about his eyes that really activates as soon as action is called, and there’s a presence and an unpredictability and a vibrancy to his performance that’s quite stunning to behold [it] within a scene personally. That was pretty amazing. And of course you have to see that and admire it and then throw it away and not be a tourist [laughs] and actually try to bring something of your own and perform with someone you really respect that much.
So you play a special agent and you fight human trafficking, which unfortunately is such a real and serious problem. How did you prepare for this role?
I only knew the bare minimum about sexual slavery and human trafficking before working on this project. I was very grateful to Anna [Gutto]The writer [and] Director of this project, had done a lot of research while she was making us and before that while she was writing. So she had a bunch of resources and stats for me to look at and understand. And the second you start reading about it, you realize how dire the situation is. I don’t know if we in the United States know how bad it is. And it’s something that’s shocking and a little bit difficult to digest. But I did read quite a bit of what she sent me, and then there were some resources I could read up on as well.
There are many great charities out there, from Not for Sale to Thorn and many others. They have a fair amount of resources and reading material. But there was also a podcast by a former FBI agent – her name is Jerri Williams – and she had a few interviews with FBI agents who specifically specialize in the same department as my character, and it was really interesting and informative to hear them talk about it. I had to admire that… in stuff like this, these systems are systems, and they’re unfortunately procedural in how they have to deal with these things, you know? If you’re dealing with this on the scale, there needs to be a rule book and some sort of guide to follow.
But what I appreciated about these officers was that they always spoke about these victims as people and they understood that these children were children and they hadn’t lost that focus and they hadn’t gotten so hard on them that they couldn’t take the individuality to understand each and every one of these lives in these systems. And I found that really interesting. It was something I also saw in the Paradise Highway scripts where it didn’t lose the human element of the story. It wasn’t just about the concept of human trafficking, but about the specific people in it.
They also have some exciting things ahead of them. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has finally been announced. When you see this track, “Survivor,” what does that word conjure up in your mind and how would you relate it to Cal’s journey to date?
Yes, Cal is most definitely a survivor. He is someone who has experienced genocide, a cleansing of people from their own kind, and has lived in hiding for most of his life. To me, a survivor is someone who can endure in the face of extraordinary odds, and I think that’s what our story is about. We see Cal challenged in ways we’ve never seen him challenged before, and it takes him to moments that are more difficult than anything his character has experienced. Without giving anything away, I think this leads to some very interesting questions for Cal, as well as for this universe in general.
The short teaser that was shown looks incredible and it looks like we’re going in a darker direction that I know you’ve been looking forward to exploring. How satisfying it is that you get this second game to flesh out Cal more and dig into him as deeply as some of the other great Jedi in Star Wars.
Yes, I find it really exciting. It’s exciting to see how this character will change over time. It’s really interesting to see how this character develops. This game takes place about five years later than [when] the first does. Also, throughout this story, we see Cal transform in many very interesting ways. It was a pleasure to be able to explore with this character. He’s a really unique person in this world and I think the story communicates that in a way that I think will be very interesting and also morally complex.
I saw that this is your 20th year as an actor which just blew me away. What’s it like being such a veteran at such a young age? I’m sure you’re still learning, but that’s a lot of experience to draw from.
Yes, I was eight years old when I did my first film and now I’m 28, soon to be 29. It’s interesting. It’s interesting. I think there is never a moment when you stop learning and I am very fortunate that there has never been a point in my life where I haven’t had love and admiration for my job. I feel very, very, very lucky to be able to do it and make a living from it. It’s an amazing opportunity and something I don’t take lightly. But your process changes over time, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed where my curiosity and desire to learn has taken me in my recent past. I think it’s important when you’re doing something for a long time to keep reinventing yourself and pivoting. And that’s what I’ve focused on for the past year. And I can’t wait to see where this takes me.