HBO's gripping new crime drama True Detective returns on Sunday after a brief break for the Super-Bowl last week. IGN had the opportunity to sit down with series star Michelle Monaghan recently at the TCA (Television Critics Association) press tour to talk about working with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and what we can expect from her character, and the series, as things progress.
IGN TV: One of the things that I noticed in watching the first several episodes is that the initial sense, or concern, as a viewer is that your character, Maggie, might be written as sort of the "typical wife character," but then she's slowly revealed to be much more than that.
Michelle Monaghan: Yes! Thank you. That's what I really loved about this. I loved the structure of the story, in its entirety, but also the way that all the characters are revealed, and in particular Maggie. She has a really interesting arc. She's really more than what you think she is within the first few episodes. She's a real nurturer, she's a devoted mother, she's having marital problems, and she's virtually willing to do anything to keep her family intact. But she has difficulty doing that when her partner's not in it with her. There's a little bit of a slow burn. As the series progresses, she's like a little onion, and the layers start to peel back. I think both of the guys make a mistake and ultimately underestimate her. She becomes quite cunning and devastating as the series progresses.
IGN: Hmm, interesting.
IGN: We've seen early screeners through episode four, so right at the middle point, and her relationship with Matthew McConaughey's character, Detective Rust Cohle, is just starting to develop. He seems to, like an animal, almost immediately trust her.
Monaghan: He does. I think for her, she sees him as almost a bit of confidant. She's very intrigued by him. He's a very mysterious character, but they connect because he's open and honest with her, and she's not having that in her own relationship. She's really kind of connected to him. Also, I think she sincerely cares about his well-being in that he doesn't necessarily take care of himself. She wants to see him with a good woman. She becomes a matchmaker almost, if you will. Obviously their connection is much to the dismay of Martin [Hart, Woody Harrelson's character.]
IGN: Absolutely, Rust and Martin are already so antagonistic. It's easy to assume that Maggie and Rust would have their own affair, and that may happen, I'm not sure. I kind of hope it doesn't, though, because what's more interesting is this friendship that they have. It feels like he senses her integrity and responds to it. Is that something you guys talked about?
Monaghan: Yeah, it's so interesting, the way the characters develop. Because it's 17 years, so you get to see all of their relationships, how they intersect and change. [Maggie and Rust] have this amazing friendship, but then you see it go up and down as well, as with Martin and their marriage.
IGN: It's a test of loyalty on both those sides.
Monaghan: That's exactly, exactly right. Ultimately, those two men, they just don't trust each other at all. I think Woody or Matthew said it, they're just at odds the entire time, so it's really hard for them. The only thing that binds them is this investigation. Then everything else, their personal lives are just so very, very different, and you see how both their personal lives affects them on a day-to-day basis, as they work together.
IGN: The series is centered around these two mysteries, the murders in '95 and the 2012 murder. But there's also this fundamental, philosophical debate about human nature that's happening between Martin and Rust. Woody Harrelson said they were two sides of the same illusion. Where do you think Maggie stands on that spectrum?
Monaghan: I think she is actually the most emotionally evolved person in terms of being able to be open and connect. So I think that's where her stand is. I think she is actually a very rational person, more rational than either of them. I think she's really the grounding force for both of them, and I think she's ultimately the most open as well. I think Rust is very hardcore in his belief system. There's nothing that's going to waiver for him and in turn with Martin. They're very hunkered down in their beliefs. Like I said, she's more of a nurturer. She really cares about the emotion. She doesn't really care about a person's point of view so much as she cares how you are to people. That's really what connects her to all of the characters in the story.
IGN: Right, it feels like Maggie's more interested in concrete things, like actions, and good behavior. It's really interesting to watch Rust and Martin fight like dogs over a bone over these philosophies, and yet the behavior's terrible.
Monaghan: Yeah, and that's the thing. I consider they're full of contradictions, in particular Martin. I consider him a smart man, but he's a fool. He's very brave at work, but he's a coward at home. He's vulnerable, I think he's deluded, he's all these things. It's sort of like they put on this armor, this tough-guy image, and you start to see the darkness seep into that armor, the little holes. I think that's what's so compelling, I think, in particular watching Martin; it's really uncomfortable seeing him -- and compelling at the same time -- get pulled to the dark side. They're both such tortured souls.
IGN: It's interesting, because during the press tour panel, both Harrelson and McConaughey indicated that the experience of working on this project was very unique, and that they almost took on the traits and dynamic of their characters. Was that your experience as well?
Monaghan: Well, I would say that like Martin, Woody has this very boyish charm, personally. He really able to put that into the character, because there's that charming quality, but Martin's not necessarily a nice guy. But he leads everybody to believe he's this big-man-on-campus sort of guy, and he's really living a lie. He's completely deluded. So when they have those tense moments, he'll try to use his sense of humor, which he just inherently has, which is amazing. Matthew, his character's a lot more intense. I would say that he's one of the most gifted actors I've ever worked with. He's incredibly patient. He a real, true scene partner. It was a real privilege to get to work with him. Woody I've known for years. What was so exciting about Woody -- because we have volatile scenes, and they become very tense -- we would break it up with a sense of humor afterwards. We'd be like, "Oh my God, I didn't know you had that in you! F***!" [Laughs] So that was exciting for us, because we know each other as kind of happy-go-lucky, so it was really great to see each other do something dramatic together.
IGN: What was the process like? It doesn't feel like there was much time for rehearsal.
Monaghan: Yeah, there wasn't a lot, to be honest. We kind of hit the ground running. It's kind of remarkable that we did. There was a lot of discussion. We didn't run lines with each other, but there was a lot of talk of character. I mean, we had a couple of days I guess where we spoke briefly about character. But I think also we had the unique privilege of being able to really develop who these characters were and this time period or that time period, things that resolved within the story. Cary [Fukunaga] has an extraordinary attention to detail, and he's a really articulate director, so when he gives direction, it's really specific. It's truly by percentages you're changing the character, the intention, things like that. He's really fine-tuning a performance. It's wonderful to get to work with that kind of director. He's very, very specific, and he knows exactly what he wants. Matthew also said too that once we sort of nailed a particular scene, he'd kind of just throw it on its head and do a completely different variation, because as an actor you never know what's going to come out of that. Some of the most exciting stuff is revealed at those times. But there wasn't a lot of time.
Fortunately, everyone involved, the quality of people and talent, you could kind of take that gamble. You shoot it out of sequence, and we were shooting over 17 years, so you had to have a really, really good sense of character and, just emotionally, knowing where you wanted to go. One of the reasons I was attracted to it was because I'd never worked in a period of time. I thought, "Wow, I've never had the opportunity to develop a character, emotionally or physically, over an extended period of time." So I thought that was a great way to experience a journey of a character, because so much happens.
IGN: Can you talk about making those decisions about where she was at during each point in the timeline. Was it all just reflected in the scripts?
Monaghan: A lot, yeah. Truly, the writing was so succinct. The characters were so well written. But I also have to tip my hat to [writer/creator] Nic [Pizzolatto], because at times you would get a little bit lost, and I wanted to know specifically where he was in his head with her in this particular moment in time. He would come into the trailer, and he would have this biography of sorts of all the characters. We worked with him intently I think more on character, because they came from him. To have that privilege of having the writer there all the time, it was an amazing asset. He's so brilliant. I wanted to be able to convey exactly what his intentions were. Sometimes it's left up to interpretation in terms of how you play it, and I always wanted to know what his interpretation was, first and foremost, and then have permission to play with that a little bit, within the realm of what made sense.
IGN: What is her overarching motivation? At the end of the day, does she simply want her husband to straighten up and fly right?
Monaghan: Completely. She wants her family to be intact. She wants it to be a healthy relationship, not just for herself but for her daughters. She could handle it, but he's not a good influence on his daughters. They've been together a long time, so it's starting to wear thin. The home is becoming an increasingly intense place to be. The girls know it's wrong. Fidelity is obviously an issue, and that's not something you want your daughters to be brought up with, infidelity.
IGN: Is that where the cunning comes in to...
Monaghan: Outmaneuver him, yeah. Exactly.
IGN: There's something about anthology series. They're so rich, they're so great. It's clear, it's concise, it's done. But now with American Horror Story, we have the American Horror Story players. I know it's been said that this series would entirely reboot in a second season, but do you think there's the possibility that you would return to this anthology in a different role?
Monaghan: Well, I don't know, but interestingly enough I'm going to be shooting Ryan Murphy's new pilot for HBO, which will also be an anthology. It's called Open, and I love that. I love the opportunity to delve into something and really go for it and create an incredible role, beginning, middle and end -- but there is an end, you know? -- and not have to commit to something, to a character, for five or seven years. Not that I won't do that down the line, but I have yet to find that role that will creatively satisfy me, that I know I could wake up every morning and go, "I'm glad I'm still going to this job." But I think that this could be a new way of doing things. I think it's a great way to attract talent, whether it's actors or directors or writers, because they have the ability to move on and still do other creative endeavors.
IGN: Will Open function that way? Is that something you've talked about, or not yet?
Monaghan: Yeah, I will maybe come back for a second season, but that's it. So it's one series, and I'd possibly come back in a different role -- and that's so exciting.
IGN: When do you start shooting that?
Monaghan: We start shooting that on February 12th.
IGN: One last question. Do you think that's the last we've seen of your character in Mission: Impossible?
Monaghan: We'll see! I know! We'll see, we'll see. They've always got something up their sleeve. It's such a great franchise to be a part of. You know, they said their goodbyes, so we'll see if ultimately that's true or not.
IGN: Has anybody talked to you?
Monaghan: Not as of yet, but they keep everything really, really close to the vest until it's time to reveal.
I love her character and can't wait tomorrow's episode!