Sitting in a midtown Manhattan publicist's office, Michelle Monaghan flashes a handful of fingernails painted a shade she calls "peacock green" ("It was for a photo shoot"), which contrast with her skinny black jeans and top and her zebra-striped sweater - and laughs when asked whether a studio would have cast her in the lead role in Trucker.
"I don't kid myself that a studio would ever have given me a role like this," she says. "But I don't think this movie would be this movie if a studio had made it.
"That's why I'll forever be grateful to James (Mottern, the film's writer-director). It's the role of a lifetime. He saw a scene I did in North Country and asked to see me. It was the easiest job I ever got. This is dream material, what you become an actor for."
Less than a year after the birth of her daughter, Willow, Monaghan is tall and model-thin, which makes sense, given that she is a former model (as well as a former journalism student).
But she shed all glamour to play Diane Ford, the determinedly independent title character at the center of Trucker. She also learned how to double-clutch and maneuver through more than a dozen gears to drive an 18-wheeler.
"And I can't even drive a five-speed on a car," the 33-year-old Iowa native says with a laugh. "I went to truck-driving school to prepare and it was a challenge. I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't make the movie if I could not get my license. There were a couple of days where I thought I wouldn't be able to, so it was a proud moment when I did. There were even one or two times where I parallel parked. But I ran over so many cones getting to that point."
The film, opening today (10.9.09) in limited release, is a character drama about Diane, whose self-sufficient existence is interrupted by the request from her cancer-stricken ex-husband to take temporary custody of their 11-year-old son, who she hasn't seen since she left the marriage shortly after his birth. The film pulls no punches in creating a woman who has little interest in the rewards or rigors of motherhood.
"There's a line that was in the script that didn't get into the movie where I said, 'There are about a billion women on the planet. I guess one or two of them are not cut out for motherhood,'" Monaghan says. "If you're missing that gene, it's like you've committed the biggest crime. It butts up against a lot of double standards. She's calling the shots and that's not something you see in films very often.
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