ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Paradise Highway star Cameron Monaghan about working with Morgan Freeman, what drew him to his latest film, and his thoughts on the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.
“To save the life of her brother (Frank Grillo), Sally (Juliette Binoche), a truck driver, reluctantly agrees to smuggle illicit cargo: a girl named Leila (Hala Finley),” says the synopsis. “As Sally and Leila begin a danger-fraught journey across state lines, a dogged FBI operative (Morgan Freeman) sets out on their trail, determined to do whatever it takes to terminate a human-trafficking operation — and bring Sally and Leila to safety.”
Tyler Treese: I imagine there’s no easier sell on a role than being told you get to act alongside Morgan Freeman, right?
Cameron Monaghan: Yeah, I mean that is definitely a big part of it. When I first learned about this project, both Morgan Freeman and Juliette Binoche were attached to it. Those are two of my favorite actors. I think for a lot of people who watch movies, those are two phenomenally talented and respected actors, and yeah. To have the opportunity to be able to play with them is definitely a pretty amazing thing. And then on top of that I also very much liked the script too. It’s something that I had heard about while I was working on another project and I was able to kind of finesse access to that script to be able to learn what, what was this thing that people had been speaking about? And I was really impressed by it and essentially pursued the project to be able to be a part of it.
It’s such a fun dynamic between your character and Morgan’s character, he’s kind of your mentor. He just seems like he had the most fun in this role. He’s ranting about your character. He is dropping some F-bombs. You’ve worked with so many great actors, but that had to be a bit surreal, right?
Yeah. It’s funny, when you’re working on a project like this, you’ve got these really tight schedules, these tight budgets, and you’re working quickly and you’re working efficiently. So much of the time when you’re on set, you’re just figuring out what you’re going to do next. And along the way you get so few opportunities to be able to actually take a step back and appreciate what you’re doing. Once in a while, we would have a break between setups or something like that, and I got to actually be like, “holy shit, I’m on set with Morgan Freeman right now.” But so much of what was incredible was just being able to trade these words with him and to watch him.
There’s something in his eyes that really activates as soon as action is called, and there’s a presence and an unpredictability and a liveness to his performance that is pretty staggering upon seeing [it] within a scene in person. That was pretty amazing. And obviously, you have to see that and admire it and then throw that away and not be a tourist [laughs] and actually try to bring something yourself and perform alongside somebody that you really respect like that.
So you’re playing a special agent and you’re combatting human trafficking, which sadly is such a real and serious issue. What sort of prep did you do for this role?
I knew only the bare minimum about sexual slavery and human trafficking prior to working on this project. I was very thankful that Anna [Gutto], the writer [and] director of this project, had done a fair amount of research while she was shooting us and then prior to it, while she was writing as well. So she had a number of resources and statistics for me to be able to look at and to understand. And the second you start doing any reading about this, you realize just how dire the situation is. I don’t know if we know, in the United States, just how bad it is. And it’s something that is shocking and a bit hard to process. But I did a fair amount of reading from what she sent me, and then there were also some resources that I was able to find out about.
There are a lot of great charities from Not for Sale to Thorn, to a number of others. They have a fair amount of resources and reading. But also, there was a podcast by a former FBI agent — her name is Jerri Williams — and she had a couple interviews with FBI agents who specifically had specialized in the same department that my character had, and it was really interesting and informative to hear how they spoke about it. I had to admire that … with anything like this, these systems are systems and they are, unfortunately, procedural in how they have to deal with these things, you know? When you’re dealing with it on the scale, there has to be a rulebook and a guide of some sort to be able to follow.
But what I appreciated about these officers was that they always spoke about these victims as people, and they understood that these kids were kids and they hadn’t lost that focus and they hadn’t become so hardened to it that they weren’t able to understand the individuality of each one of these lives that are in these systems. And I thought that that was really interesting. It was something that I saw in the scripts of Paradise Highway as well, where it didn’t lose the human element of the story. It didn’t just become about the concept of human trafficking, but instead was about the specific humans within it.
You’ve also got some exciting stuff coming up. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor finally got announced. When you see that title of Survivor, what does that word conjure up in your mind, and how would you relate it to Cal’s journey thus far?
Yeah, Cal most certainly is a survivor. He is someone who lived through a genocide, a purging of people from his kind, and has been living in hiding for most of his life. To me, a survivor is someone who is able to persist in the face of extraordinary odds, and I think that that’s a lot of what our story is about. We see Cal challenged in ways that we haven’t seen him challenged before, and it brings him to moments that are more difficult than anything that his character has faced. Without giving anything away, I think that it leads to some very interesting questions for Cal, as well as just for this universe in general.
The short teaser that was shown looks incredible, and it looks like we are getting a darker direction, which I know you were excited to explore. Just how satisfying is it that you’re getting this second game to really flesh out Cal more and get into him as deeply as some of the other great Jedi in Star Wars.
Yeah, I think it’s really exciting. It’s exciting to see how this character is going to shift over time. Watching this character develop is something that’s really interesting. This game takes place about five years later than [when] the first one does. Also, over the course of this story, we see Cal really change in a lot of very interesting ways. That was a joy to be able to explore with this character. He is a really unique person in this world, and I think that that is something that gets communicated in the story in a way that I think is going to be really interesting and morally complex as well.
I saw that this is your 20th year of acting, which just blew my mind. 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.
Yeah, I was eight years old when I shot my first movie and I’m 28, soon to be 29, now. It’s interesting. It’s interesting. I think that there’s never a moment when you stop learning, and I’m very lucky that there’s never been a point in my life where I haven’t had a love and an admiration for my job. I feel very, very, very lucky to be able to do it, and to be able to live from it. It’s an amazing opportunity and something that I don’t take lightly. But your process changes over time, and I’ve been very much enjoying where my curiosities and where I’ve been wanting to learn in, in my recent past has been taking me. I think that it’s important when you do something for a long time to keep reinventing and to pivot. And that’s something that I’ve been focusing on in the last year. And I can’t wait to see where that takes me.
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