From Lord of the Rings to drowned in the Looking Glass, Dominic Monaghan has often embodied the little guy caught up in larger-than-life events with high stakes. In The Day, a low-budget horror movie picked up by WWE Studios, the larger-than-life apocalypse has already happened offscreen, and the only remaining stake is life itself. It’s as if The Road had been remade as part of the new wave of ultraviolent Euro-horror, and definitely not in keeping with WWE’s current PG branding. For an actor as recognizable as Monaghan, this was definitely not playing it safe. But as it turns out, safety is one of the last things on his mind. We spoke to the energetic actor to learn about his latest risks.
Nerdist: Normally, you look into a big star’s past and you find that they’ve done a low-budget horror movie. You’ve gone from some of the most visible projects in the world to actively choosing to do a low-budget horror movie. What was the appeal of that move for you?
Dominic Monaghan: I tend to do films based on material first and foremost, and I read the script; it was sent to me through my agents. You know, hopefully, you get a little bit more adept at working out good material from bad in all the scripts you read, and I read a lot – probably two or three a week at least – and I just read this and thought it was a really interesting take on it. And it’s an intelligent take on it. I met with (director) Doug Aarniokoski, (producer) Guy Danella and Luke Passmore, the writer, and we just chatted about their vision for the piece and what we were going to go through. It was important for me to play a guy from the United States; I thought it was a good time in my career to do that. And they also let me produce the film alongside them, which allowed me to learn a few things about the filmmaking process.
N: When you’re playing a guy like this, an ordinary person who’s had to learn how to fight to survive, were there any more stylized techniques, like from Lord of the Rings, that you had to “un-learn” in order to make things look more rough?
DM: Well, on something like this you’re forced to – and it’s helpful for you to – just take in your surroundings. It was cold, it was wet, we were doing a lot of night shooting, we were tired, I didn’t shave my face and I got a pretty drastic haircut and asked them not to wash my clothes, so that allowed me to just be that character as much as I could. So there’s not necessarily anything to un-learn. My hope in my career is that I always come across as real, whether I’m in something big and fantastical and otherworldly, or something small. As long as I give the appreciation of something real, I’m happy.
N: It says in the press notes that you had to come prepared, and lose weight – what sort of physical preparation was there? Did they make you hike with a lot of gear on your back, that kind of thing?
DM: We were wearing all of our stuff all the time, which helped. I smoked rolled-up cigarettes when I was doing the film; not on-camera but off-camera, because it makes me feel really grotty, very shitty, and I wanted to feel shitty. I’m not the biggest guy in the world; I usually coast around 155, something like that, but I got down to 138 for the film, trying to look as scrawny, tired and thin as possible. But that’s kind of easy for me. If I stay busy, I lose weight.
N: You all kept your own journals throughout the shoot to build your characters, and kept them confidential between you and Doug. What was that process like?
DM: I just tried to make sense of why this guy has effected a leadership role to a large degree: what made him a leader in that group, what his relationships were like with the other people. Who he trusted; who he didn’t trust. And how they survive – these guys are obviously doing something right. They’re surviving whilst a lot of other people have died. I wrote quite a lot of fictional stuff about how I survived in the days before the film started.
N: In most of the roles we know you for, you play a regular guy who gets thrown into a high-stakes, life or death situation, What kind of things do you draw on from real life to put yourself mentally into that space?
DM: I just finished a show that I created called Wild Things, which is me going around the world changing people’s ideas about animals that a lot of people are scared of: snakes, spiders, ants, bees, wasps, things like that. So I spent a lot of time camping in forests and deserts, being at the top of hills and mountains and all that kind of stuff. Those survival elements are helpful, and I like certain elements of life that are fun and exciting: I like surfing, scuba diving, playing soccer and stuff like that, so I’m active and use my body a lot, which definitely helps.
N: How hard was it to do the drowning scene in Lost?
DM: It was problematic because the reset was a long time. We would do a scene where I’d be dry, and then suddenly you’d be wet, and once you got that and went into take 2, you’d have to go and dry your hair, and put on new clothes, and they’d have to empty that wet set of all water and start again, so resets were about an hour or so. Apart from that? It’s not too difficult. I like water. It’s always been a good friend of mine, so I’m not fearful of it.
N: Now that WWE films has picked up The Day, will we get to see you guest-host Monday Night Raw?
DM: I’m going to SummerSlam this weekend [as shown, subsequent to this interview] so I guess I’ll hang out with some of the wrestlers there. If they get me interested in the genre, then sure. I met some of the wrestlers and they all seem to be nice people. So maybe… I’m a huge soccer nut, you know, I’m from Manchester, so I’m a big Manchester United fan. It would be difficult to pull me away from my passion for that, but I always like new experiences and new things. It’s a spectacle.
N: One thing this movie has in common with WWE – we understand when you were shooting, each scene had a scripted beginning and end, but there was a lot of room to improvise between those two points. What was that process like as an actor?
DM: That was great. There’s a scene that we did, which is probably my favorite scene in the film, where Shawn Ashmore and I are sitting around a table and we’re talking about, you know, “Do you think that this girl is still alive?” Doug had said to me and Shawn, “Just ask that question at some point in the scene, and whatever way you get there and however the scene ends, it doesn’t matter. Just have fun with it.” So we sat around, and I was fashioning a kind of weapon to try and make work, and he was looking through cobwebs, and he sat down, we had the moment, and then he kind of left the room. And it felt very real, very natural, and there’s a little bit of room to breathe in the scene, so I really enjoyed it.
N: With The Hobbit now up to three movies, is there any chance we’ll see you back in one of them?
DM: That’s a question for Peter Jackson.
N: But presumably you’d like to.
DM: Well yeah, who wouldn’t? Everyone wants to be involved, working with Peter Jackson, especially if you’ve worked with him before. He’s a fantastic person to hang out with, and New Zealand’s a great country, but yeah, it’s a question for Pete.
N: You’re a big photography buff – have you seen any of the 48 frames-per-second footage?
DM: No. I’m kinda, like, keeping myself away from it to a certain extent until The Hobbit comes out, and then I’m gonna watch it all.
N: What can we expect to see from you next?
DM: The show Wild Things – I’m working on editing that now, and I’ll probably be finished by about October/November of this year, and it’ll probably come out in January on BBC America.
N: What was the wildest experience doing Wild Things?
DM: I had a few pretty crazy experiences. I jumped into a tree with a 12-foot python, which was interesting because it ended up wrapping itself around me. And then I found the world’s largest spider in a cave that only maybe a handful of people have ever been in. Playing football in the street with the kids of Cameroon was pretty amazing; the whole experience was wild, and I really can’t wait to show people.
N: It seems like you can go almost anywhere in the world and play soccer, even with total strangers.
DM: Yeah. There’s a reason why it’s called the world’s game. Outside of the United States! They still have some playing, but outside the U.S… South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia… they ALL play it.