Stranger in the Room: Dominic Monaghan's Pet

Dominic Monaghan talks new film Pet and how he got into the mind of a psychopath.

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Stranger in the Room: Dominic Monaghan's <i>Pet</i>

Although we at Paste are proud of many of our contributing writers, probably the most well-known one outside the pages of our august publication is former hobbit, Lost-ie, Marvel mutant and Paste Soccer contributor Dominic Monaghan. Between his acting, his Manchester United fandom, his nature-exploration television show Wild Things, and his overarching intelligence, energy and good humor, he’s one of our favorite conversationalists. His new movie Pet finds the actor playing Seth, who kidnaps a character played by Lost Girl star Ksenia Solo and keeps her in a cage like an animal.

He joined us recently to discuss his favorite serial killer, the thought of turning 40, the recent Arsenal-Man U match and why Pet isn’t a horror film.

Paste Magazine: I was hoping my Gunners would’ve given me a chance to do a little footie related smack talk here at the top of this conversation, but, alas, ‘tis not the case.
Dominic Monaghan: Well you can probably give a little bit of smack talk since you guys, I would argue, were the poorer team and managed to get a point out of us at Old Trafford.

I mean, I don’t think any team is really exploding this year. Chelsea are looking solid, but I still think there’s a few issues with both them and Man City at the moment. I’m not overly scared by Tottenham, and it doesn’t seem like United is going to do it either. So it’s a strange season in the Premiere League, but I’m enjoying it.

Paste: About Pet: Horror isn’t really my genre, but my goodness, this is not a role that we’re accustomed to seeing you in. Why don’t you talk about how the project came to you.
Monaghan: I mean, it doesn’t really feel like horror to me either. Obviously there are horror-type elements to the movie, but I always push back on the horror thing. Especially [today], horror has come to mean these kind of Hostel films, you know: blood for blood’s sake type of movies. I don’t think that’s the case with Pet.

It feels much more like a thriller to me, in the kind of classic sense. You know, like Fatal Attraction. I always say it’s like Fatal Attraction meets 500 Days of Summer and it makes a nice combination.

Paste: [Laughs.] Perfect.
Monaghan: I base all my decisions on the script, you know, and I got involved with it because it was just a really strong script. I liked the script a lot, met the writer and he told me that he wrote a part for me, which is honestly very complimentary. Then we were trying to attach a girl to it, because I knew that if we got a strong girl and it was a strong script already then really a lot of the work was done at that point. So we kept looking for the right girl and with it being so tough a movie, you know, so strong a movie with the subject matter, I think it scared off quite a few people. So we had to wait and then we eventually got Ksenia, and then we were off to the races.

Paste: You’re certainly, both onscreen and off, a very confident person, very comfortable in your own skin, and this character is certainly not. How did you get into character?
Monaghan: I worked on it a long time. I’ve got quite a few books on serial killers and have read quite a bit about them so I continue to kind of look back on [people] like Denise Nielsen, Jeffrey Dahmer…Ted Bundy, who ends up for me being the most fascinating serial killer out there, certainly the most fascinating killer out of the United States. I don’t actually spend a lot of time socializing out around LA, I’m not known to be in any kind of scene or things like that, but I spend a lot of time on my own reading. So I tried to affect as much as Seth’s kind of social life, which is non-existent, as possible.

Also, there’s kind of a minimization in movement with Seth. He doesn’t swing his arms around, presenting to the rest of the world [with] a kind of “Here I am” type of thing. He likes to disappear in the shadows. So I listened to a song by Jamie XX called “Stranger in the Room,” which, you know, kind of made sense to me. He’s the type of guy that if he’s in a room nobody notices him, if he’s in a club or a bar no one notices him, and I dramatized those ideas a little bit.

I think, too, you can find Ksenia fantastic and attractive, because she’s very talented and beautiful and a great actor, you know. So those slight, kind of over-enthusiastic interests that Seth has in the girl were easy for me to think about. Because, you know, Ksenia’s a knock out.

Paste: It’s interesting that you’re talking about Seth’s movement. Do you find, in your process, that a distinctive movement for your character is an early development that helps you find the character, or is it the reverse?
Monaghan: It comes in different flows sometimes. I’m not really sure the order of it. Lots of times, you know, with acting stuff, when you’re trying to further create a character, you’re looking for those things, how does he move, how does he wear clothes, how does he speak? I do a lot of stuff in the mirror. You know, how does he feel about his reflection, how does he look? And all that kind of stuff and the mode of that can be disjointed. I base a lot of stuff on animals sometimes, because I’m animal-obsessive and I know a certain amount about animals that allow me to say, “Oh, this guy’s like a monkey, or this guy’s like a giraffe, or this guy’s like a shark, or a spider,” or something.

The thing with [Seth’s] movement came about really for me in the scene with the security guard where he’s trying to slip through the security guard’s attention almost all the time, and to do that [he] kind of hugs the wall. Once I did that I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting, because he doesn’t want to bring too much attention to himself, because he doesn’t feel great about himself.” [But] even though those things are true, he also has this strangely huge ego. He wants to be listened to.

He wants someone to notice him, he wants someone to love him. So without bringing too many attractive qualities to the table he thinks that he should be listened to and given attention.

Paste: Why do you think Bundy is the most interesting of the American serial killers?
Monaghan: The reason why that I’m fascinated with Bundy is because he has a lot of qualities that make him normal while also clearly being an abnormal person. I mean he worked for a Samaritan type phone-in company where you can call in and talk about being sad and people can listen to you.

He had a job he kept up, he was great with animals, he was good with people’s kids, he was a great listener, he was caring, conducted his own defense, had a degree in law, well traveled, bit of a renaissance man, well dressed, handsome, women thought he was attractive, and he clearly was attractive. So those were all the things, you know, that made him fascinating. And then, you know, he’s violent and psychopathic and egomaniacal and insecure and did some incredibly awful crimes towards women.

So the dichotomy is fascinating. I’ve always wondered: What was “the thing” that occurred? He grew up thinking that his mom was his auntie and that grandparents were his parents and he got told at the formative age of 14 or 15 that his grandparents were his grandparents and his auntie as his mom. So that kind of threw him for a loop. Then he fell in love with a girl, she rejected him, and from there it kind of seems like that rejection really spurred on his psychopathic tendencies of his life. So it’s a fine line I’m interested in. It’s a fine line between going through your life being rejected and being disappointed by the rejection, but not turning into a serial killer.

And with Seth, he’s walking that fine line too, you know. We don’t see his family in the film, we don’t see any friends, we don’t see an ex-girlfriend; we decided he never had a girlfriend before and the humiliation that occurs with him getting beat up in the bar and being rejected by this girl [who] he likes, who he thinks is going to hold all the answers, is that fine line. It’s that final thing that’s needed to push [him] into place where he now thinks that he’s justified in kidnapping a girl, you know, drugging a girl, you know, starving a girl and putting her in a cage. I’m interested in those things that people think they are justified in doing, when clearly they’re not.

Paste: Is that where your interpretation of where the laugh comes from after he’s been laid out in the bar? He begins to laugh.
Monaghan: Yeah, I think that laugh—it’s almost: “This is all I need. It it’s not one thing it’s another.” I mean, she doesn’t remember me, I’ve embarrassed myself, I’ve tried to explain myself, she thinks that I’m trying to attack her, she hits me, you know, I’m trying to justify my behavior. And then this big tough guy who is everything that I’m not, I mean he’s strong and he’s handsome and girls like him and he’s attractive in several different ways. So now the laugh is kind of like, you know what I mean, “You might as well just go tar and feather me at this point.” There’s nothing else that could go wrong so I think that’s it. Also whenever someone laughs when they’re in pain I think they, you know, are just like, “Jesus, what the fuck is up with this guy?”

Paste: It is an interesting juxtaposition. For sure.
Monaghan: There’s a lot of one dimensions out there in film where you have a superhero and you have all these superhero characteristics and you don’t see a human man. It’s curious. What makes us human are both of those things, are the insecurities and the great heroic elements to our personality, you know, and not one of those is one-dimensional. So with Seth, you know, obviously he really wants a girlfriend, but he doesn’t really know how to go about it and watching those things that we would deal with as normal people just, “Oh I’m into that girl and she doesn’t really dig me, so I’m just gonna move on.” But with him it’s much more desperation tactics.

Paste: Well tell us about what you’re working on next.
Monaghan: Yeah, so we’re supposed to go back in a month and interview for Hulu and Prime Time for this show called A Midsummer’s Nightmare, which is kind of a modern-day take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

We shot the first episode and so we’ll find out in January if we’re going to go back to shoot subsequent episodes, but that’s kind of another kind of thriller in the woods, you know, star-crossed lovers, and I play Puck, who (without telling too much of Shakespeare’s story), is a kind of sprite, almost like an elf type character who does the bidding of this guy called Oberon, who is frustrated by the slightly fickle young lovers in the forest so he ends up fucking with them basically through Puck. So I’m a little bit of a jester in the show. Again, I’m the guy who’s a little unpredictable, hard to read, don’t really know what his motives are. So there’s that and then I’m back here for a week or so and then I go to Peru with a bunch of my friends for my 40th birthday.

Paste: Nice!
Monaghan: I’m trying not to have a nice break down about it. [Both laugh]. I’m going to be doing what I love, around people that I love, hanging out in the jungle. I feel safe in the jungle, you know, I feel happy in the jungle, I feel like me in the jungle, which is of course why I was hoping to have a bunch of people with me.

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