It could be said that Cameron Monoghan has a LOT going on. There’s his role on Gotham as Jerome--the ‘not-Joker,’ his impending seventh season on Showtime’s Shameless as Ian Gallagher, his recent stint on the series Mercy Street, a crop of leading roles in upcoming big-screen films like the horror flick Amytville: Awakening, The Year of Spectacular Men (with our cover girl Zoey Deutch), Wake, and yet another TV series, Son of Zorn, starring alongside Jason Sudeikis. Additionally, it was just announced he’s cast to star in the upcoming adaptation of Anna Dressed in Blood (produced by Twilight's Stephanie Meyer).
There’s a reason the 22 year-old actor is in demand. It’s an imaginative inner rhythm that makes him so intriguing to watch. Onscreen he’s immediately sympathetic but inherently mischievous. There’s a unique depth and intrinsic honesty in all of his performances, due in great part to the amount he immerses himself in every role. We’ll let you take it from here, Cameron.
In Amityville: The Awakening, you play James the comatose twin brother of Belle (played by Bella Thorne) who seems to be possessed by an evil entity. The trailer seems incredibly scary particularly the scenes where you torment your family. How did you prepare for this role? (Binged watched horror flicks such as the Poltergeist and The Exorcist?)
CM: Well, since the role is a homicidal vengeful spirit, there was only so much preparation I could do. Method acting essentially would’ve meant murdering my family, which is something I try to shy away from. However, music plays a huge role for me on-set. I tried to listen to extremely aggressive, chaotic music, similar to what I did when I was working on my character for Gotham, except less darkly humorous and more balls-to-the-wall Satanic. One interesting thing about that character is that he’s fully paralyzed for the majority of the film. We developed this shriveled fake prosthetic body to which my head was attached. My real body was hidden below the mattress through a hole in the bed. I decided to match my real body’s position to that of the false one and to not move or speak during filming. I wanted to understand the isolation, the trapped, claustrophobic nightmare that James had to endure for years. Let's talk about Shameless (it returns for its 7th Season in January 2017). This past season, Ian enters his first stable relationship with Caleb, both accepting Caleb’s HIV-positive status and his own bipolar disorder. We also see Ian take control of his struggles. Can we expect this stability to continue through the next season? How do you think the characters will handle each other’s conditions?
To be honest, I haven’t the foggiest idea! I prefer not to know what the plans are for my character on Shameless. That’s the great thing about working on a series, particularly this one, because it’s all about living truthfully within the context of the story over a long-period of time, developing and changing naturalistically. One of the overarching themes of the project is how characters are perpetually piecing their life together together from the carnage, the wreckage of what’s last happened to them only to have the rug pulled out again. But they’re strong and they carry on. I think that’s reflective of reality, we don’t know what the next bad thing will be, or how it will happen to us, we just do our best in spite. And Ian is tough and has a great heart, he always eventually gets up when beaten down, it’s the Gallagher way.
When you have to perform something darker how do you connect to that mood? Do you tend to draw from personal experience or do you draw from the moment?
Well, no one’s life is easy. Even if you grew up rich and coddled (which I notably didn’t), eventually difficult things will happen to you. Fate is the great equalizer in that way. So of course I’m going to understand a character’s experiences through the lens of my own, especially on an initial read. However, I tend to try to supplant my own thoughts, emotions, biases with that of the character and to really believe in the circumstances of the story. Behavior results naturally from there and if that doesn’t align with the script, then either there’s an issue with my approach or a problem with the writing. Either way it requires constant vigilance and revision.
You worked with our cover girl Zoey Deutch again in The Year of Spectacular Men, what was it like reuniting with her? Can you give teaser about your role in the film?
Zoey kicks ass. We had worked together on Vampire Academy and I was immediately struck by how crazy quick she was, she’s got a serious wit and presence. Spectacular was written by her awesome sister Maddie and directed by her equally awesome mom, Leah Thompson. I’ve been so lucky to work with badass ladies, my next two films are also to be directed by women.
But yeah, I received a text asking me if I’d like to be in it and I knew I would, before I had even read the script. Which, luckily, was great and hilarious. It’s a semi-autobiographical look at Maddie’s dating life and the men who comprise it. I play this guy who’s charming, wealthy, handsome even, with a colossal ego that leads to some cringe-y (and hopefully hilarious) interactions.
Tell us about your role in Mercy Street. What did you enjoy most about playing Tom Fairfax?
Tom is a wounded Confederate soldier in a Union hospital. He suffers from some serious PTSD in a time that completely lacked understanding of the illness. He’s seen and done some truly terrible things which he’s haunted by. He knows he’s unstable, so he hides from his young love Alice (played by Anna Sophia Robb.)
It was so fun playing with an old-school Southern accent. I love exploring things that are different from myself and there’s something lyrical and beautiful about that dialect’s intonations and inflections. I’d use it whenever we were on set, even when we weren’t filming, partly for consistency and partly because it was just so fun.
What motivates you the most in life?
Love. It’s all about passion, man. Love for my job, for my friends, for a girl, for learning new things. It’s all about wearing your heart on your sleeve and putting yourself out there. Throwing everything you have into something even if it means falling flat on your face and doing it all again. If you have a passion for something, even if it’s something I have no knowledge or interest in, I’ll like you, I’ll respect you. It’s humanity’s greatest gift.
You’re currently filming Son of Zorn, are you able to tell us anything about the project yet?
It’s a show produced by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, I’m a huge fan of their work and was dying to work on anything they touched. The project is batshit insane, it’s a completely live-action sitcom except for one character, Zorn, who is this animated He-Man kinda guy. I’ve done one episode so far, but I might be back for more, fingers crossed. It was such a pleasure to work with these massively talented comedic actors with backgrounds in sketch and standup. Much of the filming was improv-based and it was a huge learning experience going off-script with these guys who are just killers, who know how to tear-up a room.
Do you have a particular blueprint going into a project when first approaching a role or do you just act organically and let the character evolve as you the filming progresses?
I always, always have a game-plan on a film. I really need to know my guy. What are his mannerisms? His history? What makes him tick? Equally important is his arc. I need to mentally chart how he develops and changes over the story and then plot that out scene by scene. Films are not shot chronologically and if you’re just acting reactively when shooting out-of-order then, frankly, your performance is going to be a mess.
That being said, it’s important to leave flexibility. So much can change depending on so many unknown factors, like filming location and what other actors bring to a scene and you need to be able to adapt and react. That’s the secret isn’t it? Prepare as much as you can, then be willing to throw it all out the window. Leave room for the chaos of the present, the ghost in the machine.
What performance of yours has been your favorite? Do you feel each role you take on shapes you in some way?
Oh God, I have trouble even watching my own performances, never mind complimenting them. I will say that it was an utter joy and tremendous challenge to play Jerome in Gotham. He still sticks with me, sometimes new ideas come out from him on lonely, late nights. I’m not done with him I don’t think, or maybe he’s not done with me.
Yeah, they shape me in the same way making new friends shapes anyone. You get to know them as well as you can, try to understand and empathize with them. Then you get older, they move away, and you have to move on to new people. But they still live in you, they change how you understand others, how you define yourself.
It’s important not to get too comfortable as an artist—there has to be something at stake that keeps one growing. What for you is at stake when you act?
Well, acting is what I’ve known for most of my life, it’s my career, my passion. It’s what I know. It would be a waste to not keep progressing, wouldn’t it? It’s my internal conflict, my combustion engine, to keep challenging myself, to keep moving on to bigger, better, more ambitious things. While money, fans or fame are a really nice benefit of success in my field, it’s not really what’s driving me, you know? Performance is this puzzle I’m stuck on. At the end of the day, I don’t know anything else. I just want to work with people I respect, I want respect from my peers, and ultimately I just want to keep improving and make stuff I’m proud of.
How do you feel about social media’s role in Hollywood? Pros and cons of it?
Some people are really good at it, and I respect that. I don’t really “get it” though, I guess. I think it requires turning yourself into this marketable, public-friendly brand. I think some people are homogenizing and focus-testing their image for mass-consumption and gaming the system. Not to sound like a techno-hipster. I have social media and I find it really fun to see the things people I know or are a fan of are up to. It’s cool how connected we are and how the voice of the individual now, more than ever before, has this public platform of expression. I just mostly use it to share work-related articles and the odd stream-of-consciousness thought. But it’s kind of dangerous because sometimes you have this silly thing pop into your head and you forget it’s going to be broadcasted for the scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of people. Everyone reads into everything on the internet. Everyone is a critic.
How do feel about the whole life-in- a-fishbowl aspect of celebrity and becoming a famous actor?
I live a private life. I don’t really “dig” that whole celebrity lifestyle you could say. But I mean, I haven’t really struggled much with it so far. Then again, I wouldn’t call myself “famous”. Maybe that’ll change, I don’t know, I hope not. I don’t really go to the trendy spots to be seen, I don’t hang with people just because it would be good for my image. I like to dance, but I hate clubs and cameras and that particular nightlife scene. I just live my life and do the things that interest me.
What else can we expect in 2016?
I’m going to Paris next week to meet fans, but then I’m just gonna bounce around and explore Europe for a second I think. It’s cool because I’ve never had the time/freedom/funds to do that before. Then I work on season seven of Shameless. After that, I have two starring roles in a couple of cool indie films. From there, who knows? I want to move behind-the-camera to writing/directing soon, so maybe that. I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes me.