“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein
It isn’t every day I get to shave a celebrity before a photo shoot. I had the pleasure of grooming Cameron Monaghan because he literally just got off the plane from Paris, and didn’t have time to shave before racing to our shoot. Once the scruff was eradicated, we sat down together to do an interview ranging from his recent trip to Paris, to how he feels about kissing boys on camera, to pretending to blow up a bus load of cheerleaders. Strangely enough, all these things are normal for Cameron Monaghan, who is best known for his roles of Ian Gallagher on the hit series ‘Shameless’ and Jerome aka The Joker on ‘Gotham’. From the first moment I pulled out the razor for Cameron, I could tell this was a free spirit from the wicked sense of humor he displayed on set from the moment he got there. So here’s to late night adventures in forgotten cities, discussing the wild chaos within us and how we all are going through our ‘dark nights of the soul.’
Cameron Monaghan, Beyond Shameless
Justin Howard for Black Chalk – So where I like to start at is how you got into acting, and what different projects you are doing right now. We end with some fun random questions.
Cameron Monaghan – Cool, sounds good. I don’t like fun… Can we not have fun in this interview?
Justin Howard – Yes… We will keep it very serious.
Cameron Monaghan – That is the thing about interviews and press in general, I find I have way too much fun doing it. And I find that very disturbing…
Justin Howard – So do you want this to be more of a therapy session? I can take a confession…
Cameron Monaghan – Let me lay down on this couch now. You can get a little note pad to take notes, ask me how I feel about things and I think that would be great.
Justin Howard – You did just get back from Paris. Maybe you are a francophile?
Cameron Monaghan – Maybe, I do have some issues to work through. So lets get into it.
Justin Howard – So acting? You are between two roles on ‘Shameless’ and ‘Gotham’. Both series are known for their more violent episodes. But let’s back up a little bit. How did you get into acting? What was the moment you realized you could do it and that you wanted to do it?
Cameron Monaghan – I don’t know if there was a singular moment, or at least one I can remember since I started very, very young. I was in my first movie when I was 8. I was acting even younger then that. I was an ADD kid. I was never told I was ADD or anything like that. I just had a ton of energy. From a very young age I had to stand in the back of the classroom because I couldn’t sit down for long periods of time. I was that kid. I was the kid that the other parents hated.
Justin Howard – Oh, you mean the ‘Thank God, he isn’t my child’ sort of way?
Cameron Monaghan – Exactly! My mom wanted some sort of positive outlet for me and all my energy. Someone suggested trying acting, so she got me involved with a local community musical theater as well as modeling commercially. I took to that very well…
Justin Howard – Wait, wait. So, you have modeled before?
Cameron Monaghan – Technically, though I think at that age, modeling is more like “stand over there and try not to…”
Justin Howard – Wiggle?
Cameron Monaghan – Yes. Which is pretty much the same thing that I do now. It hasn’t really changed. That ended up being a very positive outlet for me. Once I was in my first movie, ‘Music Man’, on set for a few weeks in Toronto. I think she saw how much I really wanted to be on set. It was a really amazing great first experience. I have loved it ever since.
Justin Howard – Would you say your mom has been your number one supporter and advocate for you becoming an artist?
Cameron Monaghan – She has helped me with my career for my entire life. She was the one who got me involved, without her I wouldn’t have the career I do. I wouldn’t have started doing it until I was well over 18 and then who knows how that would have gone for me?
Justin Howard – Is she still involved in your career?
Cameron Monaghan – Yeah, to a certain extent. Not the same level now, as you get older you develop your own passion and love for it. You have your own ideas and goals. What you want for yourself.
Justin Howard – So you don’t have a momager?
Cameron Monaghan – Nothing like that. She has been my ally for a long time.
Justin Howard – You mentioned you started at a very young age with a role in a major motion picture. What has been your favorite role to date?
Cameron Monaghan – You know you get asked that a lot. It is a hard question to answer because it is like trying to choose your favorite child if you are a parent or your favorite pet, whatever.
Playing Jerome in ‘Gotham’ is an interesting opportunity because it is a character that is extremely close to my heart. I grew up reading comics and specifically Batman comics. That is my favorite villain in any sort of medium, written, film or otherwise.
Justin Howard – So you like playing a psychotic genius.
Cameron Monaghan – Yes, I guess so. I think there is something very attractive there in its ugliness. There is a beauty in the ugliness of that character. The purity of how awful he is. I don’t know if that is my favorite, but it was extremely difficult. Something I found attractive about it, about the role, was the amount of pressure I put on myself because I was playing to an audience in a role that is known. The role has a precedent set by incredible actors. Beyond that It has been a pleasure playing Ian Gallagher on ‘Shameless’ for 7 years. Being with a character that long is such a unique thing. That is something truly incredible about being able to experience a character for that long. You grow with the character and come to really understand them in the long term. Normally you never have the opportunity as an actor to be able to do it.
Justin Howard – Let’s get back to your favorite villain on ‘Gotham’. You talk about the beauty within the ugliness of the character. That harsh reality that becomes almost an art form when you portray it. A lot of actors draw from their own experiences to find an emotional resonance with the character. To give it reality, to breathe themselves into that shell, to give it life. What moments have you drawn from your own life to use as a starting point for the character, a place to dive in from?
Cameron Monaghan – Sure, I think Jerome and the Joker character are kind of the unmitigated extreme ends of passion. What these characters are, are pure chaos and a lust for it. There is a desire for destruction. There is a desire to throw every bit of order and authority away, and destroy it. I think we all have something in us, at least a little bit, a least a spark of this emotion. I know sitting in LA traffic for two hours every day, there are moments when I am literally screaming expletives to myself and imagining that if all these cars should just blow up in front of me and I could just drive through I would probably feel ok about that. Especially in that moment. Everyone has these instincts but we are human and moral. We have a conscience, an ego that stops us from indulging in these terrible instincts. What happens if you don’t have that? What happens if you don’t have that filter? That is what this character is to me. That is a joy to play because there is unrivaled freedom in that. You can do anything. The ends are open, so within a scene it can go any place, any time. That is something exciting and challenging at the same time because how do you control that? How do you keep that on track, not just let it devolve into ridiculousness. Maybe I am not the right person to say that because obviously I’m biased. That was the challenge of the character.
Justin Howard – I love how you talk about extremes. About passion. How we all moments want to blow something up and just giggle as it burns.
Cameron Monaghan – Of course! That is what makes that character so memorable. There are those moments in the story you know. The perfect image of that is in the ‘Dark Knight’, where the Joker burns a huge pile of money. I think everybody somehow, someway, deep down wants that. Wants to be able to feel that freedom. There is a strange lure to such freedom where you don’t care at all. He doesn’t care about his own mortality. There is nothing that he cares about. Which is horrifying, but also strangely attractive as an idea. Not in reality.
Justin Howard – I love how you put that!
Cameron Monaghan – I need to say that he is a hideous, terrible person. There is nothing redeeming about Jerome. But that is part of what makes him interesting.
Justin Howard – It reminds me of that moment in ‘Kill Bill’, where Uma Thurman is going to kill those Yakuza in the Japanese club. It is that moment of nearly perfect, beautiful violence. Talking about beautiful violence, what was your favorite scene to do with Jerome? That scene where you literally made it your own, your trademark.
Cameron Monaghan – There are a couple. One is where it feels pulled directly from the comics because Gotham is a heightened reality, it is not our world. It is a little ridiculous, and I love the ridiculousness of it. He kidnaps a bus full of cheerleaders and tries to set it on fire. Which is straight out of the comics, which is so ludicrous and great. That was a joy to be able to play. As an actor, what was interesting to do was the third episode in the second season. He has a captive audience where he is performing this magic show. What was cool about that was we had a few days where I was on a stage in front of a couple hundred extras, literally a captive audience there. I could do whatever the hell I wanted, and did! I loved watching the confusion of people as they were trying to understand this in context of what was going on. It was great! I got to perform actual magic tricks I learned after studying with a magician beforehand. There was something about being in full suit regalia, wearing the green and purple, and embracing the showman and performer aspect of that character.
Justin Howard – With this character, there is darkness. When you are on a series, when you are filming for months at a time, you have to be in that character most of the time. How do you switch it off? How do you go from being on set almost killing cheerleaders to ‘Oh, I am back to being Cameron?’ What is that process like for you?
Cameron Monaghan – It has to do with having a good support group of friends and people you trust who allow you to be yourself, and to decompress with them. Who are non-judgmental, who understand and embrace the wackiness of the person. You play a character like that and obviously it is heightened. It was extremely stressful and it played with me a little more in certain aspects. I will say I didn’t sleep very well as we were filming. I probably never slept more then one to two hours a night. I think that was both the excitement and the anxiety of playing that kind of character. It was a ‘good’ anxiety. It was an anxiety that drove me. It is exciting to play something that you care that much about. During that production, and when I am playing a character that is near and dear to me, I tend to stay pretty much within it for the time being. As much as possible. I do isolate a little bit. I am watching things that inspires me in some way, and I am reading things that inspire. As soon as we wrap, I try to let it all go and do the things I love. To live life.
Justin Howard – For this role, what was the number one thing that inspired you?
Cameron Monaghan – First and foremost, I went into the comics. I read as many Joker comics as I could. whether they were Batman stories, or stories he was just involved in. I watched a lot of the animated series. Mark Hamill, his performance of that part, his voice work was a direct inspiration to me for the character. From there, it was just about finding bits and pieces that inspired me. Animal documentaries, watching a snake’s stare before it strikes at prey. Watching ‘A Clock Work Orange,’ Music is a huge inspiration for me. I find it is the easiest access I have to a certain emotion or feeling.
Justin Howard – What is the Joker soundtrack?
Cameron Monaghan – It wasn’t one song. I created a playlist of 50 songs that were wildly varying in tone. What I was going for was the schizophrenia. Keeping it completely off balance. One moment it would be ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ the next it would be Norwegian death metal. It would be old school aggressive hip hop, it was trying to embrace the spectrum of emotion. It was keeping aggressive and humorous.
Justin Howard – It sounds like you were going for a manic feel.
Cameron Monaghan – Definitely a manic feel. Between scenes and takes, I would have my iPod on me and just listen, to keep within that vibe.
Justin Howard – Let’s leave the Joker in the closet for the moment. The new season of ‘Shameless’ is upon us. You have played this character for 7 years. What is one thing that playing this character has added to your life?
Cameron Monaghan – I find Ian to be a tremendously empathetic character. He cares about his family, he cares about people. He cares about succeeding, and wanting to become something, to break out of where he came from. He is a person who really does care about stuff. That is what I find really interesting about him, he is vulnerable. He is not traditionally cool, he fails a lot. He doesn’t always succeed.
Justin Howard – He is a little offbeat.
Cameron Monaghan – He is a little offbeat. He is quiet, He is the guy you root for because he does care, he doesn’t succeed and he gets kicked down a lot. Like most of the Gallaghers do. The Gallaghers are people who fight. Who fight, fight and fight. They get knocked down but they keep getting up. There is something about Ian, that I hopefully see within myself and others I admire…
Justin Howard – Is that perseverance?
Cameron Monaghan – I think it is perseverance. He has that flame, that dark night of the soul, those dark moments. He has almost given up, he has been on the edge before. He was in the thick of it, with his depression and his bi-polar disorder. He lost his boyfriend, his career, and almost his dreams. He was in this dark moment and that was one time where it was that almost that one time where it nearly completely broke him. It is great seeing him pull himself out of it.
Justin Howard – It seems like one lesson the audience can draw from this character is that every day is a dark night of the soul. Your job is to just keep going.
Cameron Monaghan – We have no other option. The Gallaghers know it sucks, they know it is awful. But they just say “Fuck You, if you get in my way!” That is who they are. It is a lot of fun. I make it sound so dire, but it is a pleasure.
Justin Howard – You have a built a family with that cast too.
Cameron Monaghan – Of course. Not just the cast, but the crew as well. These are people I have been working with for 7 years, many of them have remained with us since the pilot episode. It is a tremendous pleasure working with people that you not only like, but also respect as well. It is fantastic.
Justin Howard – I want to talk about Ian for a moment. When you are playing him, you are playing a character who is different from your own sexuality. How do you find that experience?
Cameron Monaghan – I don’t find it different than playing any other character, you know. It is not playing a different sexuality, because that’s such a broad spectrum for me. It is about playing a relationship between specific characters and trying to embrace what is happening within each scene on a scene-by-scene basis. One of the huge factors was Ian and Mickey’s relationship and working with Noel Fisher who is extremely talented. We had a good rapport on camera and a chemistry. It is always trying to find what is authentic and genuine within a scene.
Justin Howard – Do you find, as you say, having ‘good chemistry’ in that scene, it’s easier to portray that?
Cameron Monaghan – Absolutely, having good chemistry is always going to help during filming. Acting is not a single player game. It is about trying to be as generous as possible. In trying to provide for the other person. And usually in providing for the other person, the scene becomes better and you become better. You can’t kill a scene. You can’t walk in and say “I am going to kick some ass in this scene.” At the end of the day you have to give to other people and hope that they give back. You hope the editor supports you, you hope the director supports you. Hopefully, hopefully if all these numerous factors come together, you create something that works. That feels real and is captivating.
Justin Howard – I always like to ask that question because I have interviewed gay actors who play the straight roles, and straight actors who play gay roles. It is always interesting because they all talk about in that moment of being the character, you aren’t yourself. You are the character.
Cameron Monaghan – Hopefully, you try to be. You try to emphasize certain parts of yourself and put down the volume on other aspects of your personality. You are always coming from your own experiences, your own emotional base. Whatever that is, you are trying to find how that relates to the current situation.
Justin Howard – Let’s get to the fun questions…
Cameron Monaghan – I told you no fun allowed!
Justin Howard – You like to travel. You recently spent a month in Paris.
Cameron Monaghan – I spent the last three weeks in Paris and Denmark as well.
Justin Howard – What was your favorite experience from this trip?
Cameron Monaghan – I think it was going the Musee de l’Orangerie which has a large collection of Monet paintings. I really love Impressionists. It was really great going there. I was with a friend who I had met just the day before and we went around the city. It was kinda of this whirlwind fun trip of ‘we just had coffee and the Louvre is right across from us.’ That is the great thing about Paris, is that there is so much history. You can turn almost any corner and find amazing things.
Justin Howard – You mentioned earlier you had eaten Foie Gras and liked it.
Cameron Monaghan – Foie Gras, caviar, pretty much all the cliche French foods. It was all delicious. I was eating too much baguette and cheese. So I have to get back into fitness mode now.
Justin Howard – Favorite destination you have traveled to so far?
Cameron Monaghan – I spent three months in Cape Town, South Africa. I think I have spent a total of nine months there. I shot a couple movies there when I was younger, but most recently I shot ‘The Giver’ there a couple years ago. That was fantastic, I love the vibe of Cape Town. It is so similar, yet so foreign. It is almost like Los Angeles, but it is big.
Justin Howard – But they have wild baboons in the city. They break into your house looking for food.
Cameron Monaghan – Yes, they have baboons. They have amazing mountains, cultures and things. But isn’t that amazing? I went to Berlin when I was younger and I loved the nexus between the new and the old. The amount of history and yet how young the city felt. Among the destruction of the ‘40s, the Cold War and the rebuilding of it now. There is something so beautiful and tragic about that place that I really want to explore.
Justin Howard – Have you ever read ‘Christopher and His Kind’?’
Cameron Monaghan – No, should I?
Justin Howard – Yes, you should.
Cameron Monaghan – Who is it written by?
Justin Howard – Christopher Isherwood. He lived in Berlin in the 20s through the 40s, and came to the US right before WWII. He came of age in the cosmopolitan Berlin we all see, and love in our minds. He lived in that era, right until the Nazis came in. Because he was a homosexual, and he worked in the nightclubs, he had to flee. He came to Hollywood, became a film writer. But that book is Berlin at its best.
Cameron Monaghan – I will have to check that out.
Justin Howard – Craziest night out?
Cameron Monaghan – Craziest night out….
Justin Howard – Most adventurous night out?
Cameron Monaghan – Speaking of South Africa, I met this family. I really can’t remember where I met them. I met this family in Cape Town, I had a traditional dinner with them, where they make… It is kinda a BBQ, but they wrap and bury the fish. That was really fun and amazing. They had two daughters that were around my age and so we had a whirlwind night. We met up with their friends and they showed me all these secret spots. Like a mountain they climb up to look over the city and we went to these Olympic pools. We snuck in and went swimming and skinny dipping there. I mean, why not? We went to the beach. We went to all these places. I got to see a side of the city I had no idea that existed. I love, I love spontaneity and whirlwind nights that come out of nowhere and you meet interesting people. I don’t know if that is my craziest night out, but it is my most memorable.
Justin Howard – Favorite fashion piece that you always have with you?
Cameron Monaghan – I am all about a good pair of boots. It is just something you can do anything in. You can kick some ass, you can run in them. Some comfortable pair that also looks good with a pair of jeans. I don’t know if I have a trademark yet…
Justin Howard – Maybe boots and denim… I heard something about Levis?
Cameron Monaghan – I do wear a lot of Levis. This interview isn’t sponsored by Levis, but it is true they are the only denim I will wear. Shout out to Levis.
Justin Howard – Cocktail? Favorite?
Cameron Monaghan – Yes, I find that an Old Fashioned is the litmus test of any bartender. It’s not that difficult a drink, but it can be made poorly fairly easily.
Justin Howard – It can be a tragedy.
Cameron Monaghan – It can be horrible. They can use the wrong whiskey, the wrong bitters. There are a million ways an Old Fashioned can go wrong, but when it is right it is fantastic. I love go to a bar and start off with an Old Fashioned.
Justin Howard – Your favorite whiskey?
Cameron Monaghan – Hmmmm. I am trying to move into the realm of Scotch. But I am finding everyone is such a purist with their knowledge. Their preference for peatiness, and all these different factors. It is a bit overwhelming. I am trying to figure it out because I really like whiskey.
Justin Howard – Anything we should keep our eyes open for?
Cameron Monaghan – Yes, I am about to start filming a new young adult series produced by Stephanie Meyers, of Twilight. It will start filming shortly in Vancouver.