Created by Michael Petroni, the Netflix original series Messiah follows CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan), as she uncovers information about a man (Mehdi Dehbi) who’s gaining attention all over the world because some believe him to be the Messiah. As Eva digs deeper into the origins of Al-Masih and her sole focus becomes determining whether he’s really a divine entity or a con man, his followers claim him to be a miracle worker.
At the Los Angeles press day for the new series, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actress Michelle Monaghan about why she was so drawn to this series, what made her love her character, the isolation of being so focused in your mission, why her character is so inherently skeptical, what makes this a fun show to watch, and how everyone can relate to the desire to find what you’re searching for in life. She also talked about what drew her to the reboot of The Craft, how writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones nailed this new take on the story, and her desire to embrace all new opportunities in her career.
Collider: Did you know just how full-on this series would be, when you signed on?
MICHELLE MONAGHAN: It’s pretty full-on. I have to be honest, I think that’s what really compelled me to do it. It’s very rare that you get to read the 10 episodes, all in one go, and I did. I really thought that I wasn’t ready to go back and do something, but then I read the first episode and I thought, “Wow, this is really good.” And then, I read the second and third. At the end of it, I said, “Okay, I’m obviously doing it.” I think what struck me was that it was very suspenseful, as I was reading it, and I loved the global scope of it. I also loved that it had multiple perspectives and that it was a very international cast. A main driver for me was that it wasn’t just a Western point of view. I thought that was really important. And above all of that, of course, I loved the character of Eva. I thought she was very complex and, in a lot of ways, lived somewhat of a double life. She appears to be very with it, very confident, and uncompromising, but she’s so uncompromising that she’s actually a very lonesome person who’s living a very insular existence. I was excited to get to explore that, as well.
You’re really given a sense of what she’s had to sacrifice and give up, and what she’s been put through, to do this job that she does.
MONAGHAN: Agreed. She has a very dogmatic way, the way that she pursues her life. It’s either right or wrong, and it’s black or white. And then, you start to see the ways in which having lived that way and walking through life that way has effected her in a very sad way.
MONAGHAN: Yeah, it’s a very isolating thing, and I love that she is so confident in needing to find out the truth about who this person is because it’s a real distraction from her having to confront her own truth, and what’s really going on with her, and the loss that she’s experienced, in her own life.
She’s someone who is pretty skeptical about what’s going on, from the beginning.
MONAGHAN: Yes, 100%.
Is that just because of her background and experience? Has she just learned that that’s the best way to be about things, in general?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, I believe so. She is someone who really just sees him as a complete disruptor and a con man, and someone that understands the power of social media. She sees the viral threat, where he can ignite fear in people and ignite large groups of society. That is really her biggest fear.
It’s easy to understand why you would be skeptical, if somebody shows up and everyone is saying that they’re the Messiah.
MONAGHAN: Yeah, that feels pretty unbelievable. I had the opportunity to find these moments, especially when she and Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi) are in the same room together and he starts to see cracks in her exterior, and he forces her to confront the past. You start to see the power of who he is. What I think is so interesting about that character is that he never claims to be anything. I think that’s really important. He never claims to be the Messiah. That’s people projecting onto him. What he does do, though, is that he forces everybody to reflect about themselves. I think that’s the interesting journey of that character, and that’s the interesting thing about the show. Also, what’s fun about the show is that, if you watch it with another person, their takeaway is gonna be much different then your takeaway. My husband felt completely different about him than I did. Even I, as an actor who knew what was happening in the show, to see the way it was played and to see my fellow actors do such brilliant and powerful work, what I thought, initially, was changed, over the course of having watched the 10 episodes. That’s a testament to everybody in the show and to (show creator) Michael [Petroni], for telling a really intricately woven story.
There’s something really brilliant about the fact that you can watch this and not feel judged by whatever decisions you make or whatever you feel about it. It feels like it’s okay and safe to have whatever opinion you have.
MONAGHAN: That’s true. You touched on something that I also really value, in this show. The connective tissue of the show is that people are searching, everywhere. No matter where you are or what corner of the world that you live in, we’re all looking for something. Someone is looking for hope. Someone is looking for actual physical freedom, health, safety, and salvation. Depending on the viewer and what kind of life experience they’ve had, you will connect to one of the characters. And undoubtedly, as you move through the 10 episodes, you will see that your opinions of that character will change, as well as your opinions and your perceptions of the other characters.
What was it like to work with such an international and diverse cast on this?
MONAGHAN: I’ve gotta tell you, that was one of the things that drove me to do it. It was so inspiring to see such a multi-cultural cast, with a multitude of perspectives and belief systems. Netflix is the perfect home for something like this. It’s gonna debut in 190 countries. We speak English, Arabic and Hebrew in it. It’s a dynamic show, in that sense, and it’s representative of a lot of people, throughout the world. I think people will really appreciate that.
From looking at your Instagram, you can tell that you’ve been having fun on The Craft, as well. What was that like, and what drew you to that?
MONAGHAN: That was such a surprise. I have such a girl crush on Zoe Lister-Jones. She’s such a triple threat to me because she can write, direct and act. I really respect her, and respect her voice. She was a huge fan of The Craft and she wanted to re-imagine it, and that’s exactly what she did. She’s come in and really re-imagined something that’s very timely, very contemporary, very cool, and modern, with Jason Blum, who’s a fantastic producer. He was someone that I also wanted to work with. So, we’ve just wrapped that up.
Is it scary to take on a reboot of something like that?
MONAGHAN: Yes, it is, actually. And I never would have, if it wasn’t so darn good. She nailed it. It’s really, really good, and we’ve got some wonderful actresses, playing some witches. It’s great. It’s so up my alley. I absolutely love it.
Is it nice to have a balance between such different projects, and is that something that you strive for?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, it is. Absolutely! If you look at my career, as a whole, so far, it encompasses all genres, big productions and small little indies, which are my heart. It’s important to me to continue doing different things that explore different areas of myself and who I am. I like lotions and potions. That’s actually really fun stuff for me. And to get to work with fresh new voices, like Zoe, with an all female cast, a female DP, and a female producer. That was really refreshing, to get to have that experience. I like to embrace all new opportunities, creatively and on the production side of things.
Messiah is available to stream at Netflix on January 1st.