In the new Syfy Films release Atomica, Dominic Monaghan plays Robinson Scott, one of two caretakers at a remote near-future power plant where the communications have gone offline. A safety inspector (Sarah Habel) sent to investigate finds Scott to be not quite in control of his sanity, the other caretaker (Tom Sizemore) missing, and the plant itself dangerously on the edge of a meltdown.
Atomica takes the very real issues associated with nuclear power and projects them into the future, where a more mysterious form of energy is harnessed to provide a resource-starved world with the power it needs. The movie was shot in a real abandoned nuclear missile silo, giving it an extra air of eeriness, while Monaghan delivers a performance that may be quite unsettling for fans who know him best as Merry Brandybuck from The Lord of the Rings or Charlie Pace in Lost.
We caught up with Monaghan on the phone recently to talk about making Atomica (on which he is also an executive producer), how its themes fit into his own view of the world and his recent reunion with the members of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Syfy Wire: What grabbed you about this story and/or this character when it first came your way?
Dominic Monaghan: The same thing that grabs you on any project like this. It's always about the script. I always choose projects based on a good story and is there something about the character that's new, that hasn't been done before? Exploring new stuff will hopefully allow you to grow different facets of your skills as an actor. As I was reading the script, I didn't know what was going to happen next and it was a captivating read. So that's what gets me going -- how's the writing?
You're also an executive producer on the movie. Did you like the story enough that you wanted to take that role as well?
I came onto the project relatively early, and I told those guys that if they wanted me to have a little bit more control over what happened with the film, then allow me to produce it with them. Then I could maybe go find cast members and work out how to block those cast members in terms of scheduling and where they'd want to stay and what they'd want to eat and represent what the actors would want. They agreed and I brought them Sarah Habel and Tom Sizemore. Then we worked out how each actor liked to work and what worked for each actor. I think that was my abilities as a producer on that film.
Is producing something that you have a taste for in terms of expanding outside of acting? I know you've produced a few things already. As you go forward, is that something you think you'd like to take a more active role in?
Yeah. I've produced quite a few things now. I did produce three years in a TV show with another production company. My feelings have always been, if I'm going to be on set and I'm going to be asked these questions anyway, then I may as well get paid for it. People are always going to say, "Should we do this? Should we go here? Where should we put the camera? What type of shot do we want to get?" I enjoy it. I enjoy problem solving and I really like this business. It's about being as immersed in it as possible.
You filmed this partly in an actual abandoned nuclear missile silo. Where was that and what was that like?
It was a place called Moses Lake in Washington State. It was about 56 degrees underground all the time. Obviously, we had no issues with any change of light because we were deep underground with no sunlight at all. I really enjoyed it. Very long catacombs and caves. Some people found that a bit spooky, but I love caving and I love the pitch black. It's easy for me as an actor to be involved with something that doesn't require a huge amount of acting because you're just having the experience, you know?
Anything down there that surprised you or that creeped you out?
No, nothing creeped me out, but there were some cool animals down there. There were a whole bunch of bats down there, which we actually feature in the film a couple times. There was an owl, which every so often you got the opportunity to see. Lots of tiny little insects, silverfish, cockroaches and stuff.
I read that this particular silo was activated twice in the course of its history as a live launching site.
That's right. It felt like it had been abandoned for a long time, that place. It didn't feel like it was something that was going to be up and running any time soon. The place itself, Moses Lake, was a little desolate because there's not a huge amount going on there. At one point, the town obviously had a huge amount of people working at the nuclear base, but at this point, there wasn't a huge amount of industry there, so that was an interesting thing to see.
What to your thinking does the film say in terms of our dependence on energy that we may or may not have any control over or that may be more dangerous for us than we realize?
I think it's a question of responsibility. If we are going to harness that type of energy, who's responsible for it and what happens if some of those particular responsible people don't have their heads screwed on straight? Who ends up paying the price for that? Nuclear energy can be extremely clean and extremely powerful and economical if configured in the right way. There's obviously been some catastrophic disasters over the years due to human error and we have to make sure that those type of things can't happen again.
Does telling this sort of story dovetail with the other stuff that you do, your own personal activism on behalf of animals and the environment? Is it all a shared theme in a way?
Yeah. Obviously, I am interested in the environment. I'm interested in a cleaner environment that works in balance with everything around it. We as a species, unfortunately, effect a huge amount of negative change on the environment and create a huge amount of waste and don't seem to be that good at cleaning it up. There are other animals in the environment that create some waste, most of it organic waste, but they live much more in balance with the planet. There's this strange disconnect that because we think it's our planet and the animals are living alongside us, that we can do whatever we wanted. We aren't the bosses. Nature is the boss and after a certain amount of time, we'll probably get scraped off the planet and all the creatures that are a little bit more responsible in the choices that they make will live on without us.
Switching topics, some photos surfaced in January from the reunion dinner that some of the Fellowship of the Ring had. What brought you guys together? Did you just all happen to be in that same town at the same time?
We actually hang out all the time. It's not really that much of a big deal. I see Billy (Boyd) all the time and Elijah (Wood) and Orlando (Bloom) and Viggo (Mortensen). Those guys are just friends. Viggo was in town for the Oscars because he was nominated for an Oscar and we said, "We'd love to spend at least some time just celebrating your nomination and patting you on the back." He said, "All right. Let's do it." We ended up meeting in a bar and toward the end of the night, I said, "Look, let's get a picture because even though for us, it's not that much of a big deal, it might be fun for the fans of those movies to realize that we're all still friends and we all still enjoy hanging out with each other.
Would you say that that's fairly unusual in the business to stay that close 15 years later?
I would say it's quite unusual. Being on some sets creates a very intense friendship with people and you kid yourself that you're going to be best friends with everyone that you meet on a film set because you're working long hours, you're sharing extremely profound experiences, very intense experiences, and very intense scenes. In terms of implementing that into your life, it's rare that those people stick around for any more than maybe six months to a year. To know these people for 15 years, and so many of them, is definitely a unique experience.
When you meet fans, I imagine that a lot of them want to speak to you about The Lord of the Rings or Lost. What's the most surprising thing that you can recall a fan ever wanting to speak to you about -- something that maybe was not as well-known or a little bit more under the radar?
There's some people that I've met that only know me from an Eminem video that I did, that will just talk to me about that. Obviously, I don't say to them, "Oh, I've done this and I've done that as well," because that's nonsense. People will just say, "Oh my God, you're that guy from the Eminem video." I'll say, "Yeah, I was in the Eminem video." They're like, "That's great. It's such a great video. What are you doing now? Are you still working?" I'll be like, "Yeah, I work every so often." I think that that's great that there are some people that are such huge Eminem fans that they eat up everything that he does and that's the way they got to be exposed to me. Those moments are really joyful.
What's up next for you?
I'm developing a new show with Billy Boyd about the history of food, the economics of food, the cultures of food around the world. I'm in the process of getting that bought by someone, so that we can go out and start telling those stories.
Atomica is out in theaters and available on VOD now.