Those who have seen The Dark Knight (and if you haven’t, consider this your spoiler alert!), may recognize Monique Curnen as the actress who plays the two-timing Latina cop who succumbs to the dark side and tricks Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart) into a fatal trap. Now that the plot twist has been revealed, the indie actress talks to us about how she kept her pivotal role a secret, what it was like working with Heath Ledger, and if rumors of her playing the next Catwoman are true.
When we saw you in The Dark Knight, we realized Nestor Carbonell isn’t the only Latino with a significant role in the film. Where did you grow up?
My mom’s Puerto Rican. She came from San Germán, Puerto Rico, to the Bronx when she was 15, and didn’t speak a lick of English. She met my dad, who’s of Irish and German descent, in Yonkers. They fell in love, and the rest is history. They moved to the Boston, MA area, so that’s where my siblings and I grew up. And we all grew up playing instruments. I played the clarinet, and I’d go hear my brothers play in the band that accompanied the musicals at school, and I was just transported, and I said, ‘I want to do that!’ I did act highschool, but not so much in college, because I felt like I needed to choose a “practical” career. But my parents have always been supportive and encouraging, so I moved to New York after college, and started auditioning and taking acting classes.
Your first major role was in “Half Nelson” as a school teacher who plays Ryan Gosling’s love interest. How did you land that role?
Oh, that’s a funny story. Actually, it’s not that funny. (Laughs) I was working on a theater project in New York with this writer named Joshua Marston, and he said to me ‘I’m developing this screenplay about a drug mule from Colombia, and you should audition for that since you’re bilingual. And that was Maria Full of Grace, and he ended up being the director. And I got this small role playing the receptionist at this clinic. That film was a labor of love for a lot of people, and I was so happy to be a part of it. So the executive producer of Maria Full of Grace was working on Half Nelson, and I had already gone in to audition for the part, and he had no idea, but wanted me to be in the film. So I had already gotten a callback by the time he got in touch with me. And I wound up booking the part, and that was big for me.
How did it feel transitioning from an independent film like “Half Nelson” to a big-budget Hollywood film like “The Dark Knight”?
It’s a striking contrast. The Dark Knight was massive. I saw only a small fraction of a huge piece of the pie that was being created. I mean, they were shooting in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong. The stunts alone are beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Half Nelson felt like a family gathering of sorts, like Thanksgiving. The Dark Knight feels like you’re in this massive enterprise. Yet, I will say that the director, Christopher Nolan and his wife, producer Emma Thomas, and his brother, Jonathan Nolan –who and co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay–make you feel very comfortable and make you feel like you’re an integral part of what’s going on.
How did you end up landing the role?
Just the old fashion way of auditioning. And I was just waiting and wondering. And I asked my manager to keep inquiring, because I had seen all of Chris’ films, and had a great respect for him, and I had strong resonance with his aesthetic and for the kinds of stories he was telling. So I got a call one day saying, ‘Hey, you got a call back in Chicago, if you can get yourself there.’ And I was like ‘Of course I can get myself there!’ (laughs). And so the afternoon after I went for the callback, I found out I got the part.
Tell us how it was working with Heath Ledger and how it was watching him on set…He was a really great guy. You meet people and they have a certain spark about them. He very much loved his music, he’d bring his iPod with him, and the makeup trailer was usually rockin’ if Heath was around, which was a really nice way to start the day. I think that’s what was so great about his performance, is how much he plays. He walks that fine line of play and danger. To see him just hanging out in the make-up trailer, and then to see him transform physically –how he carried himself and talked–was just remarkable.
Is it hard watching the film knowing that he’s passed away?
You know, I’ve seen the movie a couple of times, and he’s so present and there on screen. I don’t think about him being gone when I watch the movie. It was more in the festivities surrounding the premieres that I felt like he was really missing.
In “The Dark Knight”, you play a two-timing cop that double-crosses Harvey Dent, and you had to keep it a secret so that you wouldn’t spoil the plot?
Was it driving you crazy that you had this pivotal role that you couldn’t tell anyone about?
(Laughs) It was actually kind of fun having a secret that you knew would come out, and to see people react and be like ‘No way!’ I felt like her situation –going to the dark side out of desperation to help her family–is what a lot of people can go through on any given day, especially during these hard economic times. So it was interesting playing her with that in mind. I was glad Harvey Dent’s coin flipped in my favor and that my character wasn’t killed off. My family didn’t expect to see me so much, and didn’t know I was so pivotal in the plot twist, and they wanted to know more about why my character turned bad, and hopefully there will be other opportunities to build on those questions.
Do you mean the rumors going around that you may be the next Catwoman? Is that true?
Oh lord. (she rolls her eyes) Wow! You’re kidding? (laughs) I think that’s a phenomenal idea, but it’s absolutely false! (laughs) That is a full-blown rumor. Seriously, that would be such a fascinating and fun role to play with. But I don’t know if that’s a character that the Nolan brothers would consider or be interested in, because she’s a different kind of villain compared to the Joker or these other bad guys. So, no, there’s been no discussion or plan of any sort. But, hey, if there’s enough demand for it, maybe Warner Bros. will consider it. Why not, right?
So what are you up to next?
Well, I did two independent films in the interim, and I just finished shooting a pilot for ABC in New York that’s called The Unusuals, and I play a cop. So it was interesting to be the tough girl again, and it was fun to spend some time with real NYPD cops, and hear their stories, and spend some time talking to the detectives. It’s a really cool mix of comedy and drama, and it would shoot in New York, so I’d get to move back here, ’cause I still live in L.A. now. I’d love to work on TV, but I love the freedom and flexibility that film allows too.
Do you ever worry about getting stereotyped as the token Latina in films?
It’s funny that you say that, ’cause my dad told me recently that he’d like to see me doing something else other than a tough Latina role. Because it’s almost like ‘tough’ and ‘Latina’ go hand in hand. You know, we’re portrayed as survivors, providers, and pillars of the household, which may be true, but we’re more complex than that.