Seth is lonely and in love—a potent combination that leads him to kidnap and cage Holly, the woman of his obsession, in the new horror film Pet. Written by Jeremy Slater (The Exorcist TV series), Pet stars Dominic Monaghan in a role that's equal parts chilling and heartfelt.
With the cleverly unnerving movie coming out on VOD and in theaters December 2nd from Orion Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Films, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Monaghan about the film's 10+ year journey to the big screen, making Seth a believable character, and what's on the horizon for the talented actor, including a TV show that Monaghan is developing with his Lord of the Rings co-star Billy Boyd.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me today, and congrats on Pet, which has phenomenal performances—yourself included. I love this character that you play, Seth. It's so much different from what people might expect from you. What attracted you to this role when you first read the screenplay by Jeremy Slater?
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah, it's a great script. That's where it all comes from with me. If there's any through line in terms of a trend, a predictive trend, with the projects that I pick, it's just scripts. I always pick what I consider to be good scripts. Obviously, if you look at my past work, Lord of the Rings has a great script, Lost has a great script, [X-Men Origins:] Wolverine was a great script, I Sell the Dead was a great script. This thing that I'm doing at the moment, A Midsummer's Nightmare, there's a great script. It all begins at that.
I can easily say "no" to a project if the script isn't great, but when the script is good, then I start asking the other questions. Who's going to direct it? Who's the creator? Who are the actors? When are we shooting? Where is it shooting? All that kind of stuff. With Pet, it's been with me for a long time. I actually read the script in-between seasons one and two of Lost, which is a long time ago now, probably ten years ago. We were going to do it in the downtime between seasons one and two, but there ended up being a writers strike, so we couldn't do it.
Then, by the time it came around again, the actress that we were going to do the script with had got pregnant, so we couldn't do it with her, and we were looking around for other people, and it just took a while to get going. It's a bit of a scary script, and I think some people that read the script that we wanted to play Holly said, "Oh no, it's too brutal, it's too nasty." It takes a certain actress to play that character, and Ksenia [Solo]'s our person. She's fantastic and brave and smart, and ended up putting in a great performance. I knew that if we got a good actress, and I was going to put in as good a performance as I was hoping to give, then we might have something quite special.
I love that you mentioned Ksenia, because you and her have some really powerful scenes together, and great exchanges of dialogue, and a game of chess is played between you two. Did you have a lot of time to rehearse together before filming began, or was it more by the seat of your pants?
Dominic Monaghan: We only had one day to rehearse, but it was a long day. We were in there from 9:00 till 8:00, but I knew right away that it was going to work out fine with Ksenia, because she goes for it, and I like doing that, too. I like really pushing it. Also, my best takes aren't necessarily take five or take six. My best takes are usually take two. By the time we'd rehearse one and then we shot one, that next take is really, to me, my favorite. I like to work fast and I like to work intensively.
Ksenia seemed to be the same. I also hadn't hung out with her quite a lot. When we were on set together, I was with her all the time getting to know her, and then at the weekend there were a few opportunities for us to hang out and we took them. It was easy to imagine that she could be someone that the character that I was playing would become obsessed by, because Ksenia is beautiful and talented and smart and a great actor and likes the things that I like. She likes movies and she likes music and all that kind of stuff. It was pretty easy.
[Potential spoiler warning.] I have to mention Jennette McCurdy, who is so good in the role of Claire. What was it like for you to film those scenes where she was in the room, but Seth couldn't see her? Was it fun to have that added psychological element to the scene?
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah, Jennette's great. She's really a lovely person, and she really showed up on the film, which is cool. She got a great look. I think she'll surprise a lot of people, because obviously she's not known for being in these types of movies, but she's a grown adult, and she's making good choices in that regard. She's really great in the film.
In that particular scene, and when she's in the scenes that I don't see her, I just didn't reference her at all. I knew that she was coming in on set, but I didn't really chat with her, I didn't do anything, and I told her that I was going to do that. I just said, "Look, we're doing scenes where I don't see you. I'm just not going to engage with you at all," and she was like, "Yeah, that's cool. Do whatever you want." We did it like that, and then when the scene wrapped, we could have an opportunity to chat and stuff. She's a bit of a red herring in the film, and she played it perfectly.
You have your show, Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan, and you're a big animal lover. What was it like to be in the dog shelter and to be around all the dogs in Pet? Was that extra fun for you to be around the animals?
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah, I love animals. I love being around them. I actually looked after a few friends' dogs over those weekends when I was shooting Pet just to stay in that dog zone. I looked after Ksenia's dog a few times. She's got a little doggie. That was fun. Then my friend Ryan, my trainer at the gym, I looked after his dog, too, just to remind myself what it's like to have that responsibility and to be with those animals. All those animals that were in the cages, I would spend a lot of time in those cages with the animals in-between shots, just hanging out, because I prefer animals to humans. If I get an opportunity to be with them, I'll usually take it.
You mentioned that you had this screenplay initially in the early seasons of Lost. Over the years, did you come up with your own backstory for Seth?
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah, I'd spent a lot of time with that character, so I came up with a lot of stuff about him, like his relationship with his family, his relationship with his non-existent friends—he doesn't seem to have any in his life. We decided he'd never had a girlfriend before. He'd never had sex before. He's obviously not very good at talking to people—a little bit of hydrophobia and claustrophobia and all that kind of stuff. He spends a lot of time in his house, on his computer. He's obviously intelligent, but not socially adept.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about who this character was and who he would be over the course of years. Then there were times where the project went away and I had to concentrate on something else and I had to let go of Seth. That was really valuable as well, because if you're paying attention to something, just something, it can become an obsession that's not very healthy, similar to how Seth feels about Holly.
It kind of gets out of joint, but if you pay a little bit of attention to something, and then let it go, and then come back to it, and then pay a little bit of attention to something, that's nice and healthy. It became a healthy interest for me, because Jeremy Slater's such a great writer. He's writing The Exorcist TV show right now. With him being so talented a writer, I knew that I wanted to do this project. I knew I wanted to hang on to it, and that it was going to come back around eventually. Ten years later, that's how it went.
You've worked on massive stories like Lord of the Rings and Lost, but you've also worked on more independent films like I Sell the Dead and now Pet. From your perspective, how do the two experiences compare to each other? Is there a method of storytelling that you prefer? Do you prefer the smaller, more intimate stories, or do you like the best of both worlds?
Dominic Monaghan: It's never really that different for me. My job is to try and present the most fully-rounded character that I can, and bring a performance that people believe in. That is the same on Lord of the Rings set with 25 other actors and 100 extras and set pieces that take half a day to rehearse and electronic guide tracks and three or four cameras moving all the time. That's the same as doing a tiny little intimate scene with one other person on the back lot of some tiny little studio.
My job, at the very least, doesn't change at all. In terms of what's been the most enjoyable, the most enjoyable project to me is the one with the best characters, the most enjoyable characters. It's hard for me to choose in terms of the actual process of making the film and how I feel about being on the set. None of it is different. I felt the exact same way when I sat in a trailer waiting for an AD [assistant director] to call me on set for Lord of the Rings as I did when I was making Pet.
Absolutely. Charlie and Merry—those are intimate stories of their own, even though they are on a grand scale, and you bring that to each role in your career. You ground them and make them relatable and you make the audience care for them, even with a character like Seth, who is so complex, you almost feel bad for him.
Dominic Monaghan: Thanks, man. That's very nice to hear. One of my jobs as an actor, regardless of who I play—even if I'm playing a despicable character—is to make people think that that character could exist, that he's real, and the way to do that is to make him believable. He doesn't have to be likable or charming, but he just has to be believable. That is someone who I could see on a bus. That is someone who I could walk past in the street.
I was just saying to a friend of mine, no human beings are one-dimensional, and if they feel one-dimensional to you, it's because you don't know them. Human beings have a bunch of different dimensions, so even if you're playing someone who you think maybe the audience might not like, might not be going for, you still have to give them the dimensions to make them a real human, otherwise there's no point.
With Pet coming out on December 2nd, do you have any other projects on deck that can tease? I know you have A Midsummer's Nightmare coming up, which I know a lot of people are excited about on the horror front.
Dominic Monaghan: A Midsummer's Nightmare we just shot in Vancouver with a really nice cast and great director, Gary Fleder, and we're going to find out in January if we're going to actually go again and make some more episodes, which I feel like we will do. I've been constantly developing this show with Billy Boyd, who I was in Lord of the Rings with. He and I are going to be in New York in January to sell that show, and I'm sure at that point there'll be more of an official announcement as to what that show is all about. Next year, I'll hope to be in Vancouver, finish off A Midsummer's Nightmare, and then I'll be traveling the world with Billy to make this show, which will be insane.