Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough marvel over ‘Monday’ romance, Disney+ franchises
Sebastian Stan knows that most moviegoers know him as Captain America’s pal Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, a character who in the last decade has appeared in seven movies and is now the subject of a TV series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But while the superhero blockbuster ride is great, and given the recent success of the Disney+ series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” not likely to end soon, that’s not all there is to know of him and the work he’s done.
“I mean, look, I love the Marvel world,” Stan says on a recent video call to talk about his new movie “Monday,” a romantic dramedy opposite Irish actress Denise Gough, which opens Friday, April 16. “And I love the opportunities it’s granted me.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to make this movie had it not been for Marvel, in a way,” he says. “It’s really changed my life over 10 years. But as many people, unfortunately, I don’t think know, it’s actually a very small part of my life. There’s all these other interests and all these other things I think about.”
His costar Gough in her own way knows that same feeling, she says on the call. Not as a member of one of a huge movie franchise, but as an actress best known for her work on stage where she’s won two Olivier Awards, the British equivalent of a Tony Award.
“You’ve got to do all sorts of different things,” Gough says. “I know for me, I was very grateful to be doing this film with somebody who had as much film experience as Sebastian does across genres.
“I first saw Sebastian in ‘I, Tonya,’” she says of the 2017 film in which Stan played Jeff Gillooly, the husband of Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding. “I remember watching it and going, ‘Who’s that guy?’ and looked him up because he was so good opposite Margot.
“I’m so grateful for what I learned from his experience with these big, huge things, but his work is much more than just that big, huge thing,” Gough says. “And my work is much more than theater, although I will say that theater is like my home base, where you return.”
A fine romance
In “Monday,” which was co-written and directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Stan plays Mickey, an American expatriate in Greece, living the life of an itinerant DJ and perpetual man-child. Gough is Chloe, an American lawyer who is about to return home after the messy end of a long-term relationship.
They meet at a party the night before Chloe is to fly home, fall into a crazy, wild fling that finds them naked and asleep on the beach the next morning, and from there begin a passionate, tempestuous affair as they try to figure out what they want with each other.
Stan says he’d loved “Suntan,” an earlier Papadimitropoulos film, and saw in the screenplay for “Monday” the kind of realistic romance of movies such as Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” trilogy.
“I’ve always loved movies that were very honestly depicting these messy connections that happen between people, and how often they don’t turn out to be what you expect, or they take weird paths,” Stan says. “I love the authenticity that this movie had going for itself, and the potential of telling that.”
Mickey offered the chance to play a charming character whose flaws weren’t whitewashed in the name of an easy happy ending, he says.
“As a character, it’s like, What man can’t understand the whole Peter Pan syndrome?” Stan says. “It’s like we all need to hurry up and embrace — again, myself included — (bleepin’) reality.”
Gough, in turn, saw in Chloe a woman with a few issues of her own to sort out.
“This is a woman who’s obviously fallen in love with somebody’s potential, which we do a lot, don’t we?” she says. “Her last partner was kind of dodgy, and at the beginning of the film you see her still emotionally connected to that guy — and then she gets drunk, and emotionally attaches herself to Mickey.”
The impulsiveness of Chloe — she turns around at the security checkpoint when Mickey races to the airport to beg her to stay — is admirable in some ways, though not perhaps entirely healthy. But then healthy relationships don’t necessarily make the best movies, Gough says.
“That’s not as interesting a story is it?” she says. “You want to see the moment where the woman is going, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m going to make it work! It has to work!’
“I wanted to sit with her and say, ‘My love … should you get a therapist? Maybe?’ But where’s the fun in a movie that does that? If we’re attaching ourselves to emotionally available people all the time there’d be no movies. There’d be no love songs, there’d be nothing. We need love addiction.”
From the moment Mickey and Chloe lay eyes on each other the chemistry between Stan and Gough sizzles. Both actors throw themselves into the passion and intimacy of their roles, a kind of bravery that sprang from the trust and admiration that grew from the first meeting.
“We had this chemistry read in New York, in between Denise, when she was doing ‘Angels In America,’ and had time,” Stan says. “She left, and Argyris and I both looked at each other like little boys. And we were like, ‘We need her to bring us both to shore and reality.’
“It came down to needing somebody to kind of lead us in a way to the heart and the truth of the matter,” he says.
Gough says the kind of connection that she and Stan built from that first meeting isn’t something actors ever take for granted.
“It doesn’t always happen,” she says. “We got really lucky because sometimes you have to rely on your ability as an actor to create emotional intensity and chemistry and all of that with somebody that it might not be there with.
“I mean, I have played love scenes with people who have hated me and who I have hated,” Gough says. “And we’ve still done the job. But with this, what was great for me and such a beautiful experience was being able to go, ‘This is good. I’m safe. It’s fun.’
Friends and franchises
In the way Gough and Stan talk about each it’s clear the friendship formed on location in Greece continues today.
“One thing I love about Denise is that she’s made me feel OK about, I don’t know, I could talk to her about anything. I could,” Stan says. “Everything I lose sleep about. And I’ll be good for it.
“I feel like this needed honesty, where we can go, OK, I’m across from someone who not only in the work demands, but invites, that sort of honesty,” he says.
“It was very joyful for me, this experience, because Sebastian never asked me to compromise my integrity ever,” Gough says. “He wasn’t afraid. I can come at people with quite intense decisions that I’ve made that have come out of being whatever character.
“Even if there moments of, ‘Whoa! OK, that’s a lot,’ he still met me everywhere and jumped with me every day,” she says.
When sometime after shooting ended Gough was cast on the forthcoming Disney+ series “Andor,” a spin-off of the Star Wars film “Rogue One,” she reached out to Stan for encouragement and advice, she says.
“He’s experienced on a franchise, and I’m now entering a franchise,” Gough says. “And the first person I texted when I was having a meltdown about being in that, about not being able to speak the lines or whatever, was him.”
In recent months, an online frenzy of rumors and wishes has called for Stan to take over the role of a younger Luke Skywalker in future Star Wars films. Might they, we asked, one day fall in love on screen in a new movie in a galaxy far, far away?
“Nobody’s going to be falling in love with me,” Gough says and laughed.
Stan just looked away, poker face in place.