Michelle Monaghan in The Vanishing of Sidney Hall
Actress Michelle Monaghan stars in co-writer-director-producer Shawn Christensen’s mystery drama, ‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.’
Photo Courtesy: A24/DirecTV

Encouraging their children to reach their full potential as they enter adulthood is one of the most important aspects of being a parent. The mother of the title character in the new mystery drama, ‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall,’ loves her teenage son while he’s still living at home during his high school years. However, her lack of being able to find her own identity after becoming a mother at a young age inhibited her being able to truly support his life goals and ambitions outside of their family.

Shawn Christensen directed and produced ‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall,’ whose script he also co-wrote with Jason Dolan. The movie, which is now available on DirecTV, is also being released in theaters today by A24. The official release comes after the drama had its World Premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall’ follows the title character (Logan Lerman) through three different periods in his life, when he’s 18, 24 and 30. As a high-school student with a natural talent for honest writing, Sidney is inspired to pen his first novel, in order to share his feelings about the recent tragic suicide of one his classmates. With help and encouragement from one of his supportive teachers, Duane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the teenager secures a book deal. The contract allows the protagonist to escape his tense home life and relationship with his mother (Michelle Monaghan). He also uses his new status to help him win over his neighbor, Melody (Elle Fanning), who he has developed romantic feelings for.

At age 24, Sidney and Melody are shown to have gotten married early, and are now struggling to make their relationship last. The trouble is due in part to Sidney’s novel becoming a best-seller, and being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Upon it’s distribution, the book became controversial among readers, who are apprehensive about the way Sidney wrote about the dark subject. As a result of some young readers even imitating the subject matter, some states have even banned the book. But the author is able to look past the backlash, and use his new-found fame to try to fix his marriage.

After turning 30, Sidney is still struggling to contend with his writing, especially after he scribed a second book that has also become a best-seller. After the two novels, he was left artistically unsatisfied, and realized that he no longer had a passion for writer. So he disappears off the grid, and travels across the country with a dog and few possessions. His movements are only traced by an inquisitive man (Kyle Chandler) who’s searching for him. The man tries to tack down the writer after bookstores report that someone is setting fire to all the copies of Sidney’s novels. Believing that the young author is responsible for destroying his own books, the man will stop at nothing to find him, and uncover the reasons why one of America’s most promising young writers willing left his successes behind.

Monaghan generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was interested in playing the title protagonist’s mother in the drama, because she was drawn to the smart way Christensen wrote and directed the three distinctively separate sections that are told in a mysterious way through flashbacks.

The conversation began with Monaghan discussing why she decided to portray the mother of the title character in ‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.’ The performer divulged that Christensen sent her a copy of the script, “and right away, I was struck at how beautifully written the story was. I also was drawn to how unique of a story it was, particularly in the way that it was told through flashbacks. I thought that was really smart, and provided a lot of mystery. The story revealed itself in a very different way, unlike most films that I’ve seen,” she further explained.

“More specifically, the role was unlike anything I had attempted before. I would say that my character was a little bit damaged, and she’s someone who’s very vulnerable,” Monaghan also revealed. “She’s in a co-dependent relationship with her son. So I was really looking forward to exploring that with Shawn and Logan, who I respect tremendously as an actor and person, as well as the rest of the cast. You really see the talent of everyone involved, and that comes down to the testament of the screenwriting, and how powerful the story is.”

The Golden Globe Award-nominated actress added that “I really liked having the opportunity to play this woman. I feel like she was a young mom, and had Sidney in her teens. As a result of that, she didn’t really emotionally evolve much beyond that experience. Most women warm up to the idea of becoming a mom, but she missed that step, so-to-speak…which evolved into this co-dependent relationship with her son.”

Monaghan then further explained what her experience of collaborating with Christensen as a co-writer and the helmer of the movie was like. Working with the filmmaker “was really exciting. He’s one of the most collaborative and eager directors I’ve ever worked with. He started prepping months before we started shooting. When I signed on, we had regular Skype sessions, and would talk about the motivations behind this character.

“The things we spoke about were also specific to wardrobe, hair choices and make-up. It’s really rare to meet a director who really focuses on hair, and was really involved in all of those choices,” the performer admitted. “It’s nice when directors really respect actors. Sometimes, those choices are left up to the actor, so (the look of the character) can help them delve into their character’s mind. But I enjoyed going through that process with Shawn, and collaborating with him on the character’s motivations and look, as well as the music choices, and all of the things that shaped that time period.

“It was one of the most calm sets I’ve ever been on, and I think Elle and Logan would say the same thing,” Monaghan revealed. “Despite the material, it was very quiet and serene. We worked at a very slow pace, but we still go everything done. Everyone put their best foot forward, and in the end, we created a really epic coming-of-age story. It’s difficult to shoot three different time periods at once, and it’s a tour-de-force for Logan.”

Further speaking of working with Lerman, Fanning and the rest of the cast on ‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall,’ the actress shared that “we didn’t have much rehearsal time. Unfortunately, when you’re shooting an independent film, you’re not afforded a lot of time to rehearse. I was also shooting another film simultaneously as this one, so I would go to the set for this movie just to shoot my scenes. Getting together with everyone was hard with everyone’s schedules.”

Despite the lack of rehearsal time with the rest of the cast, Monaghan added that she “felt comfortable dropping in to shoot those scenes with Logan, because of the kind of actor he is. When you see an actor become committed to this type of material, and take on such a small-budgeted, independent movie that’s epic in a lot of ways, you know their heart’s in it. So when it came down to doing some of the darker scenes, I knew Logan would be on board to find the authenticity and truth in each scene. So he was game, and so was I, as I’m an artist in that way. So it was nice to work with him in that way.”

Photo ofMichelle Monaghan
Michelle Monaghan
Job Title
Actress in co-writer-director-producer Shawn Christensen's mystery drama, 'The Vanishing of Sidney Hall'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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