In director Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller “Contagion,” Latina actress Monique Gabriela Curnen, 34, plays Lorraine Vasquez, a pregnant newspaper editor who is doing everything she can to survive the outbreak of a deadly virus across the world.
During our interview, Curnen, who has starring in such films as “Half Nelson” and “The Dark Knight,” talked about the realism Soderbergh brings to the film and her experience working with actor Jude Law.
A lot of your movies and TV shows in the past have featured you in roles as a strong, independent woman, whether it’s been as a detective or attorney or sergeant. How did it feel to let your guard down and play someone much more reliant on others for help?
It was great. It’s so nice to mix things up. It’s great to play with different chords on your instrument, if you will. I loved exploring that more soft and vulnerable side.
You play Lorraine Vasquez, a newspaper editor expecting a child. Jude plays a conspiracy theorist blogger who occasionally freelances for your publication. In your first scene with Jude, you seem to be the one in charge telling him that you’re not interested in his story ideas. Talk about that scene and what you, Jude and director Steven Soderbergh wanted to do with that.
I think part of the beauty of the film is how accurate it is in portraying real life. I interviewed a friend who worked for many years as a newspaper editor. You probably know as a writer that there are hoops you have to jump through. You have to pitch stories and do a lot of investigative work for the newspaper to be able to run with the story. I think that scene was sort of a real, barebones, practical depiction of print media today and the different levels you have to go through before you even get a story published. It’s a beautiful set up because [the story Jude’s character pitches] becomes the story of the pandemic.
I thought it was also a nice set up for your second scene with Jude, which is a lot different. In that scene you’re the one coming to him for help. Talk about that scene.
Yeah, imagine realizing your mistakes as a professional and also the deeper regret and horror you feel of not having listened to him and then needing help. On top of that, I’m pregnant. I’m willing to do anything to try to save my child.
Since your character is pregnant, you have a lot more to lose than any of the other characters in the film. Did you think about that during production?
Oh, yeah, very much. I have several siblings and several friends with young children. I have had pretty deep conversations with several girlfriends who have kids. I feel like that was a big part of what was going through my head and heart at the time.
I went to a screening of the film with my wife, who is actually eight months pregnant. During that scene she was just devastated, so I made sure to tell her that if that was ever to happen in real life she could have the cure before me.
(Laughs) That was wise. I think the film is so accurate in its portrayal of fear and the amount of devastation that could be reached by a disease.
I’m a huge fan of composer Cliff Martinez’s work. When you watched the film for the first time, how do you think the score added to the film?
It’s so funny you said that because I loved the score the first time around, but I felt it even more the second time around. I was talking with Steven [Soderbergh] last night saying that [Cliff’s] work is so great. It’s not heavy-handed and is so in tune as a tool of the narrative. It’s interesting you bring that up because I left that screening feeling a real sense of respect for his work and how he does what he does. I see the score as another member of the great ensemble of actors we have.
If an outbreak like this were ever to happen in real life, do you think you’d be a survivor or would you be one of the first ones to get coughed on?
(Laughs) Hey, one can only hope you would do the best you could with your immune system under those circumstances.
There have been other outbreak movies before. What do you think it is about “Contagion” that will make it stand out from the rest?
I think it’s incredibly well edited. I think it has its finger on the pulse of a very possible reality. It’s told so true to life that I think it’s going to make it rise above the rest. I also think it’s a tribute to Steven’s direction and editing and the wonderful script by Scott Burns. I came away from it feeling it has a richness of a [Robert] Altman film in terms of the ensemble actors but with this taut, really suspenseful drama. I think people will be pulled into these storylines because each one lives very richly on its own.
The last time I talked to you was for your role in “The Dark Knight.” Were you at all disappointed your character is not returning for the next one?
Oh, well I would have loved another opportunity to work with Christopher Nolan and those guys. So, yeah, to a small extent I was. But I know it’s going to be a great movie. They have a lot of new characters they’re going to be introducing. It was just great to be a part of the one I was in.