Having impressed many a genre fan with his turn as the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor in The CW’s Arrowverse, up next for LaMonica Garrett is a role opposite Nicolas Cage as wild animals and assassins run amok on a ship in Primal. We caught up with the actor to discuss the classic action feel of Primal, his time involved in the huge Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, being a big comic book fan, transitioning from the world of sports to acting, and plenty more.
STARBURST: Primal has the feel of an action movie of yesteryear and is a whole lot of fun. How did you become involved in the film in the first place?
LaMonica Garrett: They had already cast the role I played. They were meant to film maybe six months or a year before they did, and then they brought on board a new director [Nick Powell]. The new director, he saw the people that were cast and they weren’t his people. He wanted to bring his people in, and I had worked with him on another project back in the day. They called me up and offered it to me, and I found out who was involved and I read it. Like you said, it felt like an old school, throwback, ‘90s action film. That’s what I signed up for. It was fun to go out there and work with those guys.
Nic Cage is always going to grab the attention of any movie Nic Cage is in, but as well as yourself there’s names such as Michael Imperioli, Famke Janssen, and Kevin Durand rounding out an impressive ensemble. What was that dynamic like on set?
Whenever you work on location, it’s a fun opportunity to really bond with the cast. We were in Puerto Rico filming, so we didn’t know anyone out there. When you work at home, everyone goes back to their own village and you just go to work and then you take off. In Puerto Rico, we were all we had out there. So after work, we would all go get drinks or have dinner. On our days off we would hang out and go sight-seeing. It was my first time to Puerto Rico. Michael Imperioli had filmed out there a couple of times, and he was showing us around. Nic Cage had filmed out there a couple of times. It was fun. It was a good crew, and we all thoroughly enjoyed each other on and off set.
You’re pretty front-and-centre for some of Primal’s more intense and brutal moments. How were those more dramatic and tense scenes to be involved in?
I think the location we shot in, it lent itself to that feel of tension. It was a claustrophobic environment. We were on that ship for pretty much the whole time. There were low ceilings, it was hot, it was summertime, it was muggy. That tension was in the air without the cameras being on, so when it came time to shoot we just worked with the environment – and I think that came across well on the day.
Did you have much freedom to put your own spin on the character of Ringer?
They gave me some freedom to play around with it. That’s what was great about Nick Powell. He gave everyone some freedom. It wasn’t like when we shoot I was just going to go and do what I wanted to do. Everything was talked about beforehand. We changed some things, took a couple of things out, just to make it work for who we were and what strengths we were bringing to the table.
Was there anything you particularly went back and watched for inspiration, or did you just go into the film with a clear head?
I just went in like I do with everything – a blank canvas. I tried to let the creative space that we were in take over. I didn’t want to go in with ideas about ways of playing certain things that are my ideas, but they might not be good for the character. I just go in with a blank canvas and try to create from the ground up.
Before your acting career took off, you were a professional SlamBall player. How did you make the transition from sports and an athletic background to then deciding you wanted to get into acting?
I knew I wanted to get into acting after football was over for me. The NFL didn’t work out for me, so I moved to LA. SlamBall came around, and I still had the competitive bug in me where I wanted to go out and compete athletically. SlamBall came around, I did it, I played at a high level, but in the back of my head I knew I wanted to get into acting. There was a two-episode arc on One Tree Hill where they implemented SlamBall into the season. Joe Manganiello and James Lafferty, they were two SlamBall players on the show. They needed a real SlamBall player to oppose them and be the antagonist on the show. I told the guys, “Look, this is me!” The front office were going to audition established actors to play that role. I told them to let me audition for it, and I got it. I went out to North Carolina to film it, and just being in that environment and seeing television working from the inside, I know that this is what I needed to be doing. That was in 2008. When I flew back to LA, I told them, “I’m finished with SlamBall” and I got into acting classes. From that point on, I’ve just been growing from within the business.
So the spark was already there, just One Tree Hill only further reiterated to you that this is what you wanted to do?
The flame was already lit, the pilot light was there, and that just threw gas everywhere. I knew that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. When I got back to LA, it was no more SlamBall. That was the last SlamBall I played. I got a manager – I’m with the same manager now – and have just been growing since then.
If you could go back to that version of LaMonica in 2008, what advice would you give to him?
I would tell myself not to worry so much about getting the role that I’m auditioning for. When you get the audition, it’s, “I want this role, I want it bad!” Be more concerned about winning over the casting office and just doing a great job in telling that story. Don’t try to give them what you think they want. Tell your version of the story and just be consistent. These casting officers, they’re like the gatekeepers for actors and for work. Once they see you consistently just doing a great job, you might not get that role but they see something in you. I would tell myself, “Don’t worry so much about the role. Worry about just telling the story truthfully and winning over the casting officers.”
Here in the UK, Crisis on Infinite Earths is soon to be upon us. How much fun was it to suit up and play the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor in that world of comic book characters?
It was amazing. I’m a comic book nerd, I grew up reading comic books and watching tons of animation – DC and Marvel. I’d been auditioning in that office for David Rapaport for years, and I didn’t get it. But that goes back to my point, they kept bringing me in and I’d gotten close to other roles. I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m so glad I didn’t get the other role that I was close to getting and they waited until now to use me. Suiting up? It just kept getting better and better. I didn’t know who I was auditioning for, and then they told me it was the Monitor. The first thing I think is, “Oh, I wonder if they’ll do Crisis?” I’d only signed on for four episodes – for Elseworlds and maybe one after – and then they called us and were just, “Alright, it’s going to be bigger. We want him for next season.” Then Crisis on Infinite Earths was introduced, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. When I found out I was also playing the Anti-Monitor, I was like, “You guys gotta be kidding me!” My manager always say to never repeat this, but this is one of those jobs that you’d do for free because you’re just fanboying out and just having fun in this space. It’s not often that you get to do a job where you just love everything about it. From the research in the beginning, to the 15-hour days, to sitting in make-up for two-and-a-half hours, I enjoyed everything.
As such a big comic book fan, is there a particular story or arc that you’d say was your all-time personal favourite? And would Crisis be in that conversation?
Crisis is up there. My favourite storyline in comic books is probably Green Lantern: Blackest Night. The magnitude of Crisis for the DC Universe, it changed everything. If you named three of the biggest moments in DC, Crisis is right there at the top. Not just for DC Comics fans or for DC TV fans, but I think for television history - trying to pull something off to this magnitude and doing it. They want decades back, to the shows from the ‘60s, the ‘80s, the ‘90s, and bringing it all into focus right now and integrating all these parts of history with DC TV. It was just a special thing to be a part of.
Once things play out for the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor in Crisis, is any chance we could see you return down the line? Regardless of the fate of these characters, the concept of alternative worlds and varying timelines means nothing is ever quite as final as it may appear…
If they call me in the future, I’d jump through those hoops automatically. In the comic books right now, the New 52 Justice League reintroduced the Monitor and they’ve reintroduced the storyline where the Monitor has a mother now, Perpetua. And then there’s World Forger [the brother of the Monitor]. If they tackle a storyline as big as Crisis for television, who knows where they are two, three, four years from now. If the Monitor comes back to life or the Anti-Monitor’s around, I’d most definitely jump back into this space – and they know that, they know how much fun I had being around this environment.
From seeing the stars of the Arrowverse in interviews and on social media, and from speaking to a few of them over the past few years, it comes across as if this shared universe has a fun, family feel to its sets. Coming into this world, was it at all daunting or was everybody just welcoming from the get-go?
Yeah, it was a little intimidating when the train is already moving and you’re the last one to jump on board. But the whole community has been open arms. They embraced me like this was my home. Even though I was just passing through, they embraced me. The fandom, the fans, the writers, the actors. From everyone I’ve been around, they’ve all embraced me. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Sometimes you walk into one of these situations and they’re closed off and a little cold, and sometimes they embrace you. This time, they just happened to embrace me. It was awesome. That’s why they know that I’d come back whenever they call, should my schedule permit it.
You’ve done a huge comic book event with Crisis on Infinite Earths, you’ve now done an action movie with Nicolas Cage, you’ve had stints on shows like Sons of Anarchy, Designated Survivor, and The Last Ship. Is there a project that stands out as a particular favourite, or is that perhaps an unfair question?
I’ve been living in the moment. When I was on Designated Survivor, that was the best thing ever for me. When I was on The Last Ship, that was amazing. That was like a football/college locker room again, being with those guys in The Last Ship. We just had so much fun. We would go out to San Diego, to the actual naval base and film for the weekend. I’ve been having fun on every job I’ve been on. I just look forward to whatever the next journey and adventure is. I’m sure I’m going to have a ton of fun. But yeah, I’d really like to do more action stuff.
Primal certainly is a great example of how well you can handle the action genre. If there was a dream project for you, would that be something within the action wheelhouse?
It would probably be something like a franchise, like a Bourne Identity-type franchise with layers. Something like John Wick is awesome. Something like that, where it’s movie after movie and it keeps on getting better.
Having played two of the most powerful characters in all of DC Comics, who are key figures in such a truly huge TV crossover, the next few years are going to so often see people think of these characters when they see you or hear your name. Some may see that as a hindrance, some may see that as a privilege. What are your thoughts on that?
If it creates buzz and helps me get more work, if people loved what I did, then I’m all for it. It was brief, it was a lot in a little amount of time, but if you would have told me a year-and-a-half ago that when I left Designated Survivor this would have been the next chapter, I would have been through the roof. A month from now, I might be attached to another big project, and that’s going to get my undivided attention. Like I said, moment to moment, I just embrace everything to its fullest and just enjoy.
Finally, what’s up next for you that you’re able to tell us about right now?
There’s a film, Clemency, that’s out in theaters right now. I’m not sure if it’s coming to the UK, but it’s getting in more theaters out here and it should be nationwide soon. I’m back to the drawing board now. The Arrowverse took up a lot of time, and now I’m back at the beginning and seeing what’s next.
Primal is on VOD February 10th and out on DVD February 17th.