Dominic Monaghan Talks 'Molly Moon' Magic & That Kids' Movie 'Lord Of The Rings'

If I could have any magical power, it would be simple: to breathe underwater. But if Dominic Monaghan could have any magical power, surviving while submerged would be just the start; he'd elect shapeshifting, the Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism star tells me, because it's essentially all the powers rolled into one.

"I could turn into an eagle and be able to fly," Monaghan says. "I could turn into a piece of dust and be able to turn invisible." And he could also turn into a fish and be able to breathe underwater.

Unfortunately, the actor's character in his latest film, out Aug. 14, never quite achieves the supernatural power he's searching for. (Don't worry, it's a good thing! He's the bad guy.) Monaghan plays Professor Nockman, a bank robber and petty thief on the hunt for a book called Hypnotism, An Ancient Art that is purported to instruct a worthy reader on the secrets of hypnotism. The titular Molly Moon, a young girl living at an oppressive, Dickensian orphanage, finds it before Nockman can get his hands on it, sending her on an escapade across the British countryside, with the professor in hot pursuit. There are charming pups and pop sensations — and an entire nation under a hypnotist's enchantment — in a 90-minute span.

Based on Monaghan's performance in the film, it seems as though he's already got the shapeshifter routine down pat. Nockman, the actor says, is something of a caricature of the classic villain — someone humorous, easily ridiculed. He walks on the fine edge between soft parody and hardened criminal.

"Once someone's silly, they're less scary," Monaghan says.

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism is his first children's film ("unless you count Lord of the Rings," he says), but the new territory allowed him to embrace a totally foreign character.

"I thought, I could have some fun with this," says the actor. "I could play with it, if they'll let me." Judging by the outcome, Monaghan did indeed play with the role. He's nearly incognito as Professor Nockman, with his slick parted hair, outmoded glasses, "peculiar, odd" mustache, and questionable wardrobe choices. Right down to his mannerisms and facial expressions, this is not the Dominic Monaghan who played Charlie Pace on Lost or Merry Brandybuck in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

"Once I got into my costume and makeup and pulled those Nockman faces, it all became very automatic," he says, recalling his approach to the role. "Costume and makeup can be really significant in creating a character."

It's probably the closest thing filmmaking has to a shapeshifting power — think of Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter, or Brad Pitt at the beginning of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or pretty much any Johnny Depp film ever (unfortunately, this kind of metamorphosis is more often than not a boys' game). And from his false underbite and eternal grimace to the uneasy swing of his gait, there is little of the unappealing character that Monaghan can find in his own personality. He's effusive as he recalls his preparations for the role, but refers to Nockman as an individual apart from himself, saying, "I kind of found him."

Off camera, the cast had far more fun than the conniving Nockman could ever conceive. Surrounded by a cast of children — as well as adult stars like Emily Watson — Monaghan found himself embracing a juvenile side.

"Young people ... like to enjoy themselves and mess about," he explains, "and it’s nice to be around young people because I can just be a little more like me — I can mess about and do magic tricks."

"Rubbish magic," he quickly adds, when I express my delight. "I'm not Dynamo."

The character, too, undergoes a kind of transformation by the end of the film (spoilers!). He steps out from under the reign of his mother, who is also a bank robber (and a more successful one, at that), and helps Molly Moon right the trouble she caused by exploiting her hypnotic powers. They prevent a massive bank robbery, recover Molly's kidnapped dog Petula, and restore the pre-Ancient Art status quo. Monaghan draws a parallel between Nockman's interactions with character Molly Moon and his interactions with Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland), the film's 12-year-old actress. "He [Nockman] finds her personality refreshing," he says. "And I find being around young people to be quite inspiring."

Still, his performance as Professor Nockman is something of a vanishing act for Monaghan — he disappears into costume and emerges as a new man. In his first family film, Monaghan demonstrates his chameleon powers, playing the child on set and the villain on screen. It's an impressive transformation act — and definitely more than "rubbish magic."

Images: ARC Entertainment (3)