Monica Barbaro has become one of Hollywood's most singular and compelling actors, filling the peripheral void of story-telling with magnetism and a verve that's uniquely her. The hit Lifetime series UnReal was her breakout moment. As "Hot Rachel", a contestant on a dating reality show turned undercover reporter, Monica proved she was more than meets the eye (on the show and IRL). Since then, she has traded in the evening gowns for a badge, delivering dynamic performances in Chicago Justice, Lethal Weapon, Chicago PD, and The Good Cop. In the often times circadian genre of crime and drama, Monica lights up her scenes with an essential ballast. Her candid, quick-focused performances prove a fearlessness that lacks pretense altogether. Notably, she’s bringing justice to the characters she plays by disarming them with nuance.
Monica will be bringing her talent to the highly anticipated reboot of Top Gun: Maverick. She will be breaking up the boys club as a fighter pilot, starring alongside an acclaimed ensemble featuring Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Val Kilmer, and Tom Cruise. Scheduled for release in 2020, this iteration is a unique reprisal set in a world of drone technology. As far as what comes after Top Gun, it's clear that Monica's career is taking flight. And she feels the need...
What was taking your first acting class like for you?
The first acting training I had was when I was twelve. I played Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and quickly realized that I was completely in love with the process and performance. Also, there’s a lot of acting involved in dance so I think I was unknowingly training for years. When it came time to take an acting class at NYU I was ecstatic. To this day, I remember more from that class than I do from almost any other throughout college. I just cared so much about it.
Growing up in California, did you always have your sights set for Hollywood?
Not really. Like many Bay Area natives I had zero desire to live in Los Angeles. I grew up dreaming of moving to New York City which I did for school and loved it. When I decided to leave San Francisco to pursue my acting career more seriously, I had a hard time choosing between LA and New York. I ultimately chose Los Angeles and was pleasantly surprised by how much there is to love about the city.
Tell us about your first acting gig. What piece of advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
My first acting job was on a short film with a group of recent graduates from San Francisco State’s film department. It was absolute heaven. They made our full set in our DP’s warehouse apartment in Oakland, my costumes were made from vintage Vogue patterns, we had full rehearsals on set several days before filming, the short itself was shot on actual film. Everyone involved was incredibly professional and passionate. We were all around the same age, in the similar position of being fresh out of school with big dreams. I’m sure there’s a lot that could be improved in my acting performance because I still knew so little about the craft at the time, but if I could go back in time, I would honestly just love to be a fly on the wall watching the whole experience play out again.
Most people recognize you from your breakout role in UnReal. Tell us what being on that show was like.
UnReal was such a whirlwind. I consider it my bootcamp into the industry. My first day on set I had to fake drown in the cold and got sick immediately, we stood outside for hours in 20 degree weather wearing bikinis and thin gowns, we napped in piles on the floor of a greenroom we weren’t allowed to eat in. But my castmates and I were eternally bonded by the experience and I got to sit in video village (which is where the director sits and watches the monitors) and learn from the phenomenally talented Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer, who both work very differently but expertly in their own ways. Overall, it was extremely challenging but I learned a lot very quickly and it was incredibly rewarding.
You are currently on Netflix’s The Good Cop. Tell us more about this series and your role on it.
The Good Cop is a fun mystery/crime procedural. It’s the kind of show the whole family can watch. Our creator, Andy Breckman, also created the show Monk, if that gives you an idea of the show’s vibe, but our show is a little different. TJ Caruso (Josh Groban) is a strict, rule follower of a cop who is fighting to distance himself from his father, Tony Caruso (Tony Danza) who has just finished serving a sentence for crimes he committed during his time as a cop. My character, Cora Vasquez, starts off as Tony’s parole officer, but quickly becomes a detective with the show’s task force, joining the oh-so-talented Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Bill Kottkamp.
Cora Vasquez is quite the character, incredibly dynamic and street-smart. What parts of yourself do you bring into her?
It’s funny because my sister said the other day that she and her husband felt like they saw more of me in Cora than any other character they’ve seen me play. I used to take myself more seriously and wield sarcasm to protect myself, I dated the wrong guys almost intentionally. I still joke around a lot, as does Cora. I felt very close to Cora because of that. But I will say that she’s much cooler than I am. She’s street-smart based on her experiences, not just her intuition. I respect and admire her ability to stand up for herself and I revel in the fun she gets to have on the show.
You have played some incredibly strong, self-assured female characters. Why do you think this is important to do so, considering the times we live in now?
Women standing up for themselves is always important and I’ve been very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to play characters who do so. I’m glad there’s a push right now to portray strong, independent women. But I will say, television and films informed a lot of the way I saw the world as a young girl, in both positive and negative ways. I’m proud to have played some characters who have acted nobly, but I also want to urge people to remember that what we see on screen is not always meant to be a lesson in how we should conduct our lives. Not everyone I’ve played or will play, acts with exemplary behavior.
We are excited to hear that you will be starting in the new Top Gun. Tell us about your role on the film.
I’m excited and feeling so fortunate to be a part of it. I wish I could tell you more, but for the time being, it’s all very much under wraps.
Lastly, do you feel the need? The need for speed?