‘Atomica’ Stars Dominic Monaghan and Sarah Habel Discuss How the Sci-Fi’s Isolated Location Shaped Their Characters

In the indie sci-fi drama “Atomica,” Sarah Habel stars as young safety inspector Abby Dixon, working for a company supposedly responsible for saving the world after a global energy crisis in (gulp) 2018. After losing connection with a nuclear power plant that she’s responsible for, Abby journeys over to its remote site on Christmas Day. There, she comes in contact with the eccentric property manager, Robinson Scott (Dominic Monaghan). Following a recent screening, both Monaghan and Habel sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss the film.

Monaghan said he was attracted to the “Atomica” script for its strong message, and also because sci-fi is among his favorite genres. “There’s obviously some amazing sci-fi [films] that are a huge influence on me, with ‘Star Wars’ probably on top of that list. [Also] ‘Moon’ by Duncan Jones, ‘Dark Star,’ ‘2001,’ obviously. The original ‘Dune” I thought was pretty fun… So, yeah, it’s a genre that I enjoy. I find it very kind of escapist. If you want to get away from the bullshit, sci-fi’s a good way to do it.”

Also a longtime fan of the genre, Habel jumped at the chance to act in her first sci-fi film. Along with co-stars Monaghan and Tom Sizemore, Habel appears on screen as if she’s in the middle of nowhere –  and that’s because the movie was shot in the middle of nowhere. “It was rural Washington state, in this abandoned nuclear missile silo,” said Habel of the main filming location. “It was three stories underground, and it was 40 degrees all the time. There were a lot of creatures in there and cavernous hallways that go on forever. I got scared. I almost think of it as the fourth character in the movie because you could not help but interact with that space.”

“We were pretty remote,” added Monaghan. “We were in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing to do. We could walk to a local supermarket. Even the local supermarket had nothing. The choices were limited. The only thing we did during the weekend was shuffleboard. We just went into a bar and played shuffleboard. There was no cinema, no real great outdoorsy kind of places. It was kind of a sad place to be, really. Nowhere to eat past nine o’clock, unless you want KFC.”

Stuck mostly underground in the middle of the desert, Habel’s Abby begins to question what’s real and what’s not. She also has a haunted past, and eerie dreams allude to a significant event in her childhood that still disturbs her sleep at night. Did the location help Habel get into character? “Yes, I was totally sensory-deprived, in over my head, like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was a little claustrophobic, a little trapped.”

“That all helps the movie, because you feel isolated,” said Monaghan of the filming location. “You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you feel like you’re bored and there’s nothing to do. Kind of going nuts, and that’s certainly the story of my character in the movie.”

Monaghan’s character, Robinson Scott, is a complex one: at first he comes across as relatively harmless, even if not always respectful of Abby’s personal space. He regales her with amusing stories, including one about accidentally smoking a piece of the Berlin Wall. Over time, however, it becomes apparent that not all is right with him. Like Abby, Robinson has a haunted past, but it’s one that he deals with very differently.

“I’m not mad,” said Monaghan when asked if he relates to the character. “He’s not really dealt with his pain very well. His sister, the only person in his life whom he really loved, was hurt by this company, and he was too, and he’s trying to punish the company… I don’t think he’s really thought things through. He’s also made decisions based on anger, which I really try not to do. I liked his wackiness and his unpredictability.”

“Atomica” has a theme of corporations-versus-people, and although it was filmed four years ago, it especially resonates today in this day and age of ‘fake news.” “Everywhere my character turns, somebody is lying to her,” said Habel. “There’s a lot of untruths that she’s trying to wade through to get to the reality. She’s so determined to not stop until she finds the real truth of what’s going. I think that to value the truth in that way is huge. That if you’re actually looking for a message, and not just to be entertained, then that’s a [strength].”

Next up for Monaghan – in addition to his numerous other projects – is quality time, tending to his garden at home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. “It’s a lot of fun,” he says of the activity. “The last few years or so I’ve become more and more obsessed with gardening. Now is the perfect time to garden, because it’s not too hot…yeah, I’m always looking out for the next thing. I’m a little picky, which is why a movie like [‘Atomica’] takes four years to come out. I can afford to be a little picky, so I am. It has to be a project that is going to challenge me or make me feel like it’s a chance to do something different. If I don’t have that, then I’d rather stay at home and be in my garden.”

Habel, meanwhile, is prepping for the birth of her second child – among other things. “I’m six months pregnant, so that’s my main project right now, but I just finished up a stint on ‘Riverdale,’ a show on The CW. It’s like ‘Archie’ meets ‘Twin Peaks.’ It’s really juicy.” After tackling the sci-fi genre, Habel next hopes to take on comedy. “I really want to let everyone know how funny and hilarious I am. I’ve been really focused on trying to find myself a good, solid half-hour comedy or an indie comedy.”

Atomica” opens in select theaters March 17 and on VOD March 21.