It should come as no surprise that Monich has an intellectual and professorial approach to his work. After growing up in Corona, Calif., Monich went east to attend drama school at Carnegie Mellon University, where he met Edith Skinner, the most influential speech teacher in the theater world during the 20th century. After training under Skinner for six years, Monich followed her to New York, accepting a job as a teacher at Juilliard, where he instructed pupils like Kilmer between 1975 and 1987.
Worried that he would get burned out from teaching, Monich left Juilliard and devoted himself full time as an accent and dialect coach for actors in the theater and movies. But as much as Monich likes to draw on Walt Whitman poems and other interesting source material to aid his pedagogy, his work more often boils down to getting an actor to listen hard and practice. When he has recordings he can use, Monich begins his lessons with what he calls “language lab,” which requires the actor to listen intensely to the accent he or she wants to pick up.
After that, Monich works painstakingly, one-on-one, with an actor, having them read material he has put together in the proper accent, always correcting them when they err. Monich will also develop practice exercises. “It’s practice phrases that lead people to do the right sounds. It’s repetitive and designed to put those muscles into a habitual pattern of movement and placement.”
Kilmer says that to be on the receiving end of Monich’s instruction is comforting and builds an actor’s confidence. “If I haven’t worked hard enough, he makes this face that’s not disapproving; it’s, ‘Well, we’re not there yet,’ ” he says. And Kilmer laughs when he hears that Monich insists that his instruction is only about how to sound like a character and not about more essential elements of who a character is. “He adds to your perspective beyond the obvious elements of creating a role,” he says. “Francis [Coppola] will say the same thing about directing: ‘Oh, I don’t do much; you just have to cast it right.’ They talk like they work in a deli or something.”