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A home that doubles as a daycare center and foster shelter for 12 kids over 12 years doesn’t tend to breed self-centered actors. It can, however, be a valuable immersive classroom for the study of personalities, comedy, chaos, and relationships.

Consciously or otherwise, Michelle Monaghan was an apt anthropologist, absorbing homegrown character analyses along with a family-sized dose of warmth and humanity. It helped her hone a wry wit and emotional intelligence that proved difficult (or for Hollywood, unnecessary) to see beneath her unfortunately stunning exterior. Not that she’s complaining about the good looks. They came in handy for the modeling career that paid tuition while she studied journalism in college and then rent while she auditioned for acting jobs in New York.

Monaghan’s transition from model/actress-hopeful to living room regular came in 2002 when she landed a role on Boston Public as idealistic teacher Kimberley Woods, a character many would agree wasn’t too far removed from her own. If her one year on the series didn’t make her a familiar face, Mission: Impossible III sure did (starring opposite Tom Cruise tends to have that effect on people). The confines of that role, and a preponderance of other “beautiful woman” screen assignments might’ve chafed a bit, but she didn’t spend much time bemoaning the situation. Admirably, she finds something to enjoy and dig into with every role, while pragmatically and optimistically pushing for more.

And reviewers began to realize that if given a second or third dimension, Monaghan would show what she could do with it, citing as examples her simultaneously under-used but sharply observed performances in films like Source CodeGone Baby Gone, and Fort BlissVariety saying of the latter, “Even when the plotting feels strained or inauthentic, and the score a mite too insistent, Monaghan’s performance rings true.”

Maturity can diminish or present increasingly interesting opportunities for women in this business. Monaghan knows what she can do, and is making sure we see more of it by patiently forging her own path, producing and starring in the small but highly acclaimed Trucker and pressing True Detective directors to add layers to her character Maggie Hart; much, fans would agree, to the benefit of the show. Next is the upcoming Sleepless Night, a re-telling of Frederic Jardin’s Nuit Blanche that is rumored to have some surprises up its sleeve, one of which just might be Monaghan herself. Given that she’s a multiple blue-ribbon hog wrestler and holds an 18-wheeler trucking license, we can hardly doubt it. Even if we did, we’d be kind of scared to say so.