Maika Monroe: from world-class kiteboarder to accidental movie star

Monroe shines in new chiller It Follows, a psychological horror about a sexually transmitted murderous ghost

 

Rising star doesn’t even begin to cover it. Aged 21, with two achingly cool films in the bag – It Follows and The Guest – Maika Monroe is one of the movieverse’s hottest properties.

As it happens, the movieverse is extremely lucky to get its new Monroe. As lately as 2013, Monroe was ranked No 32 in the world as a professional freestyle kiteboarder. “I started when I was 13,” she says. “I saw my dad doing it and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.”

At 17, Monroe and her mother moved from Santa Barbara in California to Cabarete in the Dominican Republic so she could train: “We were living in a tiny little town,” she recalls. “We were friends with every local. Its super poor over there. There are extremely talented kiteboarders there – the best in the world – but literally all they have is their kiteboard. They live in shacks with dirt floors and plywood roofs. Everybody eats rice and beans made in huge pots. For me it was a great experience. The lifestyle that comes with my job now is so different.”

Hitchcock bangs
Her new job is being a Hitchcock blonde. Her cool, naturalistic performance anchors director David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, and comes complete with a Kim Novak-style do: “David made sure I had the bangs,” says Maika. “He was very specific about that.”

The award-winning It Follows is a fiendishly clever psychological horror about a sexually transmitted murderous ghost. Yep. You read that correctly. Happily, it’s a superb, blisteringly original film shot through with Freudian menace and John Carpenter electronica. But I can’t imagine how bizarre it sounded as a pitch or how it read on paper.

“When I first saw it I had no idea how it would translate,” says Monroe. “It wasn’t until I saw David’s first film – The Myth of the American Sleepover – that I had any idea how he was going to do this. His style is so unique. And the idea of creating a horror film using his crazy, dream-like style? Well, I knew it would be really quite interesting. And I immediately thought: hell, yeah. I’m in.”

Monroe’s character, Jay, is not your average plucky girl. A distant, muffled presence, Jay seems to share DNA with many of Sofia Coppola’s creations.

“I kept my headphones in for a lot of It Follows,” says Monroe. “She’s supposed to be in a dark place and very isolated. She’s also very ordinary. She’s not heroic.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Monroe’s earliest, equally muffled roles was in Coppola’s The Bling Ring. In common with that filmmaker, Maika may have grown up in sunny California but that hasn’t stopped her from seeking out darker material.

“I grew up watching horror movies with my dad. For as long as I can remember. I grew up loving being terrified. A Nightmare on Elm Street at sleepovers. Hiding behind my fingers.”

Dance background
Maika Monroe was born and raised in Santa Barbara. Her mother is a sign language interpreter for deaf children at the local high school. Her dad works in construction.

Growing up, she loved movies but never thought of acting “as a real job” until acting came to her. “It fell into my lap. I grew up doing dance classes. And one day a film production company contacted my dance school looking for background dancers. I wasn’t looking for it. It just happened. And I found myself on set. And that was that. I fell in love with the whole process of making a movie. I loved the sets. I loved watching the actors and the crew. It wasn’t until then that I decided to be an actor.”

Rather appropriately, the film was Bad Blood (2006), starring Carrie’s Piper Laurie. Monroe would reprise her role in the sequel, Bad Blood . . . The Hunger in 2012.

Within the year, she had worked with Coppola and with Jason Reitman on Labor Day. She was intrigued to watch her co-star Kate Winslet swearing and gabbling merrily off-set before switching into acting gear. Monroe has subsequently come to prominence under the icy glare of another Brit: Dan Stevens in The Guest. “Kate and Dan are just incredible,” she says. “It’s that switch. It’s the way they transform.”

The rigours of kite-surfing, she says, prepared her for hearing “no” at auditions though otherwise she’s self-taught. Did she ever think about acting school? They do have such institutions in California.

“I tried some classes, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like being told that this was right or wrong. I have my own past and my own personality. I’m going to relate to the material in a completely different way than somebody else might. I didn’t like the structure imposed on something that shouldn’t have a structure.”

Next wave
Next up is The Fifth Wave, a grandiose dystopian fantasy that Columbia Pictures is hoping will be the next Hunger Games: “I get to play the kick-ass girl,” she says excitedly. “They dyed my hair black. I look like an anime character. There was a lot of fight training and gun training and working with a Swat team. It was so much fun. As crazy as it is being on a movie that size – and I’m not a studio animal – I had an awesome time.”

Still, she’s hoping for a fast retreat back to the indie sector, a smaller, heartfelt place where the people she admires most – Jessica Chastain, Wes Anderson – dwell.

“I love all this and I’ve worked my butt off to get here but I don’t want this to be normal,” she says. “I want normal to be sitting on a couch with my parents. I like getting dressed up for about an hour but then the heels start to hurt and I want sweatpants. I love that my friends are completely oblivious to the whole insane movie business. One works in fashion and the other is a wedding planner. I come home and they ask: ‘How was that?’ I say ‘good’. And then we talk about other things.”

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