Based on the decidedly dark movies that have catapulted Maika Monroe to indie fame over the past few years — cult horror film It Follows and campy thriller The Guest, both of which see her confronting the possibility of an extremely violent death — I'd expected her to be a very grim person, a sort of self-serious Rooney Mara type dressed in all black, avoiding eye contact, and staring wistfully at the door. Instead, Monroe is almost absurdly warm and gregarious, bounding energetically into the L.A. office building where we're set to meet, grinning and wearing a bright pink, dragon-emblazoned letterman jacket from Tokyo that she's thrilled to expound upon at length. (In short: We agree that owning several insane jackets is important, as they both complement and obscure a boring outfit; she promises to hook me up with a similar jacket when she goes to Tokyo for press.)
It's almost too much; for at least 15 minutes, I assume Monroe is being held at invisible gunpoint by a cadre of publicists. But as we keep talking, I realize Monroe, 22, is genuinely this kind, this goofy, and this unaffected by the Hollywood machine. This is in no small part because of the rare, surreal situation she's found herself in, a situation she laughs about and marvels at throughout our conversation: Over the course of approximately four years, Monroe has gone from living a low-key life in the Dominican Republic as an unknown, would-be professional kiteboarder to an in-demand Hollywood actress with so many projects on her docket that I have to help her remember them all. The biggest one, of course, is Independence Day: Resurgence, out this July. The ravenously anticipated sequel marks Monroe's first mainstream, blockbuster movie — though, naturally, the threat of a graphically violent death still looms large.
OK, since we just talked jackets for 600 years, I need to tell you: In It Follows, there’s a scene where you’re wearing this really unique, wild-printed jacket with a fur hood. You know the one I mean?
Maika Monroe: Oh, yes, yes.
I was wearing that same weird jacket inside this tiny theater, and everyone in my row turned to look at me in complete horror.
Monroe: No you were NOT. [laughs] They were afraid that you were “it.” That you had “it.”
Yes, they thought I had the sex demon.
Monroe: That is hysterical. Oh my god. That’s amazing. That is amazing. Best story ever.
I took it off the moment I left the theater.
Monroe: You were like, “Probably should remove it. Yeah.”
The fashion — everything, really — in that movie was so cool because it felt really timeless.
Monroe: The director [David Robert Mitchell] was a big part of the fashion. His wife is an artist, and she has this really creative eye, and really got that the film doesn’t take place in a specific time — it’s kind of in this fake world — so that was important to bring in through the fashion. It has this ’70s vibe, but also [incorporates] things that don’t exist.
OK, I want to go back to before It Follows even happened. You were initially planning on being a professional kiteboarder. Why?
Monroe: Yeah. My dad taught me when I was 13. I fell in love with it and started traveling around the world, started getting better and better. I was acting a little bit at the time but it just wasn’t working out or coming together. For me, kiteboarding was in my control. You see progress, you train, you get better. In a sense, you have control of the outcome. Acting is completely out of your hands. There are so many aspects involved, which is super tough, at a young age, to remove yourself from. So I was like, “If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.” So at 17, I moved to the Dominican Republic to go pro and train. I was there for about seven months. That was my life. That was everything.
Why the Dominican Republic?
Monroe: It’s one of the best places in the world to kite.
Did you go alone?
Monroe: My mom came. I was 17, and I finished my last semester [of high school] online. It was such a special experience. I feel very lucky to have had that be a part of my life — not even just the kiteboarding, but living there. It makes you aware of certain things. If I hadn’t had that ... it’s not that I’d be a different person, but it’s impacted me in a good way.
Gives you perspective.
Monroe: Absolutely. We were living in this tiny apartment and you’re eating beans and rice every day, because there’s not much else to eat. [laughs] It was very healthy for me.
Why’d you leave?
Monroe: I booked At Any Price with Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid. Honestly, it’s luck. I don’t know how it happened. My mom filmed the audition for me. I really want to go back and find that audition because it’s like, “What do you mean? How did that happen?”
So you hadn’t really fully given up on acting.
Monroe: I was so close to telling my agent and manager, “I’m doing kiteboarding, maybe I’ll get back into it when I come back to L.A., but right now, this is my focus.” I had maybe done four or five auditions, just on projects I liked. I sent in this tape, and don’t ask me how it all happened. I left in about three weeks and went to go film in Chicago. That was crazy culture shock. Couldn’t have been more opposite. I’m hanging out with Zac, going out with producers, flying in jets — I’m like, “What is liiiife? What is happening?”
Is there a part of you that still feels more comfortable being unknown on a remote beach?
Monroe: No question. 100 percent. This whole world, a lot of it’s not reality. You have to — you’re filming for three months. That’s this made-up world, and you have to realize that and separate yourself from it. I’ve got a really good family and a really small group of friends that just keeps everything low-key. But the beach is definitely where I belong.
After At Any Price, you did The Guest. That movie is so campy and amazing, in large part because of its visual style and that ’80s-esque, synth-y soundtrack. Were you aware that was the tone it would end up taking?
Monroe: I had no idea what I was walking into. I loved You’re Next, and the director [Adam Wingard], when I met him, and the producers. I was like, “This is an awesome group of people.” When I saw The Guest for the first time — I had no idea [about] the music, the style of it all. I was like, “Oh, OK!” And Dan [Stevens] is so good. He’s so good. Before going into shooting The Guest, I watched Downton Abbey, and I was like, “I don’t know how this person’s gonna pull this off.” He couldn’t be more different. And he blew me away.
That and It Follows were so similar in tone — these bizarre, pastiche-y horror movies. Was that a purposeful move?
Monroe: By chance, I tell you. Are you kidding me? You can’t plan anything here. You receive scripts, you read ’em, if you like ’em, you go for it. But I couldn’t have planned that in a million years. Don’t know how that happened.
Your earlier movies — Bad Blood, for example — were dark, too. It seems like you’re drawn to that type of movie. But you’re so nice and cheerful. What’s your dark secret?
Monroe: I guess so, yeah! There’s gotta be something there. I think everyone has a dark side, in a sense. Complicated characters are more intriguing to me than simple ones, if you will. There is something I’m drawn to there. Why, I don’t know.
Were you into that stuff as a kid?
Monroe: Oh yeah, I loved horror movies. I watched them with my dad. The Shining was my favorite. Nightmare on Elm Street. You go to see movies to feel something, and being terrified — there’s something so fun about that.
Now everybody’s pegging you as the new “scream queen" — seems a little bit early to be pigeonholing you. Does that bug you?
Monroe: Right, I’ve only done two! You can’t really let it bother you. At the end of this year some other films are going out that are so different from that. It doesn’t bother me. It is what it is. But no, it wasn’t like I planned, “I’m gonna be the next scream queen.”
Was there a moment during the It Follows mania — when you really started to become a “name” — where you felt like you were losing yourself?
Monroe: My mom is on me. If there’s any attitude, or anything … [mimes slapping] And my two closest friends aren’t in the industry, and they don’t care. If you’ve got people around you that are like, “Oh, you’re so good,” this and that, it becomes unhealthy. My friends are like, “You look like a doofus.” I’m like, “Thank you. Thank you for that.” It keeps me grounded.
From the inside of that It Follows whirlwind, though, it must’ve been insane.
Monroe: I mean, I had NO idea. We premiered at Cannes, [and] for a horror film to go to Cannes is just not heard of. Now it’s different, you’re seeing a change, and horror’s coming back in a new way, which is super cool. But the French are very hard. [laughs] And when good reviews started coming out, we were like, “What’s happening?” That’s why you make films, though. To have that happen and see this response, people so excited and refreshed by something new, that’s all you can ask for.
Do you remember the moment you were like, “Oh, shit, my life has irreparably changed”?
Monroe: Gosh. Probably when it came out in theaters. It was a small release, and then it blew up. Then they did a wide release everywhere, and more and more people in the industry were seeing it. So I’d be getting calls: “This person saw it, they wanna meet with you.” And I was like, “What?” So that was kind of … I started seeing a shift where people were wanting to meet with me after the film.
All right, let’s talk about Independence Day: Resurgence. Tell me about your audition.
Monroe: Oh man. I’m a huge fan of the first Independence Day. It is amazing. When it came out in 1995, just how explosive and big it was … I loved it. I remember getting the email with the audition, and I called my dad, who’s a huge fan, and I was like, “Oh my god, they’re making another Independence Day. It’s probably an 8 percent chance of my getting this, but still, they’re making another one, and I’m so excited.”
Why’d you think your chances were so low?
Monroe: Well, because of how many girls they were seeing. So many.
Monroe: I’m actually curious. I’m assuming in the thousands, probably. Lots of people. I should ask Roland [Emmerich, the director]. “How many people did you see? Send me the list. I need to know.” So yeah, I went in for the initial audition with casting, then went in again with casting and Roland, then went in again for a [chemistry] read with Liam [Hemsworth, the male lead]. I think I was up against four girls at that point. We did the read on a stage; it was like shooting the movie, pretty much. Never done a camera test like that. I just remember, I think I was the fourth to go in, and everyone was just so lovely. And I’d heard so many — I don’t wanna say horror stories, but about bigger films, with all of the money and everything. But everyone was so awesome. And I got the call and I was, like, dancing around.
What was the most surreal moment for you on that set?
Monroe: Having conversations with Jeff Goldblum. “Oh, it’s just Jeff and I, you know, hanging out [laughs].”
What’d you guys talk about?
Monroe: Jeff knows how to talk. He’d tell stories. Lots of games. There’s a game we’d play where I’d say the title of a movie, and then he’d name an actor, and then I’d name a movie that actor was in, and so on. There was dancing. He did some tap dancing.
When you first got the role, there was this typical Internet nonsense happening where everyone was upset that Mae Whitman didn’t get the role, since she originated it in 1995. Did you see any of that?
Monroe: Yeah. That was a bummer.
To me, it felt like, “Oh, OK, here’s another fun way to pit women against each other for no reason.”
Monroe: That’s exactly what it was. I was like, “Why are you guys doing this? You’re creating a problem and it’s so not necessary.” I was bummed about that.
Did you ever talk to her about the whole thing?
Monroe: No, I’ve never met her. But, I mean … I auditioned for it! I fought for it. I fought for that role.
And now you have, what, seven movies coming up? Which are filmed already?
Monroe: Right after Independence Day, I went straight into Hot Summer Nights, then straight into The Scent of Rain & Lightning, then, uh …
I have the names here, if you need them.
Monroe: Yes, thank you! [Laughs] What other ones are there?
I'm Not Here?
Monroe: That’s with J.K. Simmons and Sebastian Stan. I’m not totally sure what I can say about that one. But … awesome cast.
There’s Felt, where you play the daughter of Deep Throat.
Monroe: The Deep Throat story. I do that in June. So excited.
Hot Summer Nights, which is a coming-of-age story in Cape Cod, right?
Monroe: I wish we’d filmed it in Cape Cod. We actually filmed in Atlanta, but it takes place in Cape Cod. Alex [Roe], who plays my brother in it, I did The 5th Wave with, so we already knew each other. We all stayed in a house together. A big house. Dangerous. It was a blast.
The Tribes of Palos Verdes, billed as a "surfing drama."
Monroe: Finished filming that. That’ll hopefully be ready for the [Toronto International Film Festival].
The Scent of Rain & Lightning — you’re the lead in this, and it’s based on a novel.
Monroe: Yes. So that one, in the beginning, you see that a young girl’s parents are murdered. They find the guy, put him away, and then fast-forward to her at 22, and they release the guy, because they say they have proof that it wasn’t him. She tries to prove that it was him and then starts to realize it maybe wasn’t him, that maybe it was someone a bit closer.
Another light story for you.
Monroe: Just light and easy. Easy breezy. These’ll hopefully be going to festivals; it looks like TIFF.
And you also just signed up for two more films at Cannes — Tau and Stockholm. Both sound extremely chill.
Monroe: Another dark one. It’s just a lot. Yep. Yep.
Are you ever gonna do a comedy?
Monroe: I’d love, love, love to do a comedy. I can’t imagine being on set and being happy and cheerful. That seems so foreign.