MAIKA MONROE IN LOS ANGELES, DECEMBER 2015. PHOTOS: DANI BRUBAKER. STYLING: SEAN KNIGHT. MAKEUP: JEN FIAMENGO/WALTER SCHUPFER MANAGEMENT USING CHANEL BEAUTE. HAIR: KYLEE HEATH/THE WALL GROUP USING R+CO.
In 2011, while her peers in Santa Barbara were preparing to head off to college, 17-year-old Maika Monroe moved to the Dominican Republic to train as a professional kiteboarder. Acting had been an interest of hers, too, but after booking few roles, it wasn’t her priority. Before a year had passed abroad, however, that changed; an audition tape landed her a role in her first feature film, Ramin Bahrani‘s At Any Price, and she had a decision to make. Should she end her first career, kiteboarding, and begin her second?
“I was living the Dominican Republic at the time when I was making the decision,” she recalls. “I would make lists of the pros and cons. It was very, very difficult because kiteboarding and acting are so different. They’re such incredibly different lifestyles but at the end of the day, I think my heart was in acting. I’m very happy; I think I made the right choice.”
Now, at age 22, it’s evident that Monroe was correct. The Los Angeles-based actor was crowned a scream queen after roles in consecutive indie horror films The Guest and It Follows. She won over fans of the genre by grounding her frantic running and screaming in sincere fear, all the while choosing projects that avoided overuse of cheap, jump-out-of-your-seat scares. She has since wrapped on two dystopian, sci-fi, action films: The 5th Wave, the first in a trilogy adapting Rick Yancey’s young adult novels and Independence Day: Resurgence, in which she plays Patricia Whitmore, the daughter of the President (Bill Pullman).
With seven films already slated for production or release in 2016 and 2017, Monroe returns to kiteboarding to keep herself present. “I still find the time,” she tells us. “I have to. I think for me, it keeps me sane.” Luckily, her next project, The Tribes of Palos Verdes, will be a return to her sand and salt water roots. In it, Monroe is Medina, a young woman escaping her dysfunctional parents (Jennifer Garner and Matt Dillon) through surfing.
“We start [filming] in about a month, so I’m in surf training now,” she tells us. “I’m so incredibly excited for it. It’s a really special story that’s quite close to me… Surprisingly, I am great at kiteboarding, but I’m not great at surfing. So I’m working on that.”
After she wraps on The Tribes of Palos Verdes this spring, she’ll go straight into preparation for Felt, directed by Concussion‘s Peter Landesman. Anyone apt to label her as only a dystopian heroine after The 5th Wave and Independence Day: Resurgence will think twice upon hearing this film’s premise; she’s the daughter of Mark Felt (Liam Neeson), who is known best by the name “Deep Throat,” his informant pseudonym during the Watergate scandal.
As for the future, Monroe’s aspirations include working with Quentin Tarantino and her own foray into the supernatural world of comics (fueled by a childhood love of Batman). “I think being a superhero would be quite cool,” she says eagerly. “We’ll see.”
HALEY WEISS: How did you become involved in The 5th Wave?
MAIKA MONROE: I received the script and kind of fell in love with the character so I went in and auditioned. I really fought for this role; I felt this need that I had to play her. I just really, really liked her. So I auditioned a couple of times and then I ended up booking it.
WEISS: What did you like about her?
MONROE: She’s super tough. She’s very self-sufficient and she’s a survivor. To me, I think it’s a cool female role… I play Ringer and she’s a marksman, so she’s incredibly talented with a rifle, a gun. In the second book [of The 5th Wave series] you learn more about her past and her childhood and the family that she lost, what makes her who she is, so I wanted to bring that into the first movie. Simply put, she’s a badass. I think young girls will look up to her and boys will be afraid of her, which is very cool.
WEISS: It seems like you tend toward more physical, active roles. I know that in It Follows you did all of your own stunts. Does that stem from your history as an athlete?
MONROE: I think so, but I also think that some of it has happened by chance. There’s something really, really fun about that. With a project like The 5th Wave, you do something you would never do in your normal life; I would never have had S.W.A.T. training or boot camp, and there’s something really cool about learning stuff like that that’s really fun about our job.
WEISS: What was S.W.A.T. training like? What did you have to do?
MONROE: It was incredible. Basically, you learn how to enter a building if you’re going to take someone out. You have your gun and [there are] these mock houses and so we learned how to go into a house and catch someone. We learned how to take apart a gun, put it back together, how to hold the gun, how to run with the gun, and how to drop to the ground with the gun. It was a lot.
WEISS: Going back to It Follows, what was it that first attracted you to that script when you read it?
MONROE: For me, it was really the director, [David Robert Mitchell]. The script was difficult because if you think about the concept of It Follows, [in which a supernatural being is passed on through sexual intercourse], and reading it on a page, I don’t think it came across properly. It was hard to imagine in film how people would take it. It was really after I spoke to the director that I realized, “Okay, he has a vision, he has an idea, and I need to be a part of this.”
WEISS: For a small film it was widely released and very well received. What do you think it was about the film that resonated with audiences?
MONROE: I think that there was an elegance to it that you don’t see in horror films. There’s a beauty to it, the cinematography is stunning, and the soundtrack is incredible. I think that you just don’t see horror movies like that anymore; it’s a throwback to older films. I think that’s why people connected with it.
WEISS: I know you started kiteboarding when you were 13, but when did acting come into the picture?
MONROE: It really started when I was about 18, when I booked my first movie, [At Any Price], with Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid. I think that’s when it really began for me. When I was younger I would audition here and there, but it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I took it more seriously.
WEISS: Do you remember your first audition?
MONROE: My very first probably was for a commercial, for Pizza Hut. And I actually ended up booking it! I was probably 14.
WEISS: Did the commercial end up airing?
MONROE: Oh yeah. [laughs] It’s probably out there somewhere on YouTube… They were coming out with a fettuccine alfredo pasta, so we were at a family table and had to eat it. It was not pleasant, I will tell you that. By the end-this might be too much information-but they had buckets where we would just spit out the food. So we would chew it and [pauses] it was awful, it was not good.
WEISS: That’s certainly an interesting introduction into the acting world.
MONROE: It was! It was a little bit traumatic. [laughs]
WEISS: You’ve worked on a combination of studio and independent films. Have you found that you prefer one way of working over the other?
MONROE: No, I don’t think so. I think there are positives and negatives to both. I grew up in the indie world and that’s what I’m used to, but there’s something really incredible about having money behind a film and having the time to do as many takes as you want. I don’t think I could choose one over the other but maybe if I had to lean toward one I would say indie because that’s how I was raised in the industry, but Independence Day, I had a blast on that—it was so much fun—so I don’t know.
WEISS: Did you watch the original Independence Day when you were growing up?
MONROE: Oh my god, yes. I remember when I got the audition, the first time it was sent through, the first thing I did was call my dad because he’s the one who showed me that movie probably when I was 10 or 11. I was like, “Dad, they’re making another one. Now there’s about a two percent chance that I will ever get this but I had to tell you.” He was super excited when I ended up getting it; we had a fan girl moment. My dad had actually never visited me on set before, just because he has work all of the time, but for Independence Day he had to make the time and so he came out and met Jeff [Goldblum] and Bill Pullman. It was very cool.
WEISS: Is anyone in your family in the film industry?
MONROE: No, my mom is a sign language interpreter so she works with deaf students and my dad is a general contractor. So they have nothing to do with the industry, but I really like that because there’s a distance from it. I go home to visit them and we’re not just talking about my job, which I think is refreshing.
WEISS: You seem quite busy. Did you have any time or breaks between shoots last year?
MONROE: There weren’t too many breaks. I took about a month once I finished filming my last film. I went to Australia and travelled around surfing and kiting, and took a moment to breathe and to relax. But I think now is a good time to be busy. At my age, I want to work hard, and when good roles come along I don’t want to pass them up. It’s hard; I try to find a balance and I know that it’s important to take time, so I try to do that as much as I can.
WEISS: Looking back at your first film, At Any Price, what do you think you’ve learned since then or what do you think has changed the most in your acting?
MONROE: Oh man, so much. [laughs] It’s crazy, the other day my friend wanted to watch my scenes in it because she hadn’t seen it, so I fast-forwarded so she could watch the scenes with me in it. It was pretty insane to see, even as a person, remembering who I was then and how much I’ve grown. You learn so much on set; I don’t know if you learn as much anywhere else as you do when you’re on set, working. I like to think that I’ve grown as an actor and things have changed, and I think so, but it was quite weird watching that because I feel like I was so young. I had no idea what I was doing! I was just looking up to Zac and Dennis, pinching myself.
THE 5TH WAVE COMES OUT THIS FRIDAY, JANUARY 22 2016.