Although still only a few films into her career, Maika Monroe’s already worked with some great directors, including Sofia Coppola (The Bling Ring), Jason Reitman (Labor Day) and Adam Wingard (The Guest). Her latest film is the extremely scary It Follows, writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s horror film about an ordinary teenager from a sleepy Detroit suburb pursued by a wraith-like entity.
Monroe’s great in the part, bringing both strength, dry humour and quiet intelligence to Jay, the luckless teenager at the film’s centre. Then again, she was great in The Guest – Adam Wingard’s delirious synth-pop take on Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt.
With It Follows in UK cinemas this weekend, here’s our chat with Monroe, in which she tells us about the sometimes difficult process of making the film, her memories of working on The Guest, how the 2006 horror film Bad Blood got her into acting, and more besides.
Congratulations on the film, it’s fantastic. And terrifying. Did the script seem that scary even on the page?
[Laughs] I definitely thought it was quite creepy, but I also thought the plot was very, very odd. I didn’t know how it would translate into a movie. But when I saw David’s previous film, The Myth Of The American Sleepover, it made sense to me. You can really clearly see his style, that dreamlike, hazy feel. You can see that a horror movie done like that would be quite interesting.
Making a film like this must take an awful lot of trust in the director on your part. Did you have any apprehensions before filming began?
Oh, yeah. It’s incredibly important with a movie like this, to have trust. And with David, I was very lucky that I had that. Just when you meet him, and you talk about the movie, it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing, and he knows what he wants to make, which is something that I love. He’s so specific with every detail, with the framing, what we’re wearing, everything. If it’s not a director you trust, it can be frustrating, but with David, you could tell we were making something special.
I liked that the film managed to say a lot about your character without a lot of dialogue. The way she observes the world around her say a lot. Were those quiet moments the most interesting to explore as an actor? Those non-verbal cues?
I probably like those things more even. You can learn more from a person just from their observations, and how they see the world. More so than just talking. David is kind of putting this thing together, and it helps me a lot, because I learn a lot about the character through those things, which was nice to have.
What I liked about the character as well is that she’s a self-reliant, strong heroine. How important is it for you to find roles like that?
Definitely. When you look at the roles I’ve done and the roles coming up, they’re all strong. I guess I’m more drawn to that than that kind of submissive role females can be categorised as. So definitely.
I think the film’s an interesting take on the fears of passing through your teenage years and into adulthood, the uncertainty of it. Is that something you picked up in it?
In a way, it is a coming of age story. It’s a normal teenager thrown into an insane situation, and you’re watching how she deals with it, how she comes out in the end. So yeah, I see that.
What was the most difficult scene for you in terms of acting?
Um, there was a lot! There’s something with horror that I didn’t think would be so difficult is to be able to express complete terror, because I’ve never experienced that in my life. Knock on wood. I hope to never experience that. But running, screaming for my life, frightened I’m going to be murdered, that all has to be your imagination.
Even the wheelchair scene wasn’t easy for many reasons. Weather-wise, as well, it was maybe minus one celsius, and absolutely freezing. I’m bra and shorts, and physically it wasn’t great, so doing it a bunch of times and screaming, that was definitely difficult.
Did the notion of doing another horror film after The Guest appeal to you? Did you consider the possibility of being known as a horror scream queen afterwards?
I wasn’t even thinking about it, really. I didn’t even cross my mind. I signed on to The Guest and thinking that this was a really cool group of people and I think it’ll be a cool film. I sent in my audition tape while I was on the set of The Guest, because I remember loving David’s work and wanting to work with him. I wasn’t thinking that I was two horrors back to back, I was thinking these were characters that I want to play.
They are actually very different films, really. What are your memories of making The Guest? It seemed like it was quite an energetic film to work on.
Both the projects were very different. The Guest was more light-hearted, just because of the people doing it. There’s a lot of comedy in The Guest, so it was a bit more fun in a sense – it wasn’t so heavy like It Follows.
Were you surprised at how well Dan Stevens managed to cast off his Downton Abbey image?
I was in awe. I remember watching Downton Abbey prior to working with him, and just being like, “I don’t know how he’s going to play this character.” Then the first couple of days on set, just seeing his transformation, I was blown away.
So going back to It Follows, did you go to Cannes, and if so, what was the experience like? Did the reception take you by surprise?
It was pretty surreal. First of all being in Cannes, and then getting such an amazing response. I remember on the last night, all the films in our category had a party, and so many people were coming up to us and going, “What an incredible film. What a great job.” I was, like, “Wow”. I had no idea the reaction would be like that. It was pretty incredible.
Do you think it marks a bit of a change for horror, because the genre wouldn’t always have been so gratefully received at Cannes.
I think, recently, there’s been some really cool horror films coming out of festivals, like The Babadook – which I haven’t seen yet, I’m dying to see it. It’s meant to be quite amazing. And I think at the most recent Sundance, a film called The Witch. I think people are taking more time to make good horror movies, which is really cool – they’re bringing more respect to that genre.
Is it right that when you got your start in acting, your very first part was in a horror film [Bad Blood, starring Piper Laurie and released in 2006]?
Yes, it was, which is quite funny now. I’d really no interest in [acting] before. I grew up dancing, and I had other plans at that age – I think I was 13 – about what I wanted to become, and it definitely wasn’t acting. I remember watching movies with my dad, but I didn’t think of it as a real career.
So it wasn’t until a production company contacted the dance company that I was with, and said, “We need you background dancers for this horror movie.” And so I remember my mom driving me to LA and walking on set, and being in complete awe. I was like, “This is the coolest thing ever,” watching how a movie was made. Since I was hanging out on set all the time, even when I didn’t have to be there, the director got to know me and wrote me into the script. So that’s how it all started. I guess it kind of fell into my lap, in a sense.
It seems that you’ve had a really impressive career already, give you’ve worked with directors like Sofia Coppola and Jason Reitman. Was it easy as it seems, looking at it from the outside?
No, it was definitely not as easy it looks from the outside. I put in a lot of time and work, and for a while, it wasn’t working out. There was a point where I was very close to stopping and moving on to other things. No, it’s not easy – you have to be super tough and be willing to work extra hard.
So given that you’ve been on set a lot and spoken to lots of writers and directors, is that a side of a business you’d like to get into one day?
Yeah, I mean I think every job in this industry is quite interesting. There’s a lot I’d have to learn – a lot, a lot, a lot. I want to spend as much time on set, learning from the people I’m working with, because that’s where you learn the most. But I’m definitely interested in that at some point.
The Fifth Wave sounds like an interesting film – that’s what you’ve got coming next, isn’t it?
Yeah. It’s a young adult novel that’s really quite popular, and it’s a trilogy of books. We just wrapped up on that. I get to play this really awesome, kick-ass character. There was a lot of training involved with guns and a SWAT team and fight training, which was really fun. That’ll be coming out in January 2016.
Once I get back from this trip, I start filming a movie called Tribes Of Palos Verdes, which is kind of a dark drama with Jennifer Garner with Matt Dillon that I’m quite excited about.
Maika Monroe, thank you very much.
It Follows is out in UK cinemas on the 27th February.
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