Handle With Care: A Conversation with Maika Monroe
The breakout film from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, IT FOLLOWS is a contemporary horror exploring teen sex, suburbia, and the stuff of nightmares – a cult classic in the making from one of the most exciting filmmaking talents around. For 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), the fall should be about school, boys and weekends at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Faced with this burden, Jay and her teenage friends must find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind.
Quite a hard movie to categorise this one. How would you describe it?
Oh god! It’s a bit of a mix. It’s so funny, because you do a lot of interviews about this movie and it’s almost impossible to describe. It covers so much ground and it’s so hard to pinpoint.
So how was it described to you when you were first introduced to it?
Well I had the script and I was filming another project when I went to audition for It Follows. So I read the script and looked into David Robert Mitchell. Reading the script I was like, ‘This is crazy! How is he going to get this story across on film because it’s so bizarre”. I put myself on tape and David watched it and explained to me how this story came from this nightmare he had as a kid. I always think it’s cool when people pull something out of something that happened to them. So that’s what made me interested, as well as seeing David’s first film [The Myth of the American Sleepover].
How did it read as a script? Like you say it needs delicate handling.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure about it. There are so many factors that go into making a movie and the script was just so bizarre. It’s a hard thing to make a movie about. It was a tough decision. But seeing David’s last film and seeing how specific he is, and then talking to him and seeing his storyboards and all the thought he’d put into it, then I knew that this was going to be something unique and special. David was the perfect person to do it.
What’s David like?
He’s very nerdy, kind of a tall, lanky guy. Keir Gilchrist (Paul) in the movie is a younger version of him. And they look like brothers. He’s a very nerdy guy and very calm. On set things might be going wrong and he just stays completely level. He doesn’t raise his voice. He’s very into his work and very hands-on with his project. There are crazy scenes in the movie, like there’s one where I’m out in the water, and he knows very specifically what he wants. I’m out there freezing my ass off and he says, “I just need one more take”. But it’s ok because he knows what he wants down to every detail. So you want to give him what he wants.
Is filming a horror as tense as you’d imagine it to be?
I’d have to say this was the most intense working experience of my life so far…This was the third project in a row for me that kept me away from home. So I was going on for six months without going home, so you’re going slightly crazy just from playing all these different characters in succession. And on this I’m screaming and crying and running and smashing into things. Every day was another hurdle to go over. But it was great on set and a really good group of kids. I had to wear headphones all the time. It’s not easy for me to go from happiness to sadness, so I’d have to keep my headphones on and spent most of the week in a really dark place. So it was great when we’d get to the weekend and I could go back to being myself and being a kid. We were all really good friends so it was good to shake everything off and forget. Then Monday came and oof. It was a hard movie.
What music would you listen to with your headphones on?
So many different things. Dark, weird things.
You’ve had a big year. You had The Guest and this in close succession. How was that?
It was crazy. I was shooting the project I’m on now [The Fifth Wave] in Atlanta and I flew straight to [the Toronto Film Festival, where The Guest and It Follows premiered]. I’d do press over two days and then fly straight back to Atlanta to shoot. I had to do it two weekends back-to-back for It Follows and The Guest, so it was pretty crazy. It’s been a crazy year. Super busy!
Does it seem like you’ve been acting more than a couple of years?
It feels so much longer than that! It feels like years and years. So much has happened. So many things happened in one year that I was like, no way has this only been one year. It’s all gone very quickly. I had a role in a movie called At Any Price, which went to festivals, then I got a cool little role in the Jason Reitman movie Labor Day, and then The Guest and that did really well, then It Follows did really well and now here I am. It’s been all back-to-back and I’ve been really lucky to be in some really cool projects. I know it seems like it has been overnight but I’ve been working my ass off and it’s cool to see all that hard work. It’s what I love to do.
The story is that you were spotted on the beach and asked to audition for a movie. Is that true?
Well it depends how you look at it. I wouldn’t put it like that. I was living in the Dominican Republic when I sent in a tape for At Any Price with Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. So if you want to say I was discovered there you could, but I sent in a tape from my shitty little apartment in the Dominican Republic and then booked that movie. That changed the course of my life. I wasn’t spotted on the beach, though. That’s way too good to be true!
When did you decide to act?
I grew up loving doing school plays. I remember in elementary school we would do scenes for the parents. I played Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean in fifth grade and I loved it. But I never thought I wanted to be in movies. My path for a long time was that I wanted to be a paramedic. And also I looked at going to college for graphic design. So nothing to do with acting. But I also did dance and just by chance a producer/director contacted the company I was with and said they needed actor/dancers for a little film they were doing. So I went on set and I just fell in love with it. I was blown away. You’re a kid seeing how a movie is made and it looks so incredible…It all started randomly from there.
What did you think an acting career would involve?
My dad had me watch all the classics growing up, so it’s always been movies to me. I’d never thought about doing TV, playing the same character for a long time. The thing I love is being other people for a short amount of time. I get to live all these other lives.
You used to be a kiteboarder. How did that become something you did professionally?
Both my parents were windsurfers. My dad was there in the very beginning of the sport, when people started transitioning from windsurfing to kiteboarding. He was doing that when I was about 11. My mum and I would watch him and I’d be like, “I wanna learn. I wanna learn”. Then when I was 13 he started teaching me and we’d go on trips around the world and I just fell in love with it and started getting good.
Are you going to keep that up as a sideline?
In any free time I have you will find me kiteboarding but I’m not nearly as good as the top girls anymore. They’re training every day and I’m only doing it when I can. But I would say I’m an actress now. No longer actress/professional kiteboarder.
IT FOLLOWS IS RELEASED IN UK CINEMAS BY ICON ON FEBRUARY 27