Three years ago, Maika Monroe was a professional kiteboarder for whom a career in acting seemed unlikely. And then she got a part in 2012’s At Any Price. Her filmography snowballed from there, most notably with a major supporting role in The Guest (which played at last year’s Sundance) and the lead in It Follows (which played this year’s). In It Follows, Monroe plays Jay, a young adult who finds a terrifying curse passed on to her—a vicious apparition follows her wherever she goes, always at a walking pace, and it will kill her if it catches up. We sat down with Monroe at Sundance to talk about the differences in athletics and acting, and what kind of characters she likes to play.
How did you transition from kiteboarding to acting?
Maika Monroe: I actually started kiteboarding and acting at the same time, when I was about thirteen, and just progressed more in kiteboarding. When I was seventeen, I decided to do my last semester of high school online, and my mom and I moved to the Dominican Republic so I could pursue kiteboarding professionally. At that time, acting wasn’t working out—I would send a few audition tapes here and there, but my focus was on kiteboarding. I liked it because I had control over it. You train, you work hard, and you will see the results. With acting, you can go to as many classes as you want, go to this or that, and things still might not change. Fate and luck and everything comes in with it. With sports, if you’re the best, you are the best; there’s not really a question about it. I like that.
So what tipped you from sports to acting?
Monroe: I had been in the Dominican Republic for about seven months, and I sent in what probably would have been one of my last audition tapes. That was for At Any Price. I got a call a couple weeks later that the director wanted to meet with me. It wasn’t even a question if I was going to fly back. My life was going one way, and all of a sudden it took a right turn, and since that film, my life has changed incredibly.
In the Dominican Republic, my mom and I lived in this little tiny town called Cabarete, which is very poor. All my Dominican friends live in an area called Los Venaga. Their houses are shacks. They’d invite us over to dinner, and we’d sit in plastic chairs on the dirt inside a house. It was an important experience for me, because this lifestyle can get a little out-of-hand. I went from living in the Dominican Republic, every day my mom and I would cook or we’d go hang out with the kids, to flying a private jet to Chicago with Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid. People had champagne and they were going to these amazing restaurants. It was a culture shock. It’s important, I think, to have that. To see both sides. You don’t want to get caught up in this.
How did you come aboard It Follows?
Monroe: I got the script while I was shooting The Guest. I remember thinking, “This is the weirdest thing ever. I don’t how this is ever going to translate into a movie. I don’t know how people are even going to take it.” I looked up David [Robert Mitchell, the director], and thought, “OK, interesting guy.” I sent an audition tape. After he watched it, he wanted to give me a call, so we talked. He told me how the story came from the nightmares he had as a kid. In them, these things would follow him constantly. And not fast, but slow, which is almost more terrifying. Then I watched his last movie, Myth of the American Sleepover, which is amazing. I put all the pieces together and decided that this could be something very interesting and unique.
This makes two starring gigs for you in horror/thriller films. Is that a genre you feel at all drawn to?
Monroe: No. It was just by chance that these two big roles came back-to-back. My next two movies aren’t like that. The first is a really dark drama that we shot in Iceland. The other is a young adult novel adaptation called The 5th Wave, in which I get to play this really badass character, which is fun. But there’s no question I’ll be back [in horror] if a really amazing script comes along again. What I love about my job is challenging myself and finding weird, different roles.
What kind of character would you like to play now, then?
Monroe: If someone had asked me this back when I was doing The Guest, I would have said I wanted to play a kickass, badass, karate super action hero. And then I literally got that role with my character Ringer in The 5th Wave. I trained with SWAT guys, learned how to shoot M4’s, take apart guns … that was my dream come true. They dyed my hair black, got me an army outfit. It’s really sick. From here, what now? I don’t know.