Kiteboarder Turned Actress Maika Monroe on Horror Movie Stardom

A chat with the It Follows ingenue and former professional kiteboarder on the horror of looming fame.
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A chat with the It Follows ingenue and former professional kiteboarder on the horror of looming fame.
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It Follows is a horror movie about a woman who receives the worst possible post-coital news: She's being stalked by a sexually transmitted supernatural entity that she can only escape by finding a new lover. The indie film, directed by David Robert Mitchell, bypasses the gore that’s so prevalent in the genre in favor of an elegantly creepy, lo-fi style that makes the film all the more terrifying. At the center is 19-year-old Jay, the curse’s latest victim, played by rising actress Maika Monroe. We spoke to her about kiteboarding, It Follows, and how she would defeat an evil sex demon. 

You spent several years as a professional kiteboarder. How did you get into acting?

Well, I was acting before then. I was in the Dominican Republic [kiteboarding] for about seven months, and I sent in a few audition tapes -- one of the last ones I sent was for the film At Any Price with Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid. I ended up booking it and it completely changed the course of my life. I moved back to L.A and started working a lot more. It’s so weird, it feels like kiteboarding was in another life.

Was it difficult to give up kiteboarding in favor of pursuing an acting career, or was acting what you really wanted to do?

I think acting is always what I really wanted. The Dominican became my second home -- it was really hard to say goodbye to everyone. And I had worked so hard. I was training seven hours a day...but in my heart, I knew that acting was what I wanted to do, so it only took me a second to decide that I had to leave. I still kiteboard. After I finished filming At Any Price I went to a competition, even though I wasn’t training like the other girls. It’s still a huge part of my life.

It sounds like you’re balancing both pretty well. Now, both The Guest and It Follows are extremely suspenseful movies -- and the latter is just straight horror. Did you always see yourself becoming a horror movie star or did you just happen to find yourself working within the genre?

I just fell into it. To be honest, there aren’t a lot of specific horror movies whose scripts I read and am like “oh wow, this is good.” The people involved had such interesting [previous] projects. There’s something so unique about both of them. It just happened that these two scripts came back-to-back.

When I first heard about the concept of It Follows, I thought it was totally insane. How did you react when you first learned about it?

Like you. I thought it was insane -- I didn’t know how it was going to translate into a movie. But after speaking to David about how this idea came from a nightmare that he had, and seeing his previous film, I could just tell what he wanted to do with it was something special and unique.

It definitely was. You know, I don’t typically watch horror -- after I saw It Follows, I slept with the lights on the next night. But I really enjoyed that it wasn’t a gory slasher film and had a great story to it. What was your favorite scene to film, and, on the flip side, what was the most difficult one?

Probably the hardest was when I was tied to the wheelchair. It had to have been 32 degrees -- just freezing -- I’m in a bra and underwear tied to a wheelchair screaming and in a panic. It was the last night of our shoot, so it was the sixth week that we were in Detroit filming. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold. I’m trying to think what was the best was -- oh gosh, it was such a hard shoot.

How did you feel about Jay’s character? Could you relate to her at all?

What I liked about her is that when you first meet her, she’s somewhat of a typical teenager. Then she’s thrown into this insane situation and we watch how she deals with it. I think at the end she got dubbed a hero, and initially I don’t think she ever would have thought she could be that strong. I like that she comes out on the other end and that she’s tough.

So hypothetically, if you were being pursued by an evil sex demon, how would you deal with it?

I would get on a plane to Australia and once I got there, I’d figure something out.

Good call. Were you a horror fan growing up. If so, has starring in horror movies and getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how they’re made changed how you watch them?

Yeah, I did grow up watching horror movies. My dad introduced me to The Shining, and although it scarred me for life, I loved it and was obsessed with the feeling of being absolutely terrified. From there, Halloween, Blue Velvet, and Nightmare on Elm Street were all movies that I loved. After filming a couple of horror movies, now I can be like “that’s fake, that’s totally fake!” when I’m watching it, even though secretly I’m still terrified.

Do you want to keep working on horror and action movies like these?

I don’t really plan any of it. If a great horror movie comes along, and there’s a great character is something that’s intriguing to me, then hell yeah. If it’s something else, then it’s something else.

What are you working on now?

I finished filming The 5th Wave a couple months ago now; it’s an adaptation of a popular young adult novel.

What’s your character like in that?

She’s a serious badass. You won’t even recognize me -- I have black hair, bangs, and I look kind of like an anime character. There was tons of training involved: We had gun training and fight training. So I get to play this amazing badass -- it was so much fun. We finished that and then I have another movie coming up called The Tribes of Palos Verdas, which is kind of a darker drama about a dysfunctional family. I’m excited.

Photos by Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Radius-TWC/Everett Collection