Though her performances in “The Guest” and “It Follows” have thrust her into the mainstream, Maika Monroe understandably doesn’t want to be shackled to the essentially meaningless moniker of ‘Scream Queen,’ which has been bestowed upon her after just two horror films. Her resume isn’t particularly long yet — she spent some time as a kiteboarder before veering into an acting career — but it’s already rife with well-regarded movies, highly-anticipated projects and at least one exploded bus.
In “It Follows,” her newest and most acclaimed film, Monroe plays Jay, a young girl who gets seduced by a mysterious young man and finds herself being pursued by a nameless, emotionless, excruciatingly slow creature who takes the form of average-looking people and possesses unknown evil powers. The super scary, fiercely self-aware film takes the old horror trope of sex leading to death, a concept rooted in a misreading of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and perpetuated by “Friday the 13th” and its multitude of offspring, and makes it literal.
Indiewire spoke with Monroe, who seemed genuinely enthused to be doing interviews for her movie. That’s actually a pretty rare quality; maybe ten years from now she’ll be jaded and weary of the press circuit, like so many, but for now the 21-year-old actress is all smiles, which makes an interviewer’s job so much more fun. Unlike her cinematic counterpart, constantly screaming and running and staring in bewilderment as a vague entity hunts her down, Monroe laughed continuously while holding eye contact for the conversation. She also brought a friend with her, but Indiewire did not speak with this friend.
Hey, our outfits match. Black pants and striped shirts.
Yeah, hell yeah they do. We’re on the same page.
You’ve done a lot of interviews with a variety of outlets with very different audiences, from Teen Vogue and Maxim to Den of Geek and now Indiewire. Why do you think “It Follows” has broken into the mainstream and had ubiquitous appeal?
I don’t know, but it’s been prett-y crazy, I’ll be honest. I had no idea it would be getting this kind of response. I think there’s something very unique about the film. I think a lot of people like the horror genre and like to be scared, so that draws people in, but there’s an elegance and simplicity to the film that people are really liking.
It is hella scary.
Was it scary making the film?
No, not at all. I wish it was, but it wasn’t. You know, I’m with the “Its,” the Tall Guy, and we’re trying to figure out how I’m gonna shoot a scene, so it was kind of routine, not very scary.
You hear stories about filmmakers going to extremes to scare the shit out of their actresses. [Monroe laughs] Friedkin slapped people to make them angry, fired a gun on set…
Oh my God…
Did David Robert Mitchell do anything like that to get you to look terrified?
No! David is one of the calmest people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s so…he’s the rock of the film. These crazy situations would happen and he would handle it with grace and he would pull me aside and try to work with me. “Let’s try this, why don’t we try that.” He’s very low-key. Probably meeting him you wouldn’t expect him to make a movie like this.
He looks like a normal guy.
Yeah, he does. He’s a nerdy, normal kind of guy.
My favorite part of the movie — well, you’re very good, but I’m not supposed to say stuff like that [Monroe laughs] — was that awesome score. I don’t know how scary the movie would be without the music, it’s so integral to sustaining the mood. Did you have any idea what the music would sound like during filming?
Nooo idea. I had no idea. They talked about doing some sort of synth-y kind of style, something ’80s, but I had no idea. When I saw it put together I was kind of in awe.
It definitely has that ’70s and ’80s vibe.
Yeah we talked about it in wardrobe, picking the clothes and style of hair. You know, it almost doesn’t exist in time. It lacks things we have now, and then there’s things that don’t exist at all, and then there’s the ’70s and ’80s. It was fun to play around with that.
You’ve mentioned that you like “The Shining” and Kubrick, which has that great score. Why do you think filmmakers keep revisiting the same time period for inspiration? Even “The Guest” has that synth score going on.
“The Guest” is very much so like that. The soundtrack has become more and more important to these movies, and the music from that time fits perfectly.
So what scares you? Other than “The Shining.”
[Laughing] Well “The Shining” scares me so much. Movies that scare me?
Anything that scares me. Um… actually I have serious issues with knives. Like, to the point where I don’t wanna be in the kitchen when my mom’s cutting vegetables. Yeah, it has to be a fear from a past life or something. I’m just terrified.
Did you have a traumatic experience with knives? Like Carrie’s mom?
I’ve never had a traumatic experience with knives. No. Nope. [Shaking head] It’s just something… I’m terrified of them.
I guess that’s a pretty practical fear to have.
I think it is, but to the point where cooking becomes… I can’t do it with knives.
Do you not cook then?
I do, but I’m usually okay if I’m the only one holding the knife.
You can use a spork.
[Laughing] Sporks can do everything. That works.
While filming “The 5th Wave,” you had an incident with a bus in Macon, Georgia. A bus exploded too much?
[Laughing] Oh. My. God. That was hysterical. Well, there’s a point in the movie where I have to throw a grenade into a bus. A very old bus. So they were doing the special effects and we decided to go up on a rooftop to watch it. It was…the biggest KABOOM I’ve ever heard. I mean, just massive. The apartments were all on fire, and I’m like, “Wow, okay, I did that. I like that, yeah!”
Put that on your resume.
Fuck yeah. Oh man, that’s funny.
So who got in trouble for that? You?
It was absolutely not my fault! [Laughing] I mean, it was definitely very big, but we’re making a movie, it’s gotta be big. Go big or go home. I think that’s what they wanted, you know. A massive BOOM.
So people have heralded you as the new Scream Queen, whatever that even means. How do you feel about that? What’s that title even mean?
Oh gosh, I don’t even know. You know, by chance I did these two genre films back-to-back, both of which did very well, and people are loving it, so they’re like, “Okay, she’s a Scream Queen now.” But I don’t look at myself like that. I’ve done very different projects before this, and after this I’m going in a very different direction. I don’t look at myself as a Scream Queen and I don’t plan on continuing on this genre route. If anything, I want to go very different places. So. I dunno. It’s cool that people love these movies.
“It Follows” takes the deep-rooted horror trope of sex imminently leading to death and makes it literal. But some people have questioned the film’s sexual politics, saying maybe the film inadvertently takes a puritanical approach. What do you think about that?
I don’t think that’s the message at all. People try to dig into it and find meanings behind everything. The idea came from David’s nightmares of this thing following him. Now we make it into a movie, so how are we gonna pass this thing along? Okay, let’s make it sex. There’s definitely meaning behind it, but I don’t see it as being a negative depiction of sex. I dunno, it’s interesting to see everyone’s different interpretation, and I like that. David’s been saying that too. I don’t wanna say what I think. I’ll leave it up to the people.
You can say what you think. You’re a people.
I know but I’m in the movie! [Laughing] I’m not just an anybody.
Speaking of people interpreting things, have you seen “Room 237?”
I have seen that. I saw that recently, actually.
You have any crazy conspiracy theories?
About “The Shining?” I mean, to be honest, I really don’t look at movies like that. To me it was very interesting to watch and start paying attention to those sort of things. I’m not looking at the poster, I’m not looking at… you know, I look at the movie as a whole. But it was fascinating. The moon stuff? The Apollo 11, and he’s wearing the sweater. That was crazy.
Some of those people are crazy, I think.
Oh, very crazy. Absolutely. Some of it is ridiculous.
Did anything crazy happen while you were shooting “It Follows”?
The only thing I can think of is when I was strapped to that wheelchair. We filmed in this abandoned factory in Detroit, and we had to literally change our schedule because we found a body there. It’s a very dangerous place. We had to move locations because they were doing an investigation of this dead person. Kind of creepy.
Detroit is inherently scary.
It is. It’s a very… um… [laughing] interesting place. There’s a bunch of abandoned buildings. It’s like nature has taken over.
You went from professional kiteboarding to getting huge. Not literally huge, I mean figuratively huge. Popular huge. [Monroe laughs] How do you feel about this abrupt ascension?
It’s not actually so abrupt. It seems more abrupt on paper than it actually feels. It’s hard because I’m actually living it, so it seems sadly…I don’t want to say “normal,” but it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got this project now,” and “Okay, I’ve got to do press for this project now.” “Okay, the movie’s doing really well.” But there are times when I think it’s very important to be able to take a step back and go, “Wow.” I’ve worked so hard to get here. You know, take those moments to look back and see where you were, and where you’re going. I try to do that but it’s hard. Everything’s moving so fast.
What are you hoping to do now?
Well after “5th Wave” I start filming a movie called “Tribes of Palos Verdes” with Jennifer Garner and Matt Dillon. That’s filming in LA, that’s cool. I’m very excited, it’s like a dark drama. And when “5th Wave” comes out, I have no idea. See what projects are coming in.
More press to do.
Oh, man, that’s gonna be so much press.
Are you looking forward to that?
I wouldn’t say “Looking forward.” It’s just part of my job. But I am excited to do something on such a massive scale. I’ve never done such a huge movie like that, with a major press tour.
Is there anything fun you want people to know about you?
[Laughs] The most fun fact I can think of is I was able to see James Brown live. My dad took me to see James Brown live, and that’s so cool, cause I don’t think many people my age can say they saw James Brown. I’m pretty proud of that. That’s the thing about me that no one really knows. I had to have been 6 or 7, but I remember it vividly. I remember the outfit he was wearing. I love James Brown, and as a baby I was always dancing to James Brown.