Scream queen Maika Monroe on sequels, stardom and shunning controversy

The 21-year-old actress, who stars in the horror flicks The Guest and It Follows, which releases this week, has been cast in Independence Day 2.

Maika Monroe in a scene from the well-received low-budget horror flick It Follows. Radius / AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Maika Monroe has had a year to remember. It began with rave reviews for her performance in last year's The Guest, a thriller that also starred Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, and continued with a starring role one of the best-received horror movies in years, It Follows, which goes on general release today.

To top it all, just last week she was cast as Patricia Whitmore, the female lead in the blockbuster sequel Independence Day 2 – a casting decision that attracted controversy given that Mae Whitman, who played the character in the 1996 original, was overlooked for the sequel, reportedly because the former child star had not blossomed into the type of beauty that studio executives felt would fit as Liam Hemsworth's love interest in the sequel.

More on that later, but first I ask Monroe about her unusual career trajectory. Her CV lists her as a “professional kiteboarder-turned-actress”. It’s not a combination I’ve encountered before. Model or pop star-turned-actress, we’re all familiar with, but kiteboarder is a new one.

“My dad taught me to kiteboard when I was 13, and around the same time I happened to just fall into being an extra on a set and fell I love with acting and making movies,” she says. “So I just started auditioning for and acting in commercials and little stuff like that.

“At about 17, I decided I wanted to take kiteboarding seriously and compete, so my agents were like, ‘Just keep sending in a few audition tapes anyway, just for good stuff.’

"One was for At Any Price (2012), with Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid, which changed the course of my life from pro-kiteboarding to acting. It maybe wasn't exactly 'normal', but it did just kind of flow, happened naturally."

Monroe's first starring roles followed soon after, playing the plucky teenage heroin battling Stevens's psychopathic former marine in The Guest, and the demonic 'It' in It Follows. As a result, she is picking up a reputation as a scream queen among horror fans.

The 21-year-old actress seems unfazed by the attention, and admits she’s a big fan of the horror genre.

"I grew up really loving old-school horror such as Halloween and The Birds," she says. "I love those movies, so I'm definitely a horror fan and would love to do more."

It's been a long time since a horror film has been greeted with such critical acclaim as It Follows – the movie holds 96 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has garnered almost exclusively four- and five-star reviews. In terms of budget, the movie has already taken more than 10 times its US$2 million (DhXXm) budget, before even opening in many international territories.

Was Monroe surprised that a movie in such an often-derided genre had fared so well with critics and audiences alike?

“Yeah, absolutely,” she says. “We premièred at Cannes and this was the first time any audiences had really seen it. When we started getting good reviews, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool’. A lot of horror movies that are made today aren’t taken that seriously. I probably shouldn’t say it, but they’re often not that good. It’s a different type of horror movie to what I like, all in-your-face gore and guts and blood. This film isn’t like that at all, and I think it’s something audiences have probably been waiting for.”

With any unexpectedly successful movie, talk of a sequel is never far behind, and the rumours have already started for It Follows.

“I’ve heard the sequel rumours,” Monroe says. “And if [writer/director] David [Robert Mitchell] came up with some good ideas, I’d be up for a second one. I must admit I don’t know where you’d take it, I don’t know what could happen next. I don’t think we need to make a second one, but I love the movie and I love David, so it could happen, yes.”

With Independence Day 2 on the horizon, I ask whether Monroe finds the transition from low-budget indie to big-money Hollywood blockbuster a daunting prospect

"I'm lucky because I remember my dad showing me Independence Day and I loved it," she says. "Plus, I'm obsessed with Jeff Goldblum and I'm very excited to work with him.

"I want to continue to do both. As soon as I'm done with Independence Day, I'm back on shoot with another indie. I want to balance it. I'm very excited for the big stuff, because it's the biggest thing I've ever done, but as soon as that's done I'll be back to my indie roots and where I've been raised in this industry."

Some Twitter users, including Into The Woods star Anna Kendrick, have questioned the decision to exclude Whitman from Independence Day 2. Monroe has said little about the controversy and seems determined to get on with the job at hand with as little fuss as possible.

“I don’t really know what to say to it,” she says. “It is what it is. All I know is I fought for the role, I worked my butt off to get the role, it was a long auditioning process and I really wanted the part, so I fought for it – that’s all I can say.”

Like It Follows, Independence Day is another movie that seemed to end fairly conclusively with the destruction of the entire invading alien fleet. I ask if she can offer any useful pointers to the plot.

“Who knows?” she says. “We’ll have to see”