In Neil Jordan’s new thriller Greta, actress Maika Monroe takes up the time-honored mantle of the BFF Voice of Reason. New York newbie Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) doesn’t see anything wrong with entering the home of a complete stranger with a faintly creepy vibe (Isabelle Huppert, of course), but as her roommate Erica, Monroe has to be the audience surrogate issuing the tried-and-true advice of “don’t go in there!” For an actress savvy about the building blocks of old-school scary movies, inhabiting this stock type and bringing some new grit to it — she gets the chance to vamp it up a bit deep in the third act — came naturally.
Monroe crossed over to the mainstream in 2014, when indie-horror throwbacks It Follows and The Guest positioned her as the heir to the scream-queen throne of Jessica Harper. In the years since, she’s been keeping plenty busy while diversifying her range, trying out a Netflix sci-fi project here and a romance with one Timothée Chalamet there. But the outstanding Greta, an expertly constructed contraption of fear informed by Hitchcock and Single White Female in equal measure, gets Monroe back in her wheelhouse. She rides the rhythms of each scene and of the film as a whole with the grace of a kiteboarder. (Also, she’s a semi-pro kiteboarder.)
Monroe got on the phone with Vulture to discuss a little bit of everything: going head-to-head with a legend on Greta, her questionably practical plans for evading a sex-monster, her Sundance breakout Honey Boy, and that time she did Lady Bird before Lady Bird did Lady Bird.
Watching Greta, the first thing I noticed is that the apartment you and Chloë Grace Moretz’s characters live in is just gigantic. It’s one of those huge New York movie apartments.
It’s a big place, yeah. I’ve never lived in New York myself, but I once stayed with a friend of mine who was renting a room in this other girl’s massive apartment. I remember, I was only there for a couple weeks working on something, and the apartment had a movie theater and the biggest kitchen I’d ever seen, and all this stuff. When I saw where we’d be shooting for Greta, that’s what I thought of right away, like, Oh, sure, it’s a New York apartment! Still, in terms of New York real estate, it’s the craziest thing ever.
Relative to other horror movies, Greta has a kind of accented tone to it, not quite in the range of camp but not bound to reality either. Did this come through in the script the first time you read it?
That came through, absolutely. I’m a huge fan of horror and thrillers and especially movies where the two meet, but I’m picky. There’s still a lot that I don’t like in the genre. With this, though, I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened. I loved that it was an almost all-female cast, and that you’d expect Isabelle Huppert’s character to be a man, but her violence takes a different shape.
The movie doesn’t try to shoot around the fact that Isabelle Huppert is five-foot-three, and she still exudes this very intense presence. What was she like as a scene partner in the final confrontation?
Intense, yes, that’s the word. She’s an actress I’ve always looked up to, probably considered one of the best actors of any gender currently working anywhere in the world. So I was definitely very nervous, and then even more nervous that the scene is me facing off against her. But she’s so lovely and so easygoing, and she made these days fun. I mean, she’s a crazy pianist! We couldn’t not have fun with it. Even when she was running around trying to kill us, it felt like playing.
You and Chloë seemed pretty natural as roommates. Have you been buddies since you did The 5th Wave together a few years ago?
In The 5th Wave, we actually didn’t work that much together; most of our shooting was at separate times. But about two years before work started on Greta, we just ran into each other and hit it off, became really close friends. When the script for Greta showed up, we were like, “Oh my God, we’ve got to do this together.” We had already mastered hanging out, so we were perfect for the roles. [Laughs.]
Back when I first moved to Los Angeles — to some very different-looking apartments from mine in the film — I had a few rotating roommates. I remember those days. You can so easily get frustrated or annoyed by a person you know so well, and it’s because you’re that close to the person that they have that kind of hold on you. It’s a unique type of friendship.
I was talking about It Follows just the other day with friends, speculating on how a person might be able to find a loophole to get away from the sex-monster. Did you ever think about how you might prepare for getting It Follows-ed?
Oh, I have no idea. I’ve been so vulnerable. Is there a trick to it?
The key is to stay in constant motion, like on a cruise ship. But then, you know, you’re on a cruise ship.
That makes sense. So, yeah, I’d probably buy a sailboat and create a life for myself at sea. That’d be okay, right? Or maybe a blimp, though that just seems like a step further in the direction of “cruise ship.” That would be a hard way to live.
Young actors have to think a lot about their career and their place in the business. When your first two movies to break big turned out to be horror — It Follows and The Guest — did you give any thought to ?
I wish I had that level of control over my work! As an actor, a lot is out of your hands, and when you’re starting out, you take any job you can get. Gotta make money, gotta pay rent, gotta feed yourself. Walking away from those two movies, I had no idea they’d be as successful as they were, so my only thought was, I better find something to do! I went through a bit of a phase focused on character, and trying different personas I hadn’t tried on before. But in terms of general direction for my work, right now, I’m just trying to work with directors that inspire me. I knew that whatever [Greta director] Neil Jordan made would be incredible, so I liked that sureness. But I don’t avoid this genre or that genre. I’ll do whatever seems cool.
I heard a lot of good things about your upcoming movie Honey Boy out of Sundance. What can you tell us about the movie, or your part in it?
That’s one of those movies you feel lucky to have your name on. I play a love interest to Lucas Hedges, we’re both up-and-coming actors in a big-budget alien-invasion movie. We start a relationship offset, and … yeah. I’m trying to be careful here. With this project, for whatever reason, I’m thinking a lot about what to say and not say. They want it to be fresh when everyone sees it.
I saw Tau back when that came to Netflix, too. Was it particularly difficult or weird to play against the disembodied voice of Gary Oldman?
Yes, that’s what made that project really tough. I’ve got to come up with hope and sadness and fear, and the whole time I’m talking to a wall. We didn’t even have his dialogue recorded because they shot my scenes first and then used those to direct his voice work. It was a new challenge, but I liked it. After a really hard job, you know a little bit more about acting than when you started.
In my research, I learned that you’re an experienced kiteboarder. I do not know much about kiteboarding. In what way is it most similar to acting?
Discipline. You have to have incredible drive and focus to be any good at either. Kiteboarding helped me form the determination that has gotten me through a lot of my acting work. When you’re trying to learn a new trick, you’ve got to do it over and over and over again before you can land it. That’s not so different from running a scene until you’ve got it down, when you know you can really nail it. It’s also kind of like auditioning, where you’ve got to hear no 50 times before hearing yes, where there’s nothing else to do but keep picking yourself up and throwing yourself at it. They both give you tough skin.
I also saw that Maika is not your birth name. How’d you come to choose it?
Oh, it’s like this — the deal was that I was named Dillon at birth, and then when I was 7 years old, I asked my mother about when she was naming me. She told me that she was torn between Dillon and Maika, and I told her, “Maika is meant to be my name.” At 7, in the first grade, I went to my class and said, “I will no longer respond to Dillon. I am Maika now.” Told my neighbors, my parents supported it, everybody. Since that day, I’ve just been Maika.
So, like Lady Bird, but for real?
Oh my God, thank you.