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Up until age 17, Maika Monroe glided across a different shimmering surface than the big screen. The Santa Barbara native was living in the Dominican Republic as a top-ranked professional kiteboarder, an extreme sport that looks something like snowboarding on water. For years, Monroe had been sending out mostly ignored audition tapes to casting agents. But in 2011, she received a call about playing Zac Efron’s love interest in the family drama At Any Price. She landed the role, and her future quickly changed course. A bit part in The Bling Ring and a showy role in The Guest followed before she nabbed the lead in the Sundance horror breakout It Follows. Now, she’s making the leap to tentpole with Fox’s Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24), playing former First Daughter Patricia Whitmore. Though she’s largely shelved the board and sunblock, she still gets out on the water between roles (“It really helps me stay sane,” she says.) The actress spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about who she bonded with most on set, the perils of Hollywood and whether or not we’ve been visited by ETs.
How has kiteboarding helped you as an actress?
It taught me determination, working hard for something. There’s lots of discipline. I enjoy roles that are quite physical. That was really fun with Independence Day, being a fighter pilot, kicking some ass.
You changed your name from Dillon to Maika. Why?
When I was about 7 years old, I asked my mom other names she was going to name me, and she said “Maika” was her second choice. I was like, “That’s my name!” So I went around to all my neighbors and my teachers and said: “I’m no longer going to respond to Dillon. My name is Maika.” And it stuck.
What was the audition process like for Independence Day?
I started with I auditioned for casting agents, and then I went in and auditioned with [director] Roland [Emmerich]. Then the final audition was doing a camera test with Liam [Hemsworth] and all the producers. It was scene between Liam and I, and I’m talking to him via Skype. Liam, my fiancé in the film, is on the moon, so it’s us talking about what’s going on. My father’s going through a lot. He’s having these kind of nightmares and visions. So I’m trying to help him. It didn’t feel like an audition because we were on stages. It was really quite nice meeting everyone. It’s a really special group. People warned me, “Big films — it’s a whole different pace than the indie world.” But you could feel that there was something different about this group.
You were 3 years old when the first Independence Day came out. What do you remember?
I saw it with my dad. It was at my house on VHS. Oh my goodness, the good old days of VHS. (Laughs.) I loved it so much — the comedy that was brought into this absolutely insane situation and these iconic characters. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are just so memorable.
Who did you bond with the most on the set?
Jeff Goldblum. We spent a lot of time together. He does jazz nights on Wednesday nights, so now I’ll go and hang out with him there.
Who do you still get star struck by?
If I met Jack Nicholson, I would probably get a little flustered. Not going to lie. I’ve watched his movies since I was so young. Such a fan.
What is the worst thing about working in Hollywood?
The lifestyle perhaps. There’s a lot of excess. It’s just quite different for me, coming from [the world of] professional athletes. It’s just very different. It can be consuming and you have to be careful of that. I think it’s very easy for that to [fall into a lifestyle of excess]. So having people around you that are grounded is important because a lot of this is just crazy. It’s not reality.
What’s your dream project?
I’d really love to work with Quentin Tarantino. There’s so many people that I’d love to work with, but there’s something about Quentin, and one of my all-time favorite films is Kill Bill. Something along those lines would be such a blast.
After The Guest and It Follows, you were dubbed a scream queen. How do you feel about horror as a genre?
I love horror movies. It’s so fun being absolutely terrified. It’s damn hard to shoot, though. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to make a horror movie as an actor. Physically and mentally, phew. It Follows was easily the hardest film I ever made, just because every day was so intense. Every day, you’re screaming, crying. And just physically, putting your body through that, going to those dark places every day for 12, 13 hours was really, really rough. After I finished shooting that, I went into hibernation.
What’s been your biggest splurge since becoming an in-demand actress?
I have to go to Tokyo for Independence Day press, and I got my mom a ticket to come with me. I’m surprising for her birthday. I want her to come along. She’ll love it.
What’s up next?
I’ll shooting a film called Tau in Serbia. I leave for that beginning of July, which will be quite interesting. I’ve been to Europe, but I haven’t been to Eastern Europe. I’m excited for the adventure. I’m [signed on] for more 5th Wave sequels? But I don’t know what they’re planning on doing with that, to be honest.
Do you believe that aliens have visited Earth?
I’d say that they have. I think there has to be something else out there. And if they’re out there, maybe they’ve visited us. Hopefully they’re nice.
Born: Santa Barbara
Big break: 2014’s It Follows
Reps: WME, Luber Roklin and attorney Fred Toczek
This story first appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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