A few days before Maika Monroe sauntered down a red carpet at the Venice Film Festival in a blinding Marchesa dress with Zac Efron by her side, she was in the Dominican Republic competing in a Red Bull-sponsored kiteboarding competition (she placed second). It was just another day in the fever dream that has become this 19-year-old Californian’s life. Besides At Any Price, a working-class drama where she plays Efron’s girlfriend, Monroe has already filmed two of next year’s most anticipated movies: Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, and Sofia Coppola’s ripped-from-the-headlines The Bling Ring. Even she can’t believe it.
I just saw pictures from the At Any Price premiere in Venice. Was that your first time at the Festival?
Yes. That was actually my first premiere ever, so it was pretty crazy.
What was that experience like? I know you had a kiteboarding competition, was it the day before?
Yeah. I went straight from the Dominican Republic where I was in a Red Bull competition to Venice. I think the best word to describe it is probably surreal. It was just so bizarre for me to have people yelling my name. I’m like, “How. Do you even know who I am? This is really weird.” It was so much fun.
It’s such a glamorous stage. How did you pick your dress?
Oh my gosh. Yes. I saw a few Marchesa dresses and I tried on about six or seven. I remember putting on the white one and it just fit like a glove. I just remember thinking, “Oh my goodness.” I never felt so glamorous in my life.
Tell me about At Any Price. What attracted you to the role of Cadence?
She’s an interesting girl. She grew up with kind of a rough life. Her mom is a meth addict and her dad’s in jail, yet she’s the one light in the film. She’s kind of the brightness. She’s such a happy person. She’s definitely from the wrong side of the track, but there’s just something so refreshing about her.
How does one prepare for playing Zac Efron’s girlfriend?
At first, I was nervous because I was expecting him to be kind of arrogant. He’s very famous, and a lot of women are obsessed with him. But you know, when I actually met him, he was so easy going. It was really unexpected for me. We became friends really quickly and had so much fun. It made it so much easier when doing the scenes.
Your director from the movie, Rameen Bahrani, has been called one the of the best directors of the last decade. What was it like working with him?
It was incredible. He took a chance with me, because I had done basically nothing before that film. Just working with him and creating this girl, bringing this girl to life, I don’t think I could have worked with a better person. And for my first experience to be with such an incredible director, it was a dream come true.
You’ve actually come off a nice run of working with some great directors besides Bahrani: Jason Reitman and Sofia Coppola, too. What was it like working with all of them back to back?
I still can’t even believe it. When people say that, I’m like, “Really? Did that actually happen?” I’ve just been so blessed to be able to work with incredible actors and directors. It’s been crazy.
How were their directing styles different?
Sofia’s very quiet, but she knows exactly what she wants. Working with her was awesome. Jason, he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. In his mind, he knows how he wants the scene to come out. He’ll come and talk with you about history, what has happened before. For his film, Labor Day, the role I play is probably my polar opposite.
She kind of becomes this raging alcoholic, very conniving, and evil. She gets married at 21, and gets pregnant. So that was very fun to explore. I first got the script and I thought there’s no way I would be able to pull this off. I remember just working on it and working on it. Then when I met with Jason I fell in love with the role by how he described her to me. There’s so much more to her than just this evil, conniving woman. After meeting with him I was like, I have to have this role.
Which role has been been your favorite to play to date?
All of them were so different. I think the most challenging for me was Labor Day. That one really pushed me.
How did you prep for the challenges?
My part took place in the ’60s, so I watched a lot from that time period. I researched all the clothes and the hair and makeup. What really transformed me was the wardrobe, because it completely changed who I am. These blue eyeshadows, thick black eyeliners, my hair was in this massive up do—it just changed me into this completely different person. It was literally down to the underwear. My body transformed, too. I carried myself in a completely different way.
Let’s talk about your professional kiteboarding career. How long have you been doing that?
I started when I was about 13, right when I started acting. I started both at the same time actually.
Which is more challenging for you to take up: acting or a kiteboarding?
That’s a good question. At that age, acting.
And how professional are we talking about?
Well, the last competition I did was a Red Bull competition in the Dominican Republic where I placed second. I found it incredibly exciting. I ride for F1, a kiteboarding company. Right now, acting comes first for me. I still find time to kite because it’s such an important part of my life. I went from living in the Dominican Republic, which is a third world country, to filming with Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid. It just helps keeps you grounded.
What was your first film role?
Let’s go way back. The first film I ever did was this horror film called Bad Blood. I was 13, and I was initially supposed to be an extra. I was never like, “Oh. I want to be in movies. I want to be an actress.” I was never really interested in that until someone contacted my dance studio and said, “We need some kids as background dancers for this film. I was like, “Ok. That’s cool. Sounds fun.” So I remember walking on set, and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I was so fascinated with everything and got to know the director really well. I was always watching behind the scenes and he actually ended up writing me into the script. Then you become SAG eligible, and from there I got an agent and manager.
So is that when you got hooked?
Yeah. I started going on auditions and fell in love with it.
You’ve accomplished a lot in your 19 years? What’s left on your bucket list?
Just so much more. If I were to die tomorrow, I’d be very happy with all the things that I’ve done and all the traveling, but there’s so much more. I want to continue acting and working with incredible directors and actors. Obviously I want to be standing up there receiving an Oscar one day and still be kiteboarding, and competing with the best kiteboarders in the world. I want to train and travel the world. There’s so much left.