In Okuno’s slow-burn thriller from IFC Midnight, Monroe plays a former actor named Julia who moves to Romania with her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), and while he’s off at work, she becomes convinced that she’s being watched by someone in a neighboring building. Julia’s fears mostly fall on deaf ears, eventually highlighting how terrifying gaslighting can be, especially when compounded by a communication gap. Monroe instantly related to Julia since she moved to the Dominican Republic when she was 18 in order to pursue a professional kiteboarding career, understanding what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land.
“I personally felt very alone out there [in Romania]. Also, when I was younger and right out of high school, I moved to the Dominican Republic for about nine months. So I experienced a lot of the same things of just feeling very, very alone and not being able to communicate and have deep conversations with the people around me. It was really challenging … so it was really useful to bring in all of those feelings and emotions into this character, Julia,” Monroe tells The Hollywood Reporter.
While looking back at her beloved supernatural horror film, It Follows, Monroe is now revealing that there have been past talks about reuniting with filmmaker David Robert Mitchell on other projects. Mitchell has kept quite a low profile since 2018’s Under the Silver Lake, something Monroe has also noticed.
“It’s funny because I was actually just thinking, ‘I’ve got to reach out to him.’ But some projects have been talked about, [involving] some of his upcoming scripts and whatnot. I think he’s such a genius filmmaker, and so I hope I get the chance to work with him again and that he keeps making films because It Follows was a game changer in cinema,” Monroe shares.
In a recent conversation with THR, Monroe also discussed how she nearly left acting until Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Villains helped her rediscover her passion for the work.
To be honest, when I first heard the premise of Watcher, I was worried that the industry was trying to get you to play a Jay-like [It Follows] character again, but now, having seen the film, I was relieved to see that it’s a whole different vibe with something else to say. When this first came your way, did you have any worries at first about it being familiar territory?
Yeah, definitely. It was definitely something that I thought about. But I had seen Chloe’s [Okuno] short film Slut probably six or eight months before ever being sent Watcher, so I was obsessed and just blown away. I don’t know if you’ve seen it.
Yeah, it’s really incredible. For a young filmmaker to pull something like that off, I immediately became a fan, and I really love working with up-and-coming filmmakers that are doing really cool stuff. So once we spoke over Zoom and I heard her idea of this slow-burn, Hitchcockian-feeling movie, I was just like, “I have to do this. I’m going to be so bummed and jealous if someone else does this.” (Laughs.)
Watcher is a really frightening premise because nobody believes what’s happening to her, and it’s intensified by the fact that she’s in a foreign country and doesn’t speak the language. Since you were also new to Romania and didn’t speak the language, could you relate on that level?
Absolutely. That was a really nice touch since I personally felt very alone out there. Also, when I was younger and right out of high school, I moved to the Dominican Republic for about nine months. So I experienced a lot of the same things of just feeling very, very alone and not being able to communicate and have deep conversations with the people around me. It was really challenging, but over time in the Dominican, I made good friends and started learning the language. It’s just that those first couple of months were quite challenging for me, so it was really useful to bring in all of those feelings and emotions into this character, Julia.
When Julia is in group scenes with people speaking Romanian, did you basically have to learn their lines so you knew when to react?
The script was in English, even the lines that would be said in Romanian, so I just had the actors kind of let me know. If they said a line that sounds like this, I would know when to come in, but I really didn’t want to know what they were talking about to create that frustration. So I really felt for Julia because it’s so frustrating not being able to understand all of these people as they’re laughing and making jokes, and you just have no idea what they’re talking about. So shooting those scenes was interesting.
Julia does a lot of people-watching in the movie, and some actors have actually told me that they also do this in order to further their craft and find inspiration for their next character. So do you consider yourself a people watcher as well?
Definitely. (Laughs.) I love to people watch because it’s so interesting. I hate having to fly or go through airports, but airports are so interesting because you just see every type of person there. So I would definitely consider myself a watcher. (Laughs.)
She’s new to Romania, and when her husband is at work, she explores the city until things get weird. Whenever you’re shooting in a new place, such as Bucharest, do you also find time to roam around a bit and see some sights?
Definitely. One of the coolest parts about my job is being able to travel to places I never would have gone, and Bucharest was definitely one of them. Obviously, it was a lot harder because of Covid, but it’s just so cool to be able to experience a different culture and I’m lucky that my job brings me to these new places.
You’ve said elsewhere that Chloe helped you most with pacing. What did you mean by that?
Well, this film has a very particular pace that is slow. We also shot this out of order, so in the middle of the shoot, we were shooting the very end of the movie. And near the beginning, we were shooting the scene with Burn [Gorman] on the subway. So because pacing is so important in this film, it was nice to have a week of rehearsals. But it was really about being aware of the scenes right before and right after [the one we were shooting], and having those emotions be very fluid and taking our time, which I loved so much.
Compared to the big major studio films, do you feel most at home on indie sets like Watcher? Does it suit you more than those massive, machine-like sets?
Yeah, there’s something so special about an indie set because everyone is there because they love this particular project, and it’s really not about the money. (Laughs.) It’s about your passion for this particular script, the director and the actors, and there’s such a special feeling on these sets. It’s usually a quicker pace, but there’s something really quite raw and special about an indie set.
So I heard you served as Karl’s [Glusman] agent on another film you shot after this, which is called God is a Bullet.
Did he send you a gift basket after you helped book him a role?
Yes, he bought me a very, very nice present. I was like, “At this point, I think I should be getting 10 percent.” (Laughs.) But we’ve become so close, and it was all really fun. I hadn’t had that experience of working with the same actor back to back like that, and the films couldn’t be more polar opposite. Our relationship in God Is a Bullet is insane to say the least, so it was so much fun.
You’re rocking neck tattoos, right?
(Laughs.) Yeah, and face tattoos!
In 2014, you made two genre classics [The Guest and It Follows], and last year, I spoke to all the Guest guys, Dan [Stevens], Adam [Wingard] and Simon [Barrett], etc. So I expressed my frustration with there not being multiple Guest movies by now, and they all gave me the same company line about why it wasn’t happening, at least at that time.
So are you surprised that it hasn’t happened yet?
Yes and no. I mean, I am surprised because I feel like the movie was so successful. The ending, especially, is so iconic and so fun, and it felt like setup for more. But also knowing Adam, I feel like he enjoys leaving it like that, so I don’t know if he would do a second. We’ll have to see. [Writer’s Note: During recent promotion of The Guest II: Original Soundtrack, Wingard stated that he’s having conversations again with Barrett about a proper sequel.]
When you made It Follows, did you know that you had something special in the moment? Or was it such a wild premise that it was impossible to know?
Oh, I had no idea. After I was sent the script, I said to my team, “This is insane that I have sex with someone and then there’s a demon. This is just crazy.” And then they said, “Just check out the director’s previous film, The Myth of the American Sleepover.” So I watched that, and there was something so dreamy about it. So I was like, “Oh man, mixing that with the horror genre could be so interesting.” So I auditioned and ended up meeting [filmmaker] David [Robert Mitchell].
But on set, I think there was one time that David let me watch the monitor because it was very specific camerawork. The camera was doing a 360 as we’re coming down the hall in the school or something, and since it was very intricate, we had to get the timing perfect. So he wanted me to watch it to understand, and I remember seeing that and just being like, “Oh my god, this looks really, really cool.” So maybe I had a tiny inkling, but that was really it. (Laughs.)
Out of curiosity, do you ever hear from David? It seems like he’s disappeared off the face of the earth.
I know! He really has. We talk here and there. It’s funny because I was actually just thinking, “I’ve got to reach out to him.” But some projects have been talked about, [involving] some of his upcoming scripts and whatnot. I think he’s such a genius filmmaker, and so I hope I get the chance to work with him again and that he keeps making films because It Follows was a game changer in cinema. He’s incredible.
Is the wheelchair scene still one of the craziest nights of your life?
I’d say so. (Laughs.) That was probably one of the hardest scenes that I’ve ever had to shoot.
I was rewatching a movie not too long ago for an interview, and during a beach scene, I found myself doing the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme because you had just popped up in The Bling Ring. What’s the story behind that?
(Laughs.) So I met Sofia [Coppola] during a general meeting. She wanted me to be a part of this film, but I was going off to shoot something else. So she was just like, “Do you want to just come in and do this small role?” And I was like, “Hell yeah, that sounds super fun.” So I flew in, shot for a day, and then headed out. But I’m such a massive fan of Sofia. She’s so cool.
Sticking with beach-related subjects, are you still a professional kiteboarder? Do you still shred the gnar?
(Laughs.) I really don’t. I miss it a lot. I lived such a polar opposite lifestyle and life while doing that. But I’ll try to take trips here and there to do it because it’s really healthy to have other hobbies and interests. This industry can suck you in, so it’s important to get out and do other things and take your mind off of everything. So I’m so grateful that I have it, but I don’t do it as much.
I’m from a beach town, and I don’t know a single kiteboarder. So of all the beach sports such as surfing, bodyboarding, skimboarding, etc., how did you gravitate towards kiteboarding?
(Laughs.) Well, both my parents were windsurfers, and when I was about 11 years old, my dad started learning how to kiteboard. So I remember taking a trip to the Caribbean so he could take lessons, and I was like, “This is so cool. I want to learn.” But my parents were like, “It’s way too dangerous. You can’t do this.” But around 13, my dad finally decided to teach me, and what I loved the most was that there were no other girls doing it at the time. It was an absolutely male-dominated sport, and I was like, “I want to be the girl on the beach who shows these dudes up.” (Laughs.)
I spoke to you and Bill Skarsgard for Villains, and so I was happy to see that you reteamed with the Villains directors [Dan Berk, Robert Olsen].
Absolutely! I’m so excited about it. I just finished filming [Significant Other] at the end of last year up in Portland, and I think it’s going to be such a fun film. It’s with Jake Lacy, who I’d most recently seen in The White Lotus, and he is so talented and so funny. I mean, on set, I was like, “He should’ve been on SNL.” I was just laughing constantly because he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. So it was really a pleasure to work with those two guys again. They’re amazing and so fun.
When a director offers you a return invitation, that has to be the ultimate compliment as an actor.
Oh absolutely. When I shot Villains, I was at a really weird place in my career and life, and I wasn’t really sure if acting was what I wanted to do. I just wasn’t really enjoying myself. But then I went onto the Villains set, and I just fell in love with my job again. Those two directors are such a pleasure to work with, and for them to come back and want to work with me again, I just felt so honored and so excited. They really make set and filming such a joy, so I’m super lucky.
Watcher is now playing in movie theaters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.