Until pretty recently, Maika Monroe thought she was going to be a professional kiteboarder. The Santa Barbara native learned the sport with her father as a teenager, and at 17, moved to the Dominican Republic to train full-time.
"I would send in a couple audition tapes here and there for films that I thought were cool," she explained. "With kiteboarding I had control over what I was doing, I could see progress and could see myself get better when I trained. Whereas with acting, it was really frustrating at that age."
Monroe eventually booked a film — At Any Price, in which she starred alongside Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron — and her career as an actress began. "It feels like I’ve had two lives," she jokes.
Those lives collide in her latest project, The Tribes of Palos Verdes, out in theaters Friday. Monroe plays Medina, a teenage girl who discovers a passion for surfing when her family moves to the perfectly manicured town of Palos Verdes, California. But despite the picture-perfect setting, there are dark problems brewing under the surface. Medina's twin brother Jim (Cody Fern) is in a downward spiral of substance abuse. Her mother, Sandy (Jennifer Garner) is struggling with mental illness, and her father, Phil (Justin Kirk), is ignoring them all in pursuit of that California dream.
In the exclusive clip below, you can see Medina describe her new surroundings.
Monroe's performance is quiet, but powerful. To train for the role, she spent three weeks learning to surf in Australia, and then on the California beach where the film was shot.
Family struggles aside, it's a role that spoke to Monroe for various reasons. "I’d never really read a script where I related so strongly to a role," she said. "Growing up, when I needed a place to get away, the ocean was that for me."
Monroe explained she could also relate to the outside pressures Medina faces, especially as a woman trying to break into a predominantly male space. "One of the reasons I wanted to kite[board] was because there was no other girls doing it," she explained. "I wanted to be the girl kicking butt on the beach, and I knew I could be as good as the guys, and that’s why I started. I think it’s super important. It’s really kind of incredible to see this massive change that’s happening and be part of it."
That doesn't mean that the change comes easily. One scene in Palos Verdes shows Medina running out of a beach-side trailer after one of the surfers tries to sexually assault her. Asked how she feels about that scene now, given everything that's going on in Hollywood, Monroe was optimistic. “There’s two feelings: There’s much anger, [but] on the other hand, it’s incredible that all these women are coming forward, and there’s now a space where women feel safe, and like they’re able to be honest about these things," she said." [It's] giving confidence to every woman to be able to come forward.”
As for how she feels navigating the pressure of Hollywood, Monroe says it's been an adjustment. She was "blown away" by her first red carpet experience alongside Efron and Quaid. "I was just like, ‘What is happening?’" she joked. "It gave me perspective of it all — what was important and what wasn’t."
After performing alongside Jennifer Garner, Monroe hopes to get the chance to work with other powerful women. “Jessica Chastain is so badass, and does such cool films," she said. "I really, really respect her.”
The Tribes of Palos Verdes opens in theaters and will be available on demand on December 1.
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