Hot Summer Nights, the drug-fueled drama/comedy about two young dealers that get in way over their heads one sweltering summer in Cape Cod, unfolds like a nostalgic dream.
Not only is that down to writer and director Elijah Bynum’s hyper stylized, luscious and hypnotic visuals, and the fact the film is set in 1991, but it is also because of the romance and the freedom that its teenage characters on the cusp of adulthood pulsate with.
The character that sums up this feeling the most is Maika Monroe’s McKayla Strawberry, the hottest girl in the school that catches the interest of Timothée Chalamet’s Daniel Middleton.
I recently had the chance to speak to Monroe, who waxed lyrical about Elijah Bynum’s talents, talked me through what first attracted her to “Hot Summer Nights,” and why living with its cast and crew was so important.
How did you first get involved?
I was sent the script and just fell in love with it. I thought it was such a fun movie, and a character that I really liked. I could immediately get a sense of Elijah’s style, too, he had a really specific type of writing. I really loved it. I wrote back to my team saying, ‘I really want to meet him.’ I ended up grabbing coffee with him, and he had just seen It Follows. So we had this great conversation, and at the end of it I left and maybe a day later found out I had the offer for the role.
Did you get the script soon after “It Follows” was released then?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. I am trying to think when I actually met him, but I can’t quite remember. Time had definitely passed.
When you originally sat down to talk to Eljiah then, what were your discussions about his style and approach and what he was trying to cover?
The first time we met we didn’t go super deep with the character. But it was about what he wanted to make as a filmmaker and where the idea originally came from and kind of what he wanted to do with it. What I really liked was that he was really specific and knew exactly what he wanted, down to the cinematography and how he wanted all the shots to be moving and to create an urgency. That was the first meeting.
So what was it that stood out about you as McKayla then?
I think the age of 17-18 is such a really bizarre and important time in a kid’s life. I just connected with her and understood, I still have my mom, but if I didn’t have my mother going through puberty and getting my first bra and kind of growing up on my own, she just has this toughness to her. I was really intrigued, really intrigued with the character and I liked how Eliajh spoke about the project and the characters.
There’s a lot of great music choices in the film, was that already in the script?
The music was. The music was already in there. Which was really cool. A couple of songs have changed, because it is expensive to get the rights to songs. But it was really cool to read the script and play the song that was in the section. You could really imagine it on screen.
You lived in a house with Timothée and Alex and the rest of the cast and its director for the shoot, what was that like and how did it help with the film?
It was amazing. I had never done before. And I just thought it was so helpful. I think one of the most important thing in a film is the relationship between characters, because if you don’t have that, if you don’t believe that, then there really isn’t anything. So I thought it was super helpful. When you live with a person you really get to know them, and so, yeah, they are now great friends. It was so, so much fun. They are a special group of people, so I feel lucky to have had that experience.
Was it shot over a summer in Massachusetts then?
No, we actually shot it in Atlanta. Surprisingly. They did a pretty good job. We shot it for like a month and a half over the summer.
There are so many sequences where Eljah blends the music, shots and story to such a beautiful extent. Is there any one sequence that was great to both shoot and see the culmination of all of that together?
Probably the carnival scene with the Bowie song. That was pretty cool. Because we knew the song was going to be in it. But seeing it all put together, and the zoom in shots and the fireworks, it was pretty fun to watch the final edit of that.