Rooney Mara seems to have come out of nowhere. Her first major roles came in 2009, only six short years ago. Since then, the 30-year-old actress has blossomed into one of the most fluid, expressive, and powerful performers working today. She’s gone toe to toe with motor-mouth Jesse Eisenberg in David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” she’s been the tough as nails outlaw/wife in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” and taken on the role of the decade as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar. And by the looks of it, Mara seems to just be getting started: this year looks to be another huge one for the actress thanks to Todd Haynes‘ “Carol,” in which she delivers her most reserved and vulnerable performance yet as Therese, the young lover of Cate Blanchett’s titular character. Her work in the picture has already grabbed major attention, earning the actress the coveted Best Actress prize (which she shared with “Mon Roi” lead Emmanuel Bercot) at the Cannes Film Festival.
The accolades have continued over the weekend at the 42nd annual Telluride Film Festival, where she was awarded the Silver Medallion during “A Tribute to Rooney Mara.” The rising actress was on hand, and talked briefly about her career so far, along with her love for, and complete trust in her directors.
Mara, who is a self-described introvert, was lively, and funny, despite her reserved nature. Quiet people, she quipped, are “undervalued.” Unlike many other actors, Mara came to the game late, trying out every other art form and giving them up quickly. Eventually (and thankfully) she found acting, and has been hard at work ever since.
For Mara, watching her own films is a challenge and she often finds herself changing the channel when they show up on TV. But, she explained, she watches every movie at least once after its completed, out of respect for the cast and crew. And she chooses the roles she takes based on where she’s at in her life. Often after big performances like that of Lisbeth Salander in ‘Dragon Tattoo’—a shoot that lasted over a year—she is left with “nothing to give,” a feeling that sidelines her for months at a time. “I’m a very moody person,” Mara said. “I’m kind of all or nothing. A lot of times, I feel like I have to spend some time living in order to act again.” But she’s no slouch in her down time either, running her own non-profit Faces of Kibera.
In her all or nothing fashion, Mara puts everything into her directors, imbuing them with endless faith to guide her. She would follow them to the ends of the earth. She is eager to give her input, Mara elaborated, though only in regards to her character, not the film itself. For instance, while working on “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” she felt her character, Ruth, was a woman who belonged in a dress, and she fought with director David Lowery until Ruth spent most of the movie in a dress. Costumes, she said, were very important to her, especially on the lush period piece, “Carol.” There though, Mara put complete faith in wardrobe designer Sandy Powell—a decision she’s very pleased with.
On working with David Fincher, Mara had only praise to heap upon the director. Money, for him, she said, all goes to time. The rest of the production stays relatively cheap, as he pays to have all the time he needs. Her favorite two days of shooting were on “The Social Network.” In their off time her and Eisenberg would speed-run through the dialogue of the opening scene, trying to keep it under four minutes (a near impossible task for the seven pages of dialogue). Between takes both Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin would provide extensive notes.
This year for Mara has not been one of much free time. The actress has worked back-to-back on three straight pictures. First with Jim Sheridan (“In The Name Of The Father,” “My Left Foot”) on “The Secret Scripture,” a film about a woman in a mental institution who keeps a diary, then with Benedict Andrews on “Blackbird,” and finally with Garth Davis on “Lion.”
At the end of the talk “Carol” director Todd Haynes (“I’m Not There,” “Far From Heaven”) came to sing Mara’s praises, explaining that when he took on “Carol”, Cate Blanchett was already attached, but Mara was his own idea—one that he’s now fiercely proud of.
“I’ve kind of been preparing for that my whole life,” Mara explained about her role in Haynes’ picture, though she adds that initially, she’s wasn’t drawn to the part. “I didn’t see myself in it at all. Sometimes if you can’t see yourself in it, it means you shouldn’t do it, and sometimes it means you’re afraid of it.” Thankfully, she overcame that initial fear and took it on, and in turn added another terrific performance to her increasingly impressive list of films.
“Carol” opens on November 20th.