rooney mara

Rooney Mara: “Kissing a woman is like kissing a man”

Words: Rüdiger Sturm 

She kicked ass, and her career into the big leagues, as the young woman with mythical-beast ink (and more body art besides). She’s stayed full-on ever since. 

In the early years of her acting career— bit parts in movies, Law & Order and ER—Rooney Mara was finishing her psychology degree in New York, where she was born and raised. In December 2011, a year after she graduated, came her breakthrough, starring as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

A month later, her turn as the goth hacker won her a best actress Oscar nomination. The 29-year-old has since starred in Side Effects, directed by Steven Soderbergh, played the woman divorcing Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze’s Her and shared screen time with Martin Sheen in Trash. This year, she has three movies coming out, including Carol, with Cate Blanchett, and Pan, alongside Hugh Jackman.

THE RED BULLETIN: You gained a lot of attention playing Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not least because you were shown naked, covered in crazy tattoos and with several piercings, including your nipple.

ROONEY MARA: To be precise, only six of the piercings were real. The rest were the work of the makeup department.

Not every actress would have been happy to be seen like that.

I thought, “When else will I have an excuse to get my nipple pierced?” But between the tattoos and the piercings, I didn’t feel naked. It was like I had some sort of costume on.

Have you kept the nipple piercing?

That I can’t answer. 

Maybe the answer will be revealed when you play Lisbeth again in the remaining two movies in the Millennium trilogy.

There is a script, and it’s fantastic. But they’re not scheduled to make them anytime soon, as far as I know, and that’s disappointing.

You’re known for being reserved in your personal life, but in your roles you’re unafraid to give your all.

That’s why I enjoy doing this job. I have been exposed in films, physically and psychologically, but I was playing a character, so I didn’t feel exposed as myself.

Not even doing love scenes in Side Effects with Catherine Zeta-Jones or Carol with Cate Blanchett?

They are like any other romantic scenes. It does not feel different from kissing a man in front of the camera. I don’t find anything strange about it or embarrassing or funny. But some of the people on set probably thought so. There’s just a level of maturity some people don’t have.

“Between the tattoos and the piercings, it was like I had a costume on.” 

Is there anything about your job that you don’t like? 

The fact that you don’t have enough time. Last year I was filming for six months straight, first Pan, then Carol. Then I had to work my way back into real life and re-establish contact with my friends and family. As well as paying the bills, of course, and repairing the leak in the ceiling in my apartment, that sort of thing.


Football family
Mara descends from NFL aristocracy: Her maternal ancestors were founders of the Pittsburgh Steelers, while her paternal ancestors founded the New York Giants.

I’m the girl with tagging drattoo
Mara got drunk before her audition for Lisbeth Sander.

Sibling rivalry
Her elder sister Kate is also an actress. Kevin Spacey bumped her off in House of Cards. 

You didn’t pay your bills for six months?

The bills were paid. But I hadn’t checked my mail. There were whole piles waiting to be gone through.

But you don’t always relax in your free time. Last winter you went to South Sudan, a country whose civil war has claimed over 10,000 lives.

I was there as an ambassador for Oxfam; I didn’t go by myself as a private individual. I only did it because the situation was safe.

Anyone who’s seen you playing Lisbeth Salander would expect that you know how to look after yourself. The fight scenes were formidable.

Lisbeth was scrappy, not trained; she fights from the gut. But last year I shot the Peter Pan prequel Pan, where my character was supposed to be a skilled warrior and everything had to be very precise and perfect. So yes, now I would be prepared [laughs].

Aren’t you afraid of anything?

Well, I took a lot of antibiotics when I was a child, which left me with a very weak immune system. Antibiotics don’t work for me any longer. So God forbid, if someday there is a horrible flu. 

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04 2015 The Red Bulletin

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