Rooney Mara On 'Strong Female Characters' And The Embarrassing Movies She Hasn't Seen
By now you probably know Rooney Mara's faceÖ but if she had her way, you wouldn't know her at all. The actress who broke out big time as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo clearly had no problem transforming herself into a punked-out Swedish hacker, in a performance that earned her an Oscar nomination and offers of roles anyone would dream of. But Mara, who has gone on to work with huge names like Steven Soderbergh, Terrence Malick and Spike Jonze, says that all that work became too much, and when I spoke to her in Manhattan last week she was gearing up for her first screen role-- in Stephen Daldry's Trash-- in nearly a year.
Many of the roles that Mara filmed in that time, including in Spike Jonze's Her and Terrence Malick's still-untitled film, have yet to see theaters, but you can catch her now in theaters and on VOD in Ain't Them Bodies Saints from a director who isn't yet a big name but seems destined to become one, David Lowery. Mara saw Lowery's previous short film and says she immediately fell for the script, in which she plays Ruth, one half of a criminal couple (opposite Casey Affleck) who are separated when he goes to jail, and she retreats home to raise their child. Five years later he's escaped and makes his way back to her, and though Ruth is a tough outlaw at heart and a devoted mom, she's not nearly the simple "tough female character" that Mara admits can be too limiting (when it's not Lisbeth, that is).
Check out my conversation with Mara-- and her confession about which movie classics she's catching up on this summer-- and see Ain't Them Bodies Saints in theaters or on VOD now.
This is a really general question, but you were talking about how when you got the script it some to you. But the movie is so visual and the music is such an important part of it, and its so hard for me to imagine seeing a script and seeing that in there. What was it that you saw?
Well, the music was, I couldnít have imagined the music, but certainly, the look of it. I mean, I knew what David wanted it to look like because he sent such good reference photos. You know, he sent me a picture of a little girl sitting on, you know, the floor, in her house, with like a cat, playing with toys and he was like. ďThis is what I want Ruthís house to feel like,Ē and itís exactly what the house felt like.
Not looks like, but feels like?
Yeah. And he sent tons of photos like that of, you know, of what he wanted the movie to feel like, and so I know what it would look like and feel like.
And you had seen his short?
Iíd seen his short, yes, but also, you know, the script, it is written in a way that it, you could-- it does have a very special, unique voice to it, and you could kind of tell the look the movie was going to be.
Yeah, the letters are really poetic.
And a lot of that was written later. It wasnít in the first script that I read, but there was enough of that that I knew that it was special.
He says that you were the only person he wanted for this and youíve said that you donít know why. I donít know if now you do know why, if heís told youÖ
Well, I donít know why, but then I found out later that he used to be, David used to be goth. So, I feel like he only wanted me because I was Lisbeth and I was like... From his goth days, he was like I need Lisbeth Salander. [Laughs]
I know, right, but no, thatís not why.
In naturalistic parts like this, thereís not a lot of bigness to it, like with Lisbeth Salander, where youíre changing your entire appearanceÖ
Itís very quiet.
And youíre not Southern and youíre not from a rural area. Your background isnít really anything like that. It doesnít seem like you put a lot of stock in that, but is that something that you have to convince other people to get over or have to talk to yourself about?
No, I donít have to convince other people to get over it. I mean, I would choose to play a part, you know, that has an accent and thatís from a place that Iím not from any day of the week over something that doesnít.
So, youíd rather do that.
Oh my God, yeah. I would rather never do a movie in my own voice, ever, but I mean, I have and I will, but I would much rather do anything in an accent or, you know, someone who is from a place thatís not my own.
So, is something like Side Effects more like naked, almost, because itís more similar to you.
Yeah. So, you like the part of acting thatís like the hiding of yourself a little bit.
How hard is that as you go forward though. When you become more famous, people know your face more, it is harder to disappear in stuff.
Yeah, itís horrible. I havenít worked since Thanksgiving.
Yeah, at Cannes, I was reading the interview you did on Grantland and youíre like, ďIím sick of myself. Iím still trying to figure out what to do.Ē Do you still feel that way?
Well, I did four movies in a row. I did Side Effects. Then I did Spikeís movie [Her]. Then I did this. Then I did Terrence Malickís movie [still untitled]. Then I was like, ďOh my God. Iím never working again,Ē and thatís a long, that was a long time to take off for me. Now, Iím working in September, but I only just now feel ready to work.
What was it about yourself that you felt like you were trying to get away from? Do you feel like you did get away from that thing?
Well, like you said, I just donít want to work too much. I donít want to get too comfortable. I donít want to like, I donít know. I donít want to have too many habits or like, things that I fall back on. I want to be, you know, I want to continue to be challenged and four in a row is too many.
Do you take time to look back at what youíve done and kind of pick it apart?
I do a little bit, but I mean, I cant do that too much or I would drive myself crazy, because itís not just me, itís everyone. And itís not just acting, itís anything you do. You look back and you, of course could do it better. Itís like life, you get out of, you come out of something and youíre like, now I know how to get through that situation with that friend, or I would do it differently, you know. Itís like anything in life.
I mean, I know the Dragon Tattoo sequels are so up in the air, and not really up to you, but is the idea of playing the same character againÖ does the idea of like going back and fixing it appeal to you?
Well, someone asked me that, I would love to go back and play that character, but I wouldnít think of it as I could go back and fix it, because the second one is so different than the first one and Iím sure by the time we finish it, Iíd be like, ďOh, now I know how to do it.Ē You know, it would be the same thing. I would feel the same way after.
You've kind of rejected the idea of comparisons between David Lowery and Terrence Malick in other movies, but do you see the similarities in the way their work turns out and does it make sense to you that they work so different?
Maybe in Malickís earlier work, a little bit. think theyíre both very poetic and theyíre both romantics and they have a similar aesthetic, but, you know, Malickís work has changed and evolved so much from his earlier stuff. I donít think the Malick of today has very many similarities to Davidís work.
When youíre working with someone like David Lowery, whoís completely taking influences of Terrence Malick or whatever else, do you see the way heís filtering those influences, compared to someone like David Fincher who doesnít seen like heís been making movies that are inspired by anybody else, necessarily.
Oh, yes he is. David is like, he knows everything about every movie and heís seen everything and he I mean, I donít think thereís a filmmaker out there that isnít taking something from someone else.
Thatís totally true.
I think the difference is that David is so--David Fincher is so knowledgeable that, you know, he's not copying, but he sees something and he knows how he wants to make it his own or make it better. He just is so smart about everything, about storytelling, but also about like the camera and like electronics and like, I canít even talk about it, because I have no idea.
Yeah, heís got that crazy brain, like he and James Cameron seem to be ones who are like, I know every single thing that happens on this set and I will do all of it.
Yeah, he does, but certainly, I think he totally takes things from other movies.
Between him and Steven Soderbergh who both seem to know absolutely everything in the world, are they handing you down things and being like, ďLearn this.Ē Are you getting a film education from directors like that?
I mean, I am. Unfortunately, Iím so bad. I wonít even tell you the movies that I havenít seen.
Oh God. I donít shame anybody for that. Thereís too many. You canít see everything.
I saw The Godfather for the first time, a week ago.
Thatís really exciting. Did you like it?
I loved it and it was so exciting. It also just made me really depressed though. I also watched Annie Hall for the first time last weekend and it was like, why donít people make movies anymore, like actual movies. And so it was really depressing, but it is so exciting, I have so many amazing movies like that to watch.
So, is that what youíre using your time off from acting, to kind of do the research?
Yeah, Iíve been watching a lot of movie and also, you know, catching up with life and spending time with family and Iíve had a lot of work stuff to do, just not acting.
Are you playing Joaquin Phoenixís ex-wife in Her?
I feel like youíve done a couple of roles, this too, playing older than you are, or someone who feels older than you are.
Well, I guess maybe, I look younger than I am, but I feel older than my age, which is kind of a weird place to be. But, the Spike Jonze film takes place kind of in the future, so I donít know. It didnít seem, playing his ex, they were worried about my age. They thought I was too young for it, but because I kind of play this genius scientist and it takes place in the future, so being younger than him, I donít know, just didnít feel weird. Kind of how in a period piece, it wouldnít feel weird for me to be married to someone that age, you know.
The idea of strong women in movies is something that gets talked about , but a lot of films will claim they have a strong female character who is also really limited in what she can actually do. Then I was thinking about your sister on ďHouse of CardsĒ, which is such an interesting female role in the way that it plays with sexuality and strength and the way that those two things can exist at the same time, and theyíre very rarely shown that way. Do you feel like there is like a strong female trap, like here are the two different ways that we can be strong in movies and thatís all that you get out there?
Yeah, itís really frustrating the way that females are depicted in film and whatís available. You just think about the roles that are out there for men. Theyíre so interesting and Iím sorry, but females are the more complicated, interesting sex. We are. And weíre just not depicted that way and thatís one of the things I loved about this is that sheís a mom. But Iíve read so many scripts where itís like, the protective mom and she just will do anything to protect her child and itís so, itís just not real life. No one is that, most people are not that, you know, good. And here was a mother and it was just, to me, so much more interesting the way she was a mother and how complicated it was and it wasnít, I donít know. Itís definitely frustrating that females are, theyíre not portrayed as complicated or as interesting as they really are.
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