Far from be­ing thrilled to have nabbed the lead role in David Fincher’s block­buster film of The Girl With the Dragon Tat­too, Rooney Mara is suit­ably glum, A dark star is born

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story - writes Tara Brady

IT’S 3PM and al­ready hov­er­ing be­tween dusk and night proper in Stock­holm when Rooney Mara sits down be­side me in a guarded curl. She is dressed from head to toe in prim-widow darks and still sport­ing Lis­beth Sa­lan­der’s hard­ened, raven crop from the shoot of The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too, and the bright ho­tel lights over­head seem to dim with the se­ri­ous young ac­tor’s ar­rival.

“The world is gloomy,” she shrugs later. “All you have to do is turn on the news.” Never mind the re­al­ity check. Mara is a very big deal. A pop­u­lar geek world screen­saver even be­fore she kicked Jesse Eisen­berg’s Mark Zuckerman to the kerb in The So­cial Net­work, Mara won the ti­tle role of Stieg Lars­son’s Mil­len­nium hero­ine over bet­ter­known thes­pian ri­vals Natalie Port­man, Scar­lett Jo­hans­son and Jen­nifer Lawrence.

Ev­ery star­let in Hol­ly­wood had good rea­son to try out for Lis­beth Sa­lan­der, an in­dus­trial-punk hacker em­broiled in an on­a­gain, off-again part­ner­ship with a mid­dleaged in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist.

The Mil­len­nium fran­chise is a very big deal. Lars­son’s pop­u­lar pot­boil­ers – The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hor­net’s Nest – have shifted more than 65 mil­lion units in­ter­na­tion­ally. A tril­ogy of Swedish films based on the books con­cluded in the­atres ear­lier this year and pro­pelled its Scan­di­na­vian stars into the global lime­light: Noomi Ra­pace is cur­rently ap­pear­ing in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shad­ows; her costar Michael Nyqvist acts as Tom Cruise’s neme­sis in Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble: Ghost Pro­to­col.

You’d imag­ine Mara would be thrilled with land­ing the head­lin­ing role in the glitzy Hol­ly­wood ver­sion yet to­day she seems un­com­fort­able and un­a­mused.

“This is the part I hate the most,” she ven­tures later and by way of ex­pla­na­tion. “Meet­ing jour­nal­ists and do­ing press. The photo calls are the worst. It’s um . . .” And her tiny, mono­tone voice tails off un­der a slow blink.

What? Worse than ly­ing face down, naked and spread-ea­gled for three days while di­rec­tor David Fincher shoots you as an anal rape vic­tim? “Much worse,” she says. “Be­tween the tat­toos and the pierc­ings I never re­ally felt naked even though I was for a lot of the film. I al­ways felt like I had a kind of cos­tume or ar­mour on. So that was okay.”

She got six pierc­ings in to­tal but stopped short of the tit­u­lar tat. Was it a phys­i­cal shortcut to get­ting into char­ac­ter? “No. But the fake ones were much more un­com­fort­able. If any­thing they left me with scars. And when else am I go­ing to get a nip­ple pierc­ing?”

The re­mark is as close as Mara gets to lev­ity. Fincher has re­peat­edly de­scribed the per­former as re­served and cau­tious. He’s not wrong. She avoids specifics when­ever pos­si­ble es­pe­cially when it comes to the fran­chise. “I don’t think of Lis­beth as a fem­i­nist fig­ure at all,” she says. “When you read the books it’s clear she would never call her­self that. She doesn’t be­long to any group. She’s an out­sider wher­ever she goes. She isn’t part of any sub­cul­ture. She’s not the face of any­thing.”

Care­ful and halt­ing with her words, be­neath the cool there’s some­thing of a doe in the head­lights about Mara. When I no­tice her hands are cov­ered with what looks like char­coal she pulls out to re­veal fin­gers drag­ging ner­vously across her Dragon Tat­too jeans; “I know. I think I’ve been rub­bing these all day.”

Who could blame her for feel­ing antsy? Dragon Tat­too is a very big deal. Hell, it’s a movie with its very own inky trouser line at se­lect branches of H&M.

The stu­dio has al­ready spent around $200 mil­lion (¤154 mil­lion) on a project that’s been helmed by Seven and The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton di­rec­tor Fincher and stars Daniel Craig. The rape se­quences and bi­ble-thump­ing Nazi con­spir­a­cies will re­strict au­di­ence numbers – it’s an 18 Cert re­lease here and just about ev­ery­where else – but

“I was a gloomy kid. I’ve al­ways been a lit­tle dark. I’ve al­ways been a loner, off read­ing by my­self”

Dragon Tat­too comes with a ready-made army of fans. It’s sim­ply too big to fail.

Mara knows as much. “But I try not to think about it,” she says. “I’m just kind of in de­nial right now. When it hap­pens it hap­pens. It’s sort of over­whelm­ing. All of it.”

She ad­mits also that’s she’s been liv­ing with Lis­beth Sa­lan­der for just a lit­tle too long. This past year has been “in­tense”. There were end­less read­ings with the cast­ing di­rec­tor fol­lowed by end­less tests with hair and make up. Would they bleach her eye­brows or shave them? To ink or not to ink? There was box­ing train­ing and there were motorcycling lessons. There was a daunt­ing pro­duc­tion sched­ule with a film­maker that’s never known to use four takes when 40 will suf­fice. Mara threw her­self into the work, spend­ing time at a cen­tre for women who have been sex­u­ally abused and with The Help Group, a school for kids on the autis­tic spec­trum.

“That’s how I saw her. It’s never re­ally de­fined out­right in the book but they do talk about Asperger’s Syn­drome a lot with­out be­ing di­rect. I spent a lot of time read­ing about it and watch­ing videos. At the school, too, the kids were amaz­ing

and so adorable and hon­est. There are no fil­ters. I loved that. I met one girl who was very sim­i­lar in char­ac­ter to Lis­beth. And to see it in front of you. To be able to think of the char­ac­ter in a way I could re­late to. It was re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

Since early Septem­ber Mara has di­vided her time be­tween reshoots and press du­ties. Not­ing her ex­hausted blank­ness, sev­eral USbased glossies have de­picted her as a Cop­pélia fig­ure, a mind­less pup­pet through which Fincher’s Sven­gali can project his Lis­beth Sa­lan­der. He’s dis­missed the idea, as does she. “I didn’t know David at all be­fore,” she says. “I worked for four days on The

So­cial Net­work. That was all.” If she has de­vel­oped a “shin­ing” with her char­ac­ter, she sug­gests it’s or­ganic not au­teur made: “I was a gloomy kid. I’ve al­ways been a lit­tle dark. I’ve al­ways been a loner, off read­ing by my­self.” Emily Dickinson po­ems? “No,” she smiles. “I’ve al­ways been more of a Brontë girl.”

Born into a large and pow­er­ful clan with roots in Co Down, Mara is sport­ing roy­alty. Her Ul­ster-born great-great-grand­fa­ther founded the New York Giants and her fam­ily re­tains a con­trol­ling stake; Un­cle John is CEO, dad takes care of player eval­u­a­tion. Her mother, Kath­leen Rooney, an­other Ir­ish de­scen­dant, hails from the Pittsburgh Steel­ers dy­nasty. Her great-un­cle, Daniel Rooney, is Steel­ers chair­man and the United States am­bas­sador to Ire­land.

“My grand­par­ents still have a house in Ire­land,” she tells me. “We’ve very, very Ir­ish if that’s pos­si­ble. It’s some­thing that’s al­ways there. Be­ing Ir­ish and foot­ball.” Is she sporty? “No. Never a tomboy. Foot­ball was al­ways around and it’s part of our fam­ily but I was never into sports be­yond be­ing taken to foot­ball games. I was al­ways very gir­lie.”

Even with­out the glossy cas­cad­ing locks that de­fined her early ap­pear­ances in

Night­mare on Elm Street and Youth in Re­volt, she’s still in the femme camp; Brides­maids was her favourite movie this year and she says her in­ter­est in film mostly stems from watch­ing women’s pic­tures with mom: “Bring­ing Up Baby, Gone with the Wind, Re­becca, The Philadel­phia Story. All films mom loves. All films mom made us watch.” Have her par­ents seen The Girl with the

Dragon Tat­too yet? “No. They’ve read the books and they’ve seen the Swedish movies. So noth­ing is go­ing to be a sur­prise to them. They know what’s com­ing. We have a screen- ing set up so they can watch it in pri­vate.” Will that be a fam­ily out­ing? “No. I def­i­nitely won’t want to be in the room.”

If the pigskin mil­lions have spoiled her it doesn’t show. Mara stud­ied non-prof­its at NYU’S pres­ti­gious Gal­latin School of In­di­vid­u­al­ized Study and over­sees the Uweza Foun­da­tion, a char­ity that funds and sup­ports em­pow­er­ment pro­gramme in Nairobi’s largest slum.

It took a while for her to think of drama as a proper job. She was al­ready 21 when, in 2005, she de­cided to fol­low her sis­ter Kate Mara ( Broke­back Moun­tain, En­tourage) into the pro­fes­sion.

“I’ve al­ways liked trav­el­ling so there’s that,” says Mara, who has trekked across Ecuador, Peru and Bo­livia in her time. “But mainly I like act­ing be­cause it ex­poses you to places and peo­ple and worlds that you would never learn about other­wise.” Dragon Tat­too has, she ad­mits, re­stricted her glo­be­trot­ting ac­tiv­i­ties to Swe­den and her leisure time to none. There is, more­over, the prospect of at least two se­quels.

“She’s a very mag­netic char­ac­ter so she is tir­ing,” says Mara. “But I’m grate­ful for that. It’s amaz­ing to be locked into a char­ac­ter like this.” Be­fore the in­evitable se­quels there’s

Law­less with di­rec­tor Ter­rence Mal­ick, cinema’s most cel­e­brated recluse.

“But I feel like I don’t want to talk about him be­cause he’s so pri­vate,” says Mara. “I’d worry I’d give some of his se­crets away.” Sounds like they’ll get along fa­mously.

Mara smiles deco­rously at the no­tion but, cru­cially, with­out giv­ing too much away.

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