Rooney Mara, 30, best known for playing the titular role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for which she earned an Academy award-nomination and a Golden Globe award for Best Actress, in 2011. She has also starred in movies including The Social Network, Side Effects, and Her. Last year she won the Best Actress Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for her role in Carol, the upcoming drama set in the 1950s, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith in which she stars as the obsessed lover of an older woman, played by Cate Blanchett.
Mara is chattier than usual on this warm winter’s afternoon in Los Angeles. She talks about gay issues and obsessive love.
HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO REALLY EMULATE A WOMAN IN THE 50s?
We had to walk a fine line. I wanted to feel like I could have been from that time but I also didn’t want it to feel character-y or over the top. We did a lot of work on the dialect because obviously the way that I speak now is quite modern and sort of jaded. It doesn’t sound like I could have come from that time so we thought a lot about that and then obviously the costumes really helped change everything about the way you posture yourself.
THE CLOTHES FROM THAT ERA HAD SUCH A PARTICULAR LOOK. HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CLOTHES?
The clothes from that time were so beautifully made and constructed and they were made to last. Things nowadays are not made to last, they’re meant to fall apart so you have to buy something new after you wear it several times. I found that people took such good care of their things and the women put so much effort into the way that they looked. It was very elegant and refined. I felt that the clothes definitely made me feel much more feminine but I also felt quite uncomfortable and restricted in them which make you sort of lighter on your feet. It’s hard to breathe at the end of the day. It’s uncomfortable when you eat especially when you’re full. I’m very glad to have not grown up in that time. I’m much more comfortable in my clothes now.
YOUR CHARACTER BECOMES OBSESSED WITH THIS OLDER WOMAN, PLAYED BY CATE BLANCHETT. IN REAL LIFE WHAT ARE BEEN OBSESSED ABOUT?
I’m obsessed with architecture and real estate. I love going to open houses even if I’m not actually looking for a house. I just love looking at other peoples’ houses. I know that sounds kind of creepy (laughs).
WHERE DO THESE PASSIONS COME FROM?
My love of theatre and of films comes from my mother who was constantly showing me old films and taking me to the theatre. My love of real estate also comes from my mother because she was a real estate agent so she was constantly dragging me around with her while she was working. So I grew up looking at other peoples’ homes and I still love doing that. I have a love for animals; I don’t know where that comes from but probably from my upbringing. I have a huge love of travel, which is something I picked up at a young age when I actually got to go and travel and see other parts of the world.
YOUR CHARACTER IS NOT ONLY OBSESSED WITH CAROL BUT SHE’S TRANSFORMED BY HER. HAS THERE BEEN ANYONE IN YOUR LIFE THAT TRANSFORMED YOU IN A WAY WHERE MAYBE YOU LOOK AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY, DRESS DIFFERENTLY, FEEL LIKE A DIFFERENT PERSON?
Well, I don’t know about you but I think anyone I’ve ever loved or had a serious relationship with has transformed me. Isn’t that sort of why you enter relationships because you start transforming with the person? You start growing with the person or you grow in two separate directions. I think anyone that I’ve ever loved has transformed me. Not just romantically but the love of a parent or a sibling or a friend or a mentor, teacher, there’s been far too many people in my life that have helped shape who I am.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH CATE BLANCHETT? SHE IS OF COURSE ONE OF OUR NATIONAL TREASURES.
Working with Cate is everything you could imagine it would be. It was incredible and I was very familiar with her work. I don’t think there’s a film of hers that she’s been in that I haven’t seen. She’s one of the best actresses of our time, or really of any time, so to get the chance to work with her was really scary and intimidating. It was incredible. Therese, my character, is very much a reactionary character and so to have Cate be the thing I was getting to watch and react to – you couldn’t ask for a better person to have.
WHAT ABOUT HER AS A PERSON? WHAT SURPRISED YOU?
The most surprising thing I think which I learned very quickly after meeting her and sitting in the rehearsal room with her was just how funny she is. She has that really great Australian sense of humour and wit and she’s just really funny.
IN THE 50s IT WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY DARING TO COME OUT AS A LESBIAN COUPLE. NOWADAYS PEOPLE ARE MORE ACCEPTING, OF COURSE, AND GAY COUPLES CAN GET MARRIED IN MANY COUNTRIES. DID YOUR FEELINGS CHANGE IN ANY WAY FROM MAKING THIS MOVIE? DID IT MAKE YOU MORE OPEN TO THESE ISSUES?
I don’t think it would have been possible for me to have been more open. I was pretty wide open before making the film. I hope that it makes other people more open but my heart was already wide open.
ARE YOU SURPRISED IT’S STILL DIFFICULT FOR GAY ACTORS TO COME OUT BECAUSE IT WILL NEGATIVELY IMPACT THEIR CHANCES OF EMPLOYMENT?
Yes. It shouldn’t be an issue. We shouldn’t be talking about other peoples’ sexuality. It’s none of our business and who really cares? I just can’t believe that people still care who is sleeping with who (laughs). It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s 2016 – sleep with whomever you want, love whoever you want. It’s crazy to me to even have to talk about it but I know that I live in a part of the world where I’m lucky enough to be able to say that. That’s not the case for a lot of other places.
YOU RECEIVED THE BEST ACTRESS AWARD FOR THIS FILM IN CANNES LAST YEAR. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
It was such an honour to get that award in Cannes and it was completely unexpected. It’s nice to be recognised and honoured by your peers but it’s not really something I measure myself by. People have very, very short memories in our little industry so it’s not really something that I think about that much. There are so many films that I see and that I’ve been in that I love that don’t get recognised in that way.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW FASHION HAS PLAYED A ROLE IN YOUR LIFE? YOU’RE WIDELY DESCRIBED AS BEING A ‘FASHION ICON.’
Okay. Yeah, I started dressing myself at a very young age and I had a very strange sense of style when I was much younger. It was very creative and sort of avant garde for a 3 or 4 year old (laughs) so I’ve always had a very sort of strong sense of how I wanted to dress. It’s definitely changed a lot throughout the years but it’s always definitely been one of the ways in which I feel I can express myself.
WAS THERE A WOMAN IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU LOOKED UP TO?
There have been tons of women that I’ve looked up to and that have helped shape me. I had several teachers growing up that I loved and looked up to and wanted to be like. I have tons of aunts. I had one aunt in particular who I just thought was like the coolest person to ever walk the earth and I definitely looked up to her and probably mirrored some of her traits. I have a lot of female friends that I’ve made while working who are older than me who I look up to and they’ve definitely helped shape who I am. I love women. I constantly find women that I’m inspired by and that I want to be more like. I think women are like that more so than men. I think women sort of look to other women to for inspiration.
YOU STUDIED PSYCHOLOGY AND INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL POLITICS. ARE THESE SUBJECTS HELPFUL TO YOU IN YOUR JOB AS AN ACTRESS?
Yeah, I think it’s helpful for any job that anyone has especially with acting, having an understanding of psychology can be really helpful. I went to university but I really feel as though a lot of the stuff I learned that made me who I am, I learned outside of a classroom through travelling and just living. I wouldn’t know how to act if I didn’t have life experience to draw from.