To play the role of Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Rooney Mara had her hair dyed black and chopped short and asymmetrical, her eyebrows bleached blonde, and her eyebrow, ears and nipple pierced. And that was only the beginning of her transformation.
A scion of football royalty—her great-grandfathers, Timothy Mara and Art Rooney Sr., founded the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively—Ms. Mara parlayed a popular (if small) part in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (as Mark Zuckerberg’s jilted girlfriend) into consideration for the central role of Lisbeth in Mr. Fincher’s new adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel.
To win the role, Ms. Mara, who was born and raised in Westchester County, endured a two-month audition process that included being asked to get drunk and then do a screen test while hung over. The Journal recently sat down with the 26-year-old actor, who was dressed in black from head-to-toe, at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo.
A goth haircut is one thing, but were you nervous about getting all those piercings for the role of Lisbeth?
I wasn’t really fazed by it at all. I was auditioning for two and a half months at that point, so I was already getting into character and anxious to get started. They cut and dyed the hair and bleached the eyebrows all in one afternoon here at the Crosby Street Hotel. Then we went to Brooklyn and got the piercings. We walked in, we knew what we were going to do. It was me and David [Fincher] and Trish [Summerville, the costume designer], and she got me some orange juice and we got the piercings. David didn’t want to stay in the room—he is really squeamish about those kinds of things, which is really funny considering the movies he makes. And it was really easy. It hurts for a second but I wasn’t very scared.
Were you concerned about the amount of nudity required?
No. I wouldn’t have been able to fight as hard as I did for the job—it’s such a huge part of the story. And the character is incredibly comfortable with her sexuality. I had to go into it with the same mindset.
Are there talks of sequels or are you done with Lisbeth?
I’m not done with her at all. I think we have to wait and see if there is an audience for it. I think certainly there should be an audience for it; I think adults have been starved for a movie like this. I kept one piercing and obviously these [motioning to ears] are still pierced. If we do the sequels I don’t want to have to get everything re-pierced.
What do you mean by adults being starved?
There are a lot of movies with adult themes that are made at an independent level, but I don’t think there are movies on this kind of large scale that are catered to adults. No one wants to put the money into an R-rated film because it is harder to make the money back. I think adults have been left out.
Did you have a history with Lisbeth before you got the role?
I saw the Swedish film a couple of months before I auditioned for the American one. And then I had my first audition for the American film and I knew I would be screen-testing a few months later and knew I had a pretty good shot at it, so then I read the books. But I didn’t want to read them—knowing myself and how obsessed I get with things, I didn’t want it to be all the more devastating if I didn’t get the part, so I waited to read them until I had a good shot.
What’s different about your Lisbeth?
That’s hard to answer. I spent so much time with the character, it’s hard to remember what things you brought, what things are from the books. When you spend so much time that gets very foggy. People who read the books, our version is very close to the books. Larsson colored [Lisbeth] with so many facets and so much back story. You don’t usually have that as an actor.
You’re originally from Bedford, in Westchester County. Do you feel like a product of where you grew up?
I feel like its an incredible place to live, Westchester, but it can definitely be a bit removed from the rest of the world, and I don’t feel like a product of that. Maybe growing up in a place like that has made me drawn to things that are much different than that. Like Salander—she certainly didn’t grow up in Westchester, New York.
Source: Wall Street Journal