Over the past two years, 27-year-old Rooney Mara has emerged as one of the most talked about and talented—if intriguingly complicated and enigmatic—young actresses of her generation. In fact, Mara’s ability to convey a range of often competing emotions without going over the top—used to such great effect in her Oscar-nominated performance as the determined-but-damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—is party of what makes her so irresistibly watchable. But what’s she really like? On the eve of his retirement from feature-filmmaking, Steven Soderbergh, who directed Mara in the new psychological thriller Side Effects, graciously agreed to illuminate for us the completely unadulterated, absolutely unembellished, thoroughly unvarnished truth. Here, we present a Mara in full.
[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted via e-mail, and contains coarse language, discussions of nudity, and exorbitant amounts of biting sarcasm. Reader discretion is advised.]
STEVEN SODERBERGH: Did you think you were Little Miss Hot Shit in college, or did that come later?
ROONEY MARA: When I was at college, my nickname was Keds, because I wore Keds. I guess it wasn’t really a nickname, because nicknames are usually given to you by people who are your friends and who know you. But I didn’t know the people who called me Keds. I think that they didn’t like me because I didn’t want to join a sorority. I left that school.
SODERBERGH: Sounds like you would have been asked to leave if you hadn’t left on your own, especially since you think that all sororities should be abolished. Your background is boring me, so let’s get to the movie stuff. When you were working with [David] Fincher on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo , why did he have to do so many takes of all your scenes?
MARA: Har, har . . . Because I am such a pleasure to be around, Fincher would prolong my scenes so that I would be on set all of the time. And maybe because I am stubborn, I thought that I could out-stubborn him. But you can’t out-stubborn a Finch. He was always right, though. Not everyone can make films with “less than one take,” like you.
SODERBERGH: So do you really have any tattoos? Or was that acting?
MARA: I don’t have any. That was acting.
SODERBERGH: And are you an expert hacker? Or was that acting, too?
MARA: That was also acting. Unfortunately.
SODERBERGH: So why didn’t you win the Oscar?
MARA: Lots of reasons . . . I know how much you love your Oscar. My dog’s name is Oskar.
SODERBERGH: As an Oscar-winner, I find that incredibly insulting. By the way, do you know that your dog hates the way you smell?
MARA: He’s sleeping next to me right this very moment. He loves everything about me, bless his little heart.
SODERBERGH: In our movie, Side Effects, you were asked to play a woman who is struggling with clinical depression—amongst other things. I must note for the record that, as your director, I did not see you do any preparation for this role. Do you wing it all the time, or were you just trying to fuck up this movie specifically?
MARA: Clearly, on the eve of your retirement, you stopped paying attention to everything. When I do a film, I follow the director. And because you wing everything—like this interview—I decided that that’s the way I should work as well.
SODERBERGH: I think we both know how much I prepared for this interview. But just to give the Interview readers a little bit of insight . . . For the first week of shooting, I told you to do the opposite of what I wanted you to do, because I knew that you would do the opposite of what I asked. Then you stopped doing that, so I started asking you to do what I wanted, which you did for a while, and then I went back to asking for the opposite, and then, after about day nine, I was so medicated that I’m not sure what happened. Tell me about that.
MARA: If you hadn’t lost your ability to read people, you would have known that at first I was doing whatever you asked—and then slowly, bitterly, I started doing the opposite.
SODERBERGH: Glad it was a short shoot. By the way, you wanted your fee on Side Effects to be paid to you in small, unmarked bills. What’s up with that?
MARA: Shh . . .