'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

Rooney Mara on Lisbeth Salander: ‘I had a really clear picture of who this girl is’

A dressed-in-black Rooney Mara looks more like an upwardly mobile ingenue than a ragged street punk, as she casually chats to an acquaintance in the stylish lobby of the Crosby Street Hotel.

Her real-life persona serves to underscore the magic of her transformation into the streetwise computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the David Fincher-directed adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s popular novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Opening Dec. 20, the thriller features Mara as the dysfunctional but brilliant Salander, hired by reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to help him with an investigation into the disappearance of a girl 40 years earlier. Assigned to the job by the rich patriarch (Christopher Plummer) of the girl’s family, Salander and Blomkvist uncover horrifying events from the family’s past and present.

The details of the case, and the lead characters in the whodunit, are familiar to Larsson fans, and there are many. The dearly departed writer sold more than 65 million copies of his crime trilogy, Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The Swedish/Danish trio of films of the books were released in 2009, with Noomi Rapace playing Salander and Michael Nykvist playing Blomkvist. So comparisons to the Fincher production are inevitable.

In a hotel suite earlier in the day, Mara insisted that she didn’t worry about that when filming began last year in Sweden.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think much about what other people imagined it to be,” said the 26-year-old of her demanding role. “I used what I imagined her to be. And I had read all three books, and I had a really clear picture of who this girl is.”

Besides, Mara had worked too hard to get the part to be concerned. Indeed, there were many doubters when Mara started pushing to get the part. One of the skeptics happened to be Fincher himself, who had cast her as Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend inThe Social Network.

Even Mara admitted she didn’t think she was “right” for the Salander role. She abruptly changed her mind when she was told Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson were also being considered.

Persuading Fincher to, at least, let her audition, led to a series of tryouts that would have frustrated most actors. But she persevered, and eventually proved to Fincher that she had the resilience and commitment to become the character.

Certainly, sacrifice was required before the shoot started, as Mara had her long hair chopped and dyed black, and her eyebrows bleached. She also suffered through seven body piercings (including a nipple piercing).

On camera, she had naked sex scenes to get through, and a sexual-assault sequence that is incredibly jarring. In fact, Fincher made a list of unpleasant moments she would have to endure.

“The list was what David [Fincher] gave the casting director to let me know what I was in for, before I went down the long road of auditioning,” Mara said.

Like the character she was about to play, Fincher said, “Rooney wasn’t giving up, and it shows in her performance.”

So, the least of her concerns was Salander’s bisexuality.

“I guess, growing up in New York and L.A., it didn’t seem that crazy to me to play a bisexual character,” she said. “She’s incredibly comfortable with her sexuality, and I am the same, because it doesn’t faze me.”

Faze her or not, Mara grew up worlds away from Salander. She was raised in the exclusive section of Bedford, New York. Her father, Timothy, is a vice-president of the New York Giants football team, and her grandfather is one of its founders. She’s also the great-granddaughter of Art Rooney Sr., the deceased former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At an early age, Mara decided to follow in her older sister Kate’s footsteps and become an actor. But she certainly wasn’t an overnight success.

Like many struggling actors before her, she made her debut with a walk-on role in the 2005 horror flick, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. She guest-starred on TV shows from 2006 to 2009, including a two-episode performance in ER.

In film, she had a part opposite Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt and The Winning Season with Emma Roberts, which led to her role in Fincher’s The Social Network.

Now a best-actress Oscar nomination is almost guaranteed for her uncompromising performance as Salander. But it’s hardly a coincidence that she re-imagined herself as the damaged and aloof hacking expert.

“We did do a lot of rehearsal to get it right, before we started shooting,” said Mara of her collaboration with Fincher.

The Toronto-born Plummer, an award-winning veteran of stage and screen, was astounded with her abilities when he saw the complete film.

“That’s a staggering performance,” said Plummer of Mara. “I know, because I’ve been in the business for 60 friggin’ years. When one sees that kind of extraordinary courage and dedication, with an accent that’s impeccable, you know that’s a star.”

Source: National Post

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