“It’s not scandalous to me,” shrugs Rooney Mara.
She’s talking about the prospect her new lesbian drama could offend.
“I understand that it will be to many people,” she added about the 1950s-set Todd Haynes-directed Carol, that tells of shopgirl Therese (Mara) who falls for an older woman played Cate Blanchett. “But I live in a bubble where I’m surrounded by progressive, forward-thinking people… do these issues still even exist? It’s like any other love story.”
Mara has ascended fast since her character dumped Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Social Network five years ago.
She then starred as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher’s remake of the Swedish hit, winning an Oscar nomination for her reimagining of Noomi Rapace’s role. With films by Stephen Soderbergh (Side Effects) and Spike Jonze (Her) under her 30-year-old belt, the New Yorker is now one of Hollywood’s go-to names. Big sister Kate, of House Of Cards fame, two years older, isn’t doing too badly either.
Mara shrugged off any fuss about Carol in the new issue of Empire magazine. Her co-star Blanchett acknowledges, in the same edition, the self-consciousness that came with the more graphic Sapphic scenes – but said they just needed to laugh while filming them.
“I am very slow to warm… I’ve always been sort of a loner”
“When you’ve got to kiss someone’s nipples that you don’t know very well… it’s hilarious,” said Blanchett. “You’ve got to have a sense of humour. People talk about sex all the time. I think we’re both pretty unshockable.”
It’s no surprise Mara is pretty unshockable – she had a wealthy, liberal upbringing. Her ancestors were sporting moguls: her mother’s family founded the Pittsburgh Steelers, while her father’s folks founded the New York Giants. Dad is vice president of ‘player evaluation’ for the Giants.
Yet Rooney, who dates American director Charlie McDowell, has in the past rejected accusations of privilege. “I am one of 40 grandchildren. What bothers me about the whole Trust Fund thing is that people assume everything is handed to you. And if there is one thing about my family that I do identify with, it’s that everyone’s extremely hardworking.”
But Rooney has never taken much to sports herself. “I am very slow to warm,” she added. “I’ve always been sort of a loner. I didn’t play team sports. I am better one-on-one than in big groups.”
But a spirit of bonding was displayed when Mara won the Best Actress Award for Carol at the Cannes Film Festival. She seemed almost embarrassed to be chosen over Blanchett, speaking of watching her co-star’s films for years. Of her heroine since her early teens, she speaks of “being seduced over and over, with each performance”.
Now the pair, having got to know each other at close quarters, is lapping up the praise from equally seduced audiences. “I feel chemistry isn’t something you can really predict,” Rooney said. “It’s just a freak thing that happens. You can’t create it – it’s either there or not.”
The new issue of Empire is out now.
Loaded freelance reporter Chris Roberts has written extensively about music, film, literature and TV. He is also the author of around a dozen books.