-Article by Hamish Bowles
Hauntingly beautiful and more than a little mysterious, Rooney Mara is Hollywood’s most enigmatic leading lady.
“I feel a little, like . . . schizophrenic,” confides Rooney Mara of the quartet of radically different roles that she has taken on in the intense, whirlwind working year since David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo garnered her Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations and launched her into the starry firmament. Mara has just flown in for Vogue’s cover shoot on the red eye from Mérida, Mexico, where she wrapped Terrence Malick’s latest film. The idiosyncratic director was particularly demanding. “He’s a genius,” says Mara, who is protective of Malick’s methodology, although she admits that “it was definitely the most challenging experience, just because every day is different. So even if one day you got into your groove or got the hang of it, the next day would be something else.”
Earlier in the year she worked with the antic Spike Jonze on the science-fiction romance Her,and with writer-director David Lowery on the independent Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a love story set in the seventies in the hills of Texas. Meanwhile, her fourth project of 2012, Steven Soderbergh’s suspenseful thriller Side Effects, is released this month.
“It’s been very strange, jumping from one character to the next,” says the chameleon Mara. “All four of them were very intense experiences. . . . I really feel sometimes like those things are happening to me. Obviously they’re not. But it’s hard going from one to the next.
“And I’m hypercritical of myself,” she adds in a masterpiece of understatement. “Anytime I see anything I’ve done, I wish that it had gone differently because you figure it out as you go along, and you’re always discovering new things. I’d probably feel that way about anything that I did.”
She couldn’t bear to see herself on-screen in Dragon Tattoo and famously resisted until she went to a theater near Manhattan’s Union Square and bought a ticket with the general public. “I really wanted to go alone,” she says, but her boyfriend, writer-director Charlie McDowell (the son of actors Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen), insisted on accompanying her. “He was wise to come with me because if anyone had recognized me, I would have been so embarrassed.”
For Soderbergh, Mara has “the X factor that you can’t really teach, that watchability that an actor needs. My job was to make sure my camera was in the right place to capture it, to get what she was putting across.”
“It’s all intuition for me,” Mara confesses. “I never really studied-studied.” Instead, she works privately with the acting coach Bob Krakower (“I didn’t love being in a class—that’s very hard for me”) and otherwise learns by doing. “I think every job I do, I learn something new and get better,” she says. “I hope, anyway, that I keep evolving. . . . I wouldn’t want just one technique, because I don’t think it would work for every job.”