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 . . .
SODERBERGH: So tell me this then: Why are you naked in every movie?
MARA: I just do what I’m told, when I’m told. There is a line, though—like when you asked me to do reverse cowgirl with Channing [Tatum, who plays Mara’s husband in Side Effects], and I put my foot down. If the character should be nude in the scene and it makes sense and I trust the person making the film—and I regret my decision to trust you now that I know you more—then I don’t see a problem with it. I certainly don’t want to be involved in anything that is gratuitous, but I don’t think the human body is something to be ashamed of. Every other person on the planet has the same parts as I do. So seeing them shouldn’t be a huge shock to most people.
SODERBERGH: First of all, reverse cowgirl occupies a very important position in porn—pun intended. Plus, you told me that you couldn’t stand to look at Channing, so I was just trying to solve a problem.
MARA: You would know . . . If I recall, Channing didn’t want to look at me.
SODERBERGH: He said that you scared him. Seriously. What were you doing that made him scared?
MARA: I don’t know! I thought I was pretty nice, even when I was thinking of . . . Spoiler!
SODERBERGH: Shut up! But maybe this is a good time for you to answer some questions you’ve been avoiding. For example: Are you afraid of being kidnapped?
MARA: I try not to think about it. I would probably be more afraid for the person who was kidnapping me.
MARA: Because when threatened, I can get very scary—and hypoglycemic if I’m not fed every few hours. It’s not pleasant.
SODERBERGH: I’ve noticed. Everyone on the crew called you “Looney Mara.” Do you think that’s funny?
MARA: Umm . . .
SODERBERGH: Actually, some of the crew called you “Jumper Cable,” because you had no energy. Do you think that’s funnier?
MARA: Well, I think it’s more relevant, as I was playing someone with clinical depression. A lack of energy was sort of part of the no-preparation that I did.
SODERBERGH: That reminds me—why are you constantly sick?
MARA: Because of too many Z-Paks growing up.
SODERBERGH: Oh, this is interesting. So you were sexually promiscuous . . .
MARA: No, I was pretty prude.
SODERBERGH: Oh . . . Not so interesting. So why don’t you eat normal food?
MARA: By “normal,” do you mean food that has been genetically modified? I try to eat food that hasn’t been washed in ammonia and then packaged in the shape of breaded dinosaurs filled with cheese—even though those are very tasty. I like to eat food that can actually make it through the 20-plus feet of my small intestine.
SODERBERGH: So you’re not vegan because of the senseless, pointless, morally repugnant, environmentally catastrophic practice of animal farming, but because of your little intestine?
MARA: All of those reasons play a role.
SODERBERGH: If you were alone on a desert island and could only have one piece of music to listen to, don’t you think everyone would be really happy?
MARA: Clearly, you would be really happy. I would be happy for a while, too, depending on what music it was.
SODERBERGH: Let’s talk politics: Why did you wear your sister’s training bra? She’s still trying to get over that.
MARA: She told you that? That’s embarrassing. She was really upset when my mom brought her home a training bra. She didn’t want it, so I moseyed on over and picked it up. I was very eager to get boobs. It wasn’t until years later that the training bra would actually fit. I’ve regretted it ever since.
SODERBERGH: Do you still have it?
MARA: No. Of course not.
SODERBERGH: Pretty sure they had eBay back then. Should’ve kept it. I’ve never seen you read. Do you know how?
MARA: Yes, sir, I do know how. I love to read. I’m still pen pals with my ninth-grade English teacher, Mr. Shanley. He tells me what books to read.
SODERBERGH: I think we need a new word for “pen pal.” But back to me: I stopped reading my reviews after Traffic . Do you care about reviews?
MARA: Do I care about reviews? Yes and no. I tend to not put too much credence in what other people think, but then, of course, you are curious as to what other people think and you want people to respect you. So, I don’t know. At the end of the day, I am so much more critical of myself than anyone else could be, and I know when something I’ve done is really bad or kind of good. I guess sometimes you read a review to see if anyone else picked up on something bad that you already picked up on yourself. So, generally, if I do read them, I do it when I am feeling really bad about myself, and I find the meanest things that people have said so I can validate my own feelings. I don’t read them to fluff myself up. In fact, rarely do you believe it when someone says something nice.
oMetIMeS yoU reAd a revIew to See If Anyone eLSe PICKed UP on SoMethIng bAd that yoU already PICKed UP on yoUrSeLf . . . In fACt, rAreLy do you beLIeve It when SoMeone SAyS SoMethIng nICe.—Rooney Mara
SODERBERGH: One of the reasons I’m so creative is that my parents got divorced. What’s it like growing up in a stable household?
MARA: Really? Do you want to elaborate on that? Do you think your creativity is directly related to your parents’ divorce? And why would that be? I think that I have a pretty vivid imagination despite my stable household. Everyone’s family has their quirks. No one is perfect.
SODERBERGH: Well, for me it was a great lesson in subtext. But since you’re always playing the surface of things, I guess it wouldn’t have helped you.
MARA: I was actually fired once for having too much inner life.
SODERBERGH: That sounds unlikely. I don’t know if I told you this, but I like to work fast because I’m convinced that I could die at any moment and I’m worried that someone else will have to finish my movie. Do you worry about dying?
MARA: Who do you think they would hire to finish your movie? Is there anyone you would trust to finish it? Sometimes I think about that—like, “Okay, if I died right now, would they have to reshoot the whole film? Or would they be able to edit around it.” Then I think through the scenes that are left to shoot, and weigh if they would be able to finish it or not.
SODERBERGH: They could always get your sister to jump in and finish it. But let’s talk about god for a moment. Do you feel guilty about all of the terrible things you’ve done in your life? Actually, let me rephrase that: Do you think that we are all being watched, and when we die, we will get a report card?
MARA: A report card? I can’t even remember what a report card looks like. Is that strange? I literally can’t picture it. But no, I don’t think we get a report card. I do think, though, that the way we live our lives and treat each other matters. I’m quite often paranoid that I am being watched.
SODERBERGH: Well, duh—you are! Talk about what scares you. Be specific.
MARA: Diseases, like the one in Contagion . Black mambas. Heights. The ocean. Outer space. Humans.
SODERBERGH: Anyone specifically besides me?
MARA: Stop projecting. You don’t scare me.
SODERBERGH: You seem very content with your feet. Why is that?
MARA: Wow . . . I need to remember to keep that one closer to the chest next time. I don’t know. They are just pretty great feet. They get me to where I need to be—usually on time. They don’t smell. They are a nice size. Long toes . . .
SODERBERGH: I don’t like seeing men’s feet. It’s too intimate. Don’t you think flip-flops and sandals on men should be outlawed?
MARA: No. I like flip-flops on men. I am not grossed out by feet. I’ve never seen your feet, though, so that could change.
SODERBERGH: I don’t have feet; I have another set of hands. Have you ever asked anyone out?
MARA: I don’t think so . . .
SODERBERGH: Interesting. What’s your favorite swear word and why?
MARA: When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to say “fart.” Fart was a swear word. We had to say “honk” instead—“He honked!” A penis was a “winky.” But these days, I like words with a little more punch.
SODERBERGH: Like doodie?
MARA: Like cunt.
SODERBERGH: Whoa . . . Okay. Would you lie to help your best friend?
MARA: Help them with what? How serious is the situation? Probably. I need more information than that to make a decision. But, as I’ve told you before, I am a terrible liar.
SODERBERGH: I just turned 50, which seemed old to me when I was your age. Does that seem old to you now?
MARA: No. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you are only a few years younger than my parents, so technically you could be my dad. But a lot—probably most—of my friends are over the age of 35. And you are super-immature, so you seem a lot younger than your age.
SODERBERGH: Thank you. I happen to think the most valuable natural resource on this planet is Velcro, but I hear you’re into some shit with what, water? Schools?
MARA: I’m involved with a charity in Kibera, Kenya, called Uweza. I started a charity a few years ago, and then joined up with Uweza because we had a lot of the same goals and we had been helping each other out for years. We don’t do anything with water, but I did just get back from a trip with Oxfam America, and they are doing some pretty incredible work with water. I will recommend something with Velcro to them, though.
SODERBERGH: Did your parents make you get involved with that stuff?
MARA: No, my parents begged me not to go. But they are extremely supportive now.
SODERBERGH: I cried when Magic Mike wasn’t nominated for a People’s Choice Award. When was the last time you cried?
MARA: You’re a liar.
SODERBERGH: You weren’t there, so you don’t know for sure. The hardest I’ve ever laughed, though, was when I watched Valley of the Dolls  one Thanksgiving on mushrooms. What’s the hardest that you’ve ever laughed?
MARA: It’s too inappropriate to tell you about in this interview, but it involves latex.
SODERBERGH: Latex is always funny. I refuse to let my wife wear green. What color will you not wear?
MARA: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Jules [Asner, Soderbergh’s wife] wear green. But I try not to wear color. Ever.
SODERBERGH: For political reasons?
MARA: No, because it’s easier to get dressed in the morning.
thInK that I hAve A Pretty vIvId IMAgInAtIon despite My StAbLe hoUSehoLd. everyone’S fAMILy has theIr qUIrKS. no one IS PerfeCt.—Rooney Mara
SODERBERGH: Let’s talk about your acting process some more. Have you ever complained about your accommodations on an acting job?
MARA: No, I don’t think so. Accommodations on acting jobs are really, really nice and nothing to complain about—although, one of the apartments that I stayed at in Sweden while we were making The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo didn’t have very good heat. I would turn on the stove to try to heat it up, which I’m pretty sure is incredibly dangerous, but I didn’t know that at the time. I would sleep with a hot water bottle.
SODERBERGH: If you were a tree . . . Oh, fuck that. What kind of car would you be? I actually drive a ’64 Beetle, which is exactly the car I would be.
MARA: I would be a bicycle.
SODERBERGH: Oh god—I should have seen that coming. Now that I’m winding down my career as a feature film director, my new line of work involves importing liquor from Bolivia. What’s your favorite drink? Long Island iced tea?
MARA: I really like Bolivia. I went there when I was 18. I really liked Long Island iced teas when I was 18, too. My favorite drink is a hot toddy.
SODERBERGH: Do you own any Apple stock?
MARA: No, but my mom always yells at my dad because she told him to buy it years ago and he didn’t.
SODERBERGH: That’s weird—I yell at him about that, too. Trader Joe’s is always packed. I wish they would go public so I could buy their stock. Do you shop there?
MARA: I love Trader Joe’s. They have really good prices. But Erewhon in L.A. is the best grocery store.
SODERBERGH: I’ll ask my unpaid interns about that. I have copies of all the magazine covers that you’ve done and I need you to sign them so I can sell them. Do you keep copies of your covers? Does your family?
MARA: I don’t keep them, but I’m sure my mom does.
SODERBERGH: Do you think that your parents have ever read Interview?
MARA: Yes, I am quite sure that they have.
SODERBERGH: Let’s talk about politics. Do you get to keep all those dresses you wear to awards shows?
MARA: No, none of them.
SODERBERGH: Really? Then what’s the point? They don’t give you anything? You’re helping them!
MARA: I didn’t say that they don’t give me anything— I said that I don’t get to keep the dresses that I wear to award shows. Getting to wear the dress in the first place is something, though, isn’t it?
SODERBERGH: I suppose. Let’s move on and talk about sex. Some of these camera apps are amazing. Do you have any apps you like?
MARA: I only just got an iPhone two weeks ago. I hate it. Sorry, Apple. I love Mac products—I love them— but I can’t type on the iPhone, so now I just don’t respond to people. The camera is amazing, though. No denying that.
SODERBERGH: I think that if a man is in a restaurant where someone brings him his food, then he should not wear a hat. What do you think?
MARA: You’ve told me this before. I think that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. But what about a beanie? What if it’s outdoor seating?
SODERBERGH: Only if he’s bald . . . Do you keep a journal?
MARA: No, and any journal I might have kept in the past I ripped up and threw away the day I met you.
SODERBERGH: Smart. What other paying jobs have you had?
MARA: I was a babysitter/nanny and a camp counselor. One summer, me and my best friend answered the phones at her dad’s office, but we laughed every time we picked up the phone so they moved us to the shipping department.
SODERBERGH: Everyone says my best quality is my humility. What’s yours?
MARA: My feet. Definitely.
SODERBERGH: Again with the feet! When you’re not shooting, what kind of hours do you keep?
MARA: That’s too revealing.
SODERBERGH: More revealing than that thing about not keeping the dresses? If everything you’ve texted in the last 24 hours were to be posted publicly, would you get in trouble?
SODERBERGH: Are you as paranoid as you seem?
MARA: More so.
SODERBERGH: Last question: Me and Fincher both offer you a movie, and you have a gun with one bullet in it. Which one of us do you shoot?
MARA: I would put the gun down and run—very, very fast.
STEVEN SODERBERGH IS AN ACADEMY AWARD WINNING DIRECTOR. HIS LATEST FILM, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, A BIOPIC OF LIBERACE, WILL AIR ON HBO THIS SPRING.
y SISter was reALLy UPSet when My MoM broUght her hoMe a trAInIng brA. She dIdn’t wAnt It, So I MoSeyed on over and PICKed It UP. I wAS very eAger to get boobS.—Rooney Mara