Kate Mara, the On-screen Radical

Published April 17, 2014

ABOVE: KATE MARA IN TRANSCENDENCE.

Warning: this interview contains sensitive information about House of Cards’ second season.

The directorial debut of longtime celebrated cinematographer, Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight), Transcendence is an ultra-modern, cautionary tale for the techno-savvy. Pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence, progressive scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) strives to create an all-powerful, highly intelligent machine with the full range of human emotions. Unsurprisingly, Caster’s controversial work has drawn unwanted attention from special interest groups intent on “unplugging the network.” Among Caster’s antagonists is Bree, a radical environmentalist and leader of RIFT (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) played by Kate Mara.

Mara, no stranger to tackling headstrong characters, began acting long before her younger sister, Rooney (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), with one episode of Law & Order in 1997. Nearly two decades later, Mara’s list of credits includes Brokeback Mountain, Shooter, 127 Hours, American Horror Story, and, most recently, House of Cards.

In the still-buzzed about Season Two opener of House of Cards, Mara took her final curtain call as ruthless journalist Zoe Barnes, after plunging to a gruesome, unceremonious death at the hands of political psycho and villain, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). Though her stint on House of Cards was short-lived, her performance resonated through the rest of the season.  

Now, with her role as Fantastic Four‘s Sue Storm on the horizon, the New York native is intent on going with the flow and taking each day as it comes.

JAMIE LINCOLN: At this point I’m sure you’re probably sick to death of talking about it, but it’s still fairly fresh, so I have to ask: what’s it like getting pushed in front of a subway train by Kevin Spacey?

KATE MARA: Well, it’s a lot less painful than it looks. [laughs] We had a lot of fun shooting that scene. We did different setups of the scene;  we were shooting in a real subway station in the middle of the night—like three in the morning—and we would do everything up until the push. Then we shot another day in our studios with a green screen and, for four hours straight, I was just being shoved off of this platform onto a bunch of cushions by a stunt guy. Then they could superimpose me being pushed in front of the train. It was actually fun, and really, really surreal for Kevin and I shooting that scene.

LINCOLN: I can imagine. Having been killed off on House of Cards, do you still feel invested in the series?

MARA: I’m invested because I love everybody so much, and I want the show to continue to be as successful as it has been. I’m also a really big fan of the show. I mean, I watched all of Season Two in a couple days and had no idea what was going to be happening—I wasn’t on the inside, I really didn’t know what the story was going to be—so, my loyalties are there. It’s just shifted from being a part of the show, to now being a fan of the show.

LINCOLN: At what point did you know you’d be killed off at the start of Season Two?

MARA: I knew from before we even shot Season One, so whenever they told me I got the part. Actually, before they told me I got the part, they told me that Zoe would die in the first episode of Season Two. It was not shocking at all to me.

LINCOLN: So you had to keep super tight-lipped about that for a really long time.

MARA: Almost two years.

LINCOLN: Tell me a little bit about your role in the upcoming film, Transcendence.

MARA: I play a radical environmentalist who is trying to stop Johnny Depp’s character and the scientists from… basically, technology taking over our planet.

LINCOLN: That’s a pretty intense job. Obviously Transcendence falls within the sci-fi category. Are you drawn to a particular genre? You seem to take on a wide variety of projects.

MARA: I don’t choose my projects based on genre, I choose them based on the role and whether or not I’ve tackled that yet, based on the director and such. So, for this film, it wasn’t at all because it was sci-fi. I’m definitely interested in the subject—I don’t really know much about it—but I was excited to play the role.

LINCOLN: You’ve been quoted as stating, “I don’t want to do anything that’s not going to keep me on my toes.” I’m curious: how did Transcendence keep you on your toes?

MARA: Well, like I said, I didn’t know a lot about the subject matter—I didn’t know a lot about environmentalist groups, I didn’t know a lot about eco-terrorism. I was excited to research that and wrap my head around that way of thinking and figure out this character that I had to play.

LINCOLN: Is there a particular actor or actress on your bucket list you’d love to work with in the future?

MARA: Oh, I couldn’t name just one. I would love to work with Amy Adams at some point, Cate Blanchett. But there are so many that I haven’t had the chance to work with yet.

LINCOLN: I noticed Ellen DeGeneres Instagrammed a photo of you sitting in her chair the other day, so I assume that will air soon. Do you find these sort of promotional interviews stressful, or par for the course at this point?

MARA: I get nervous to go on talk shows because they’re filmed live and in a way you’re performing. I’m very comfortable performing as other people, but performing as myself is not so comfortable. It can be fun—especially with someone like Ellen. I love her. I love watching her show, I think she’s hilarious, but I always get nervous going on the shows—whether they end up being a good experience, or not.

LINCOLN: I noticed that both you and your younger sister Rooney are credited in a 2005 horror film called Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. Would you want to work with Rooney again in the future? I’m sure you two have excellent on-screen chemistry.

MARA: [laughs] To say we worked together is really, really reaching. I was in a horror film, and she was in one scene—I think it was one scene, maybe two, and we didn’t speak to each other in the film, so that really doesn’t count. The straight-to-video horror film we did back when I was a child and she hadn’t done any movies yet. [laughs] We definitely want to work together in the future. We’re being patient and waiting for the right thing to come along.

LINCOLN: Is it nice being able to talk shop with Rooney on what it means to be an actress?

MARA: Oh yeah. We’ve always been close, but being actresses and sharing the same profession and the same passion and really similar experiences definitely has brought us closer.

LINCOLN: Outside of acting, what are you doing on a typical Saturday night?

MARA: I’m either at the movie theater, or I’m at home cooking—well, not really cooking because I don’t cook, I usually have friends over who can cook, and they do the cooking. [laughs] I’m sort of a homebody, even though I love going out to dinner and I love going to the movies. Those are my favorite things to do on a night off.

LINCOLN: What’s in store for the immediate future?

MARA: I’m working on the new Fantastic Four movie in a couple weeks, so probably the next four months of my life will be working on that movie. I really haven’t planned after that. I sort of go with the flow, I don’t tend to plan for years down the line. I’ve never really been that way. I definitely have goals and dreams and things like that for my future, but I’m just more comfortable living in the right now and taking every day as it comes.

LINCOLN: When you say goals, does that include awards? Golden Globes, Oscars, all that fun stuff?

MARA: Of course any actor is going to be happy to be nominated for an Oscar —absolutely—but I don’t really think of it in that way. I’ve never really thought of my job in that way, because that’s just a lot of pressure to be working towards one goal. I’m much more interested in finding roles that make me feel happy about going to work every day.

TRANSCENDENCE IS NOW PLAYING IN NEW YORK AND COMES OUT IN WIDE RELEASE TOMORROW, APRIL 18.