Rooney Mara - Rising Star
In A Span Of Seven Years

By Erik Waldman
Rooney Mara was only an extra on her big sister Kate’s straight to DVD horror film Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. Now, the Academy of Motion Pictures nominated her scene-stealing performance in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Mara was born as Patricia Rooney Mara in Bedford, New York.  She is one of four children of New York Giants executive Timothy Christopher Mara and Kathleen McNulty. Her paternal grandfather was Tim Mara, founder of the New York Giants of the National Football League.

Her sister Kate pursued an acting career and now appears in many famous projects, including the tearjerker football story We Are Marshall, the action packed revenge film Shooter and the terrifying TV series “American Horror Story.” Rooney Mara decided to take on the craft of acting after she appeared in several student films and to follow her sister’s footsteps.

After seven years, Mara became a star and she managed to work her way up to the role of a lifetime: Lisabeth Salander. Other choices for the role were Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johannson and Jennifer Lawrence. How did Mara get Salander over those really experienced actresses? After Mara’s small role in The Social Network, Fincher admitted that he enjoyed working with her so much that he wanted to cast her in future projects. Mara’s acting was dead on target in The Social Network and that scene she shot with Jesse Eisenberg must have made a real impression with Fincher. Fincher’s choice for Salander leads to Mara’s first Oscar nomination. Here are a few films that she did as she climbed the stardom ladder of Hollywood.


Character: Classroom Girl 1

Yes, she’s an extra in this film. The reason she’s in this film is because her big sister Kate is the star of this flick. This was not a good start, but it’s still considered a start because it began her journey for more roles no matter what they required. After this film, she continued to search for roles on television, such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit in 2006 and Women’s Murder Club in 2007. She became an active pursuer and never stopped after her unnoticed but credited job in her big sister’s horror film.


Character: Fernanda

This was her first leading role, and she managed to pull that off after an extra role and brief appearances in TV shows. Even though it was an unknown independent film, it’s still a start and she was able to gain experience in leading a film with veteran actors such as Brie Larson, Chris Kattan, Tom Everett Scott and SNL alum Amy Sedaris.

She plays a character that has an affair with a married man. One of the most impressive things to note about this was Mara only auditioned for a supporting role in the low budgeted film. Director Tatiana von Furstenberg was so impressed with Mara that she had Mara return for a screen test for the lead. Mara won the role. Furstenberg said about Mara’s performance “Still waters run deep.” This was only the beginning of Mara’s praise from directors.


Character: Taggarty

This comedy was her first wide release film. She auditioned for the leading love interest to Michael Cera’s character, but she did not get the role. However, she was offered the smaller role because Portia Doubleday won the leading love interest. In this film, she plays a girl who wants to sleep with 50 guys before she goes to college. A lot of good did come out of this film experience, because this role actually began to spread her name around and she gained more experience in an even more professional environment.

DARE (2009)

Character: Courtney

Even though she spent time in a bigger budget film, Mara went back to independent films, such as this film starring Phantom of the Opera’s Emmy Rossum. She plays a high school senior who sets on expanding her life experience. This role is a reflection of exactly what she will become in the next few years.


Character: Wendy

2009 was a very busy year for Ms. Mara. She filmed this movie with teen sensation Emma Roberts and veteran Sam Rockwell, which must have been great for her to network with famous actors. Similar to her role in Tanner Hall, she plays a girl who has an affair with an older gentleman. This time, she plays a basketball player in Bad News Bears type of story. The title explains how it ends. This was the last film she did before her big break.


Character: Nancy Holbrook

This film was known as her big break because it’s part of one of the best and well known horror franchises. This was a wonderful opportunity for Mara because it was her first starring role in a wide release film. In the 2010 remake, Mara took the role in a completely different direction than Heather Langenkamp did in Wes Craven’s 1984 hit.

Mara’s interpretation of Nancy was in a more isolated fashion. Mara stated to Variety that Nancy is “socially awkward and timid and really doesn’t know how to connect with people.” While the film bombed in the box office and critically, Mara did not particularly enjoy the experience, but she managed to get her name farther in the world as a young and talented actress. Even though the film did not perform well, she still performed exactly what she described the character as and continued her search for more roles.


Character: Erica Albright

Mara went from a critical disaster like A Nightmare on Elm Street to one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. This was Oscar nominee David Fincher’s exploration film about the birth of the social networking site Facebook. Mara only had three scenes in this film. Her opening scene alone is nothing short of impressive.

The scene was eight script pages long and took 99 takes (Fincher is known for filming one scene at least 80 times). With Aaron Sorkin’s genius dialogue and Fincher’s rapid direction, Mara and Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg threw their lines at each other like gunfire. They kept going and it didn’t stop until her character breaks up with Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg. Her performance and ability to work well with Fincher led to her casting in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


Character: Lisabeth Salander

Fincher enjoyed working with Mara so much that she was his top choice for the charismatic hacker Lisabeth Salander. Fincher convinced Columbia Pictures executives to cast Mara. Mara took this role in a different direction than Noomi Rapace in original Swedish trilogy by giving her own interpretation of the character. She completely transformed into a dedicated actress as she prepared for this highly coveted role.

Her signature brown hair was cut short and dyed black in a 1980s gothic and 1970s punk fashion. Her piercings were the most interesting because the majority of them seen on screen are real. Her nose and lip piercings were fake, but every other piercing, including her nipple piercing, was real. After the piercings, she had her eyebrows bleached. For the iconic dragon tattoo, she wore a temporary tattoo during the entire period of production. Also, she learned to kick-box, skateboard, ride a fast motorcycle and underwent a lot of computer and dialect training.

After visiting Stockholm, she was ready for production. With complete commitment through the intensity of some scenes, including rape and torture, she gave one of the best performances of the year. Mara was dead on with her caricature of the character and completely disappeared into the role. She was a scene stealing delight throughout the film’s two hours and thirty minutes.

Mara received a lot of critical acclaim for her role including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by Leading Actress-Drama. Recently, the Academy praised Mara by awarding her with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her performance as Lisabeth Salander is an absolute revelation and Mara signed to play her in the next two adaptations of Steig Larrson’s Millennium trilogy.


Rooney Mara has become one of the most dedicated and brilliant actresses of the past decade because she encountered a transformation from an extra to a leading lady in a short period of time. Some of the low budget and critically disappointing films did not stop her from giving up. A Nightmare on Elm Street almost did put a halt on her career until she was casted in the award winning fact-based The Social Network. She must be a very fierce person to keep going, which means that she must love to act on camera. Mara created a friendship with a versatile director and became one of the top actresses of the 2011 film season. Rooney Mara should not only win the Oscar for Best Actress, but be praised for becoming an international star as fast as she did.

Your Comments Please

Send your comments, please: click here

Casting Your Film

Learn about the casting process and the best ways to get the right actors for your production.

Tutors: Rory O'Donnell Venue: Raindance Film Centre
10 Craven Street, WC2N 5PE
Date: April 9 Duration: Single Eveninng
Time: 6:30pm - 9:30pm Price: £48

For Raindance Premium Members Discounts log into the Members Area

About The Author

Erik Waldman My name is Erik Waldman. I am a Film/Media Arts major at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Currently, I am a junior studying abroad at Foundation International Education (FIE) in Kensington. On June 6th, 1991 I was born to Howard and Lisa Waldman in Abington, Pennsylvania. The first film I saw was The Lion King in 1994, and I have loved going to the movies ever since. Even though I was three years old, I remember having a great time watching the movie and enjoying the experience. I attended Holland Elementary, Holland Middle School and graduated from Council Rock High School South in 2009.

During my senior year at high school I took a filmmaking class and immediately fell in love with making movies. I wrote and directed two short films and I created three short commercials for an assignment. Also during my senior year I participated with the school’s choir in a tour across England and I loved every minute of it. When it was time to apply for college, I wanted to go to a college that was close to home, because I love being close to my family. I wanted to major in filmmaking because I wanted to learn more about the process than I learned in one semester in high school. Temple University was my top choice because I am the fourth generation in my family to attend, the school is well known for its film program and it has a study abroad program.

After two and half years attending Temple, I love the school and its film program, because the professors know exactly what they’re talking about and making the movies has been a blast. I’ve written and directed five short films since my freshman year at Temple and I absolutely love it. I applied for study abroad in London after my sophomore year ended because I wanted a new experience to cherish for the rest of my life and to return to England for the first time since my high school choir trip.

I was happy to learn I was able to apply for an internship during my stay in England. I applied to Raindance Film Festival, because Raindance has an amazing history of screening famous directors’ films, such as those of my favourite filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, and they have film classes I would love to attend to learn something I have not yet learned at Temple. A film festival is a great place to start meeting people who in the film business and it’s an amazing experience to write about on a resume.

Since January 5th, England has been fantastic. I’ve been exploring London a lot since my arrival and I’m picking up the culture a lot faster than I thought I would. I’ve walked around Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster, Bath, Stonehenge and more. I know there’s a lot more to look forward to, including a football match I’m attending on St. Patrick’s Day, Greenwich, the London Eye, my trip to Dublin, and possibly attending some concerts while I’m here. I feel very happy being in the United Kingdom and I can’t wait to see what else it has to offer. 

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter
Watch independent shorts, features and documentaries on
Submission details to Raindance Film Festival
Visit us on Twitter for daily tips and updates 

© 2012 Raindance Ltd.
Reproduction of this article without written permission is strictly forbidden. For information on reprint rights please email

Rooney Mara - Rising Star in a Span of Seven Years