“Rooney who?” is not a question people will be asking much longer.
Last Tuesday, David Fincher’s adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” — the first installment in the U.S. version of Stieg Larsson’s megaselling “Millennium Trilogy” — opened in theaters. And there was Rooney Mara, pale, pierced and punked-out, hacking into encrypted databases and taking vengeance on a sicko state-appointed guardian.
Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, the small, fierce, androgynous Swede with the photographic memory and the childhood trauma kicking around in her head. Although her previous credits were small — a couple of scenes in Fincher’s “The Social Network” and a starring role in the 2010 remake of “Nightmare on Elm Street” — she won the role over the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and a bevy of other big-name stars.
Now her performance in “Dragon Tattoo” has earned her a nomination for a Golden Globe.
Mara said that when she got the part in August, she moved to Stockholm to prepare. There, she steeped herself in the culture that underpins Larsson’s books — the city, the coffee, the umlauts.
“There was a lot of work that went into it,” says Mara, who is 26, hails from suburban New York, and is the great-granddaughter (on the maternal side) of Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and (on the paternal side) great-granddaughter of Tim Mara, founder of the New York Giants.
“From the second I got the part, I was in computer training, I was kick-boxing, I was learning how to ride the motorcycle, I was skateboarding, I was reading all these books and watching all these movies.
“I went to a center for women who have been sexually abused. I went to a school called the Help Group that teaches kids with autism or Asperger’s.”
But spending time in Sweden before shooting began, she says, was key.
“Some people are like, ‘Why would you shoot it in Stockholm? Why would you do it with Swedish accents? Why not just do it in America, if you’re doing an American version?’
“I never really understood those questions, or that logic. You can’t tell this story without Sweden. … And I don’t think you can really understand the character until you can understand Sweden a little bit.”
As in the book, Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” pivots around two brutal rape scenes.
These are not easy to watch, and they were certainly not easy to do. It took a week for Mara and Yorick van Wageningen, who plays her legal guardian, to shoot the scenes.
“They were difficult, certainly,” she says. “It was something that I was really geared up for, though. It was something we talked about constantly. It drives the trilogy, so it was important. So I felt very well prepared — as prepared as you can be … But it was really hard. It was really exhausting. … It was definitely draining, but you’re sort of running on adrenaline and you just get through it.”