Rooney Mara talks Lisbeth Salander and football

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Her stage name is Rooney Mara, but she's more Mara than Rooney.

The actress starring in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" isn't all that familiar with Pittsburgh, ground zero of Steelers Nation. "My mom grew up, for part of her childhood, there and my grandparents grew up there but I really haven't spent much time there," she said in a quickie phone call from New York on Saturday.

Asked the last time she was in Pittsburgh and she pauses and says, "I'm trying to remember. I should, we had a family reunion somewhere in Pennsylvania but it was quite a few years ago. I think it was in Ligonier. Is that a [nearby] place?"

As a matter of fact, it is.

The woman whose full name is Patricia Rooney Mara is part of football royalty -- Pittsburgh Steelers on mother Kathleen's side, New York Giants on dad Chris' side -- but her families' dealings with the press offered little preparation for her media blitz.

"It's such a different world, I don't think anything they could have said would ever prepare someone. It's such a different animal -- the sports world is all about sports and in this world, it's not all about acting or movies."

It's about appearing on "Late Show With David Letterman" or "Today" and jetting to back-to-back premieres and posing on red carpets alongside co-star Daniel Craig. Much of the world associates him with James Bond, but Ms. Mara didn't.

"I never thought of him as James Bond. I wasn't very familiar with those films and Daniel's such an incredible actor, he kind of instantly was Blomkvist and I can't imagine anyone else having played the part, I thought he was so perfect for it."

On the "Letterman" show she confessed a childhood aversion to having to attend Sunday football games while still in her church clothes, trapped in an uncomfortable dress and itchy tights while others were in cozy sweats.

Way back then, she resented football but told Mr. Letterman, "Now I appreciate it. It's a very unique part of my family." And when asked which team she prefers to watch on Sundays, she said, "The Giants. I mean, I like the Steelers, too, but my dad works for the Giants."

Her father, whose full name is Timothy Christopher Mara but goes by Chris, is vice president of player evaluation for the Giants. And no, she didn't get any grief for favoring her hometown team rather than the black and gold.

The actress looks most unlike her character Lisbeth Salander whose hair is dyed black and chopped off, whose eyebrows are bleached, who sports piercings in her ears, an eyebrow, nose, lip and breast. They were real and fake, while the temporary tattoos were inked onto her skin each day.

Costume designer Trish Summerville collaborated with hair stylist Danilo Dixon and makeup artist Pat McGrath to create Lisbeth's look.

"Danilo gave Rooney, who then had hair to the middle of her back, an extreme cut," Ms. Summerville recalls in the film's production notes. "It has micro-bangs, the underneath is shaved, the back is chopped off and there are long pieces in the front -- but there are so many ways to wear it. You can pin it up, let it down or Mohawk it out."

In fact, you see all of those looks in the movie along with her character's partial nudity, sexual degradation and rape.

Asked if she had warned her family about the R-rated content, she said, "Certainly they were very prepared for it. My mom had read the books and my dad had read the books. They were all very aware of what was going to be in the film, and they've all actually already seen it and they really loved it and were really supportive."

She, on the other hand, had not, as of Saturday (and she still hadn't as of Monday, when she appeared on "Today"). "I haven't seen it yet. I'm going to see it when it comes out. I want to see it with a real audience," she said.

To immerse herself in Lisbeth's world, she moved to Sweden where she found the architecture and people stunningly beautiful.

At first, it all felt foreign. "Certainly that's a huge part of the character and a part of the book, but that became very familiar to me whenever I moved there and spent a lot of time there before we started shooting. Other than that, she did feel very familiar to me."

In what way? "It's hard to articulate, it's just a feeling that I had while reading the books, I felt like I knew her and I really understood her," she told the Post-Gazette.

Although much has been made of her physical transformation, she wasn't fazed by it. "I was already deeply engrossed in the character. I had spent two and a half months auditioning and I felt really ready to do it. I was just really excited about it."

This "Dragon Tattoo" is not the first adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel but it is the first in English. "I think there's room for both. I think it's sort of a situation where everybody wins.

"Certainly there are so many fans of the original movie and so many more fans of the book, I think people are also going to enjoy our movie and it's only going to bring more attention to the Swedish-Danish version and only going to bring more attention to the books. ... Just because you've read or watched one or the other, doesn't mean you won't enjoy our version."

Her incarnation has earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress alongside Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Viola Davis and Tilda Swinton. "It's not something you really think about, certainly not while making a movie. We just never really saw this movie as that kind of movie, and I kind of forgot it was happening and it was a very pleasant surprise."

Ms. Mara, who famously dumped Mark Zuckerberg in director David Fincher's "The Social Network" and also starred in a remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," had a hard time shaking Lisbeth after she doffed her leather jacket, profane T-shirts and combat boots.

"It was definitely hard to do that. I spent over a year in the character and working just so hard, it's really hard to come off of an experience like that when you spend every day really focused on something and then you wake up and you have nothing to do that day.

"It was definitely a hard character to shake off, especially because physically I still kind of looked like her. ... More than that, it was hard to just come off of the experience in general."

However, she isn't dreading climbing back inside the Swedish computer hacker and would be sad if the movie stopped at one and didn't play out the character. "I certainly don't feel finished with the character, so that's definitely something I would very much like to do."

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: . First Published December 20, 2011 5:00 AM


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