Oscars Q&A: Rooney Mara On The Girl Who Would Be Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth Salander, misanthropic Watson to Mikael Blomkvist’s investigative journalist Sherlock Holmes in Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is by nature a rule-breaker. Look no further than her day job as a hacker; a means of assaulting the society that scarred her. To get Lisbeth to jump off the page, it required an actress with both an adolescent punkish attitude as well as a glacial resilience. Furthermore, like Noomi Rapace who originated the part in the original Swedish trilogy, the role required a starlet whose image wouldn’t cloud moviegoers’ perception of the character’s unorthodoxy (reasons why such Salander candidates as Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson were passed over for Sony’s Stateside remake). Director David Fincher’s expectations were smashed by Rooney Mara, the straight-laced girl he cast to reject Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Through a half-dozen screen tests Mara proved her worth to Fincher and eventually bowled over Sony’s reticence. Mara certainly has gotten the town’s attention, landing a role in Terrence Malick’s upcoming Lawless as well as best actress Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for the role. AwardsLine’s Anthony D’Alessandro interviewed Mara.

AWARDSLINE: Did you know someone like Lisbeth Salander growing up?
MARA: No, I don’t think anyone does. That’s what’s great about her: She’s unlike anyone you’ve seen or read about before.

AWARDSLINE: When you started auditioning for David Fincher, did you have the Swedish accent under control?
MARA: He asked for the actresses to do a Swedish accent for the audition. It’s a really hard dialect to figure out and there aren’t a lot of people who specialize in it here in Los Angeles. There’s no such thing as a Swedish accent. Everyone sounds completely different. Some sound British or American. People from the North sound different from the people in the south. When I was auditioning the accent wasn’t as perfected as it sounds in the movie.

AWARDSLINE: Any idea what it was that made David Fincher decide you were the one to play Lisbeth?
MARA: I don’t know. Initially he didn’t want to see me. I had just finished Social Network and I was something completely different in that. I am all the things in that movie that Salander was not. So it was hard for him to wrap his head around the notion that I could be this other girl. I think when he saw me the first time [for Lisbeth], it dawned on him that I could be. I’m not sure what it is he saw in me that made him know that I could be the girl. I think he was trying to find someone who at their core had a lot in common with this girl.

AWARDSLINE: Did you audition in full Lisbeth regalia? Did you get piercings, crop your hair?
MARA: Ya know, that would have been quite devastating to have done that and not have landed the part. I had one fake piercing I would wear to the auditions. I tried to dress and do my hair and makeup as much as I could like the character, but it’s hard to do that. During the screen tests, Trish Summerville, the costume designer, brought clothes for us.

AWARDSLINE: With Lisbeth having been established thoroughly in the books and by actress Noomi Rapace, what artistic license did you take with the character?
MARA: It’s hard to look back and list those things now, because it’s something you do constantly. We really wanted to stay as true to the book as possible. In the book, she walks around in little jean mini-skirts, Doc Martens and gets a boob job in the sequel. We certainly changed her wardrobe. The bleached eyebrows is one thing we did, it’s the best thing we did for her look.

AWARDSLINE: In preparing for the role, you researched Asperger’s Syndrome.
MARA: I did, I went to a school, The Help Group in Sherman Oaks, CA – it’s a school for kids with autism or Asperger’s. Characters in the books are constantly commenting on how Lisbeth has Asperger’s but it’s never confirmed, it’s just what people think.

AWARDSLINE: Lisbeth is perceived by many readers as a crusader against misogyny. But isn’t there an irony in her character? That by design, she’s a misogynist’s vision?
MARA: I don’t think she’s a crusader of anything. I know a lot of people see her as a symbol for feminism and I know that Stieg Larsson was a feminist. Salander lives by her own set of rules. She lives by a strict moral code, but I don’t think she does anything in the name of a group or cause.

AWARDSLINE: Academy members are often known for being conservative in their cinema tastes. What is it about Lisbeth’s character that makes her sympathetic?
MARA: It’s hard not to be sympathetic toward Lisbeth. She’s had such a horrible life being systemically abused by people. I think everyone can relate to that at some point in their life: People in a position of power, abusing that power over others. She also doesn’t hold a lot of sympathy for herself which makes her more sympathetic. She never thinks of herself as a victim.

  1. Rooney is so great in this role, she really owned the character and nailed it down perfectly. Her Lisbeth is just like what I envisioned reading the books and yet so much more.
    Best acting job of the year, by a far margin, I do wish she’d get an Oscar but I know she is a long shot for Academy tastes.
    David Fincher also did a fantastic job with this story and his directing of the actors. Several great performances among the cast.
    Looking forward to the next two installments of Lisbeth and Blomkvist’s story.

    1. A dissenting opinion here. I didn’t particularly care for her performance. I didn’t think it was bad, it just felt too soft and little girlish to me. I much prefer the fierceness of Noomi Rapace in the role. Whether or not her performance adhered to the book, I don’t know. I didn’t read it. If I had, I doubt I would have seen the movie. I’m an either/or kind of guy.

  2. What an inspiring interview. The obvious takeaway for any aspiring performer is to have some modicum of talent and work hard…

    …oh, and grow up in a family of billionaires bouncing on Steve Tisch’s knee.

  3. The way Lisbeth bosses the librarian and others around is funny as hell, very unexpected. An odd but oddly well-rounded character, and
    an affecting performance for sure.
    I hope the sultry, sinister beach scenes of the sequel book are well-represented.
    Rooney Mara is the only interesting presence in this year’s Academy Awards event. The only thing they got right.

  4. You’ve got it exactly backwards: obviously Salander is the eccentric Holmes figure in these stories, Blomqvist the somewhat randier Watson.

  5. *Mas o menos. Complex, though.*

    “I don’t think she’s a crusader of anything. I know a lot of people see her as a symbol for feminism and I know that Stieg Larsson was a feminist. Salander lives by her own set of rules. She lives by a strict moral code, but I don’t think she does anything in the name of a group or cause.”

  6. I was completely amazed by Mara’s take on Lisbeth. I’ve seen almost all of the actresses in this category and yes, Streep does a very good job with Thatcher. But, I’m still just pissed off that Mara continues to lose to Streep when I think Mara did the best acting job of the year.

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more, but I guess it really does come down to, umm, what is that 8 letter word that starts with a P?

  7. Noomi Rapace all the way. Much better actress and better performance in the original. Rooney wouldn’t amount to much without Fincher and her daddy’s billions. Tilda should have been nominated, not her.

      1. I don’t know about her daddy’s billions but I agree with the Tilda comment. I didn’t care for Mara’s performance, but I also didn’t care for Streep’s and Close’s performances. The entire category is embarrassing with an exception of Williams’. I thought Davis was fine in The Help but nothing I would consider Oscar-winner worthy. It should have been Williams, Swinton, Theron, Olsen, and Dunst. Perhaps even the actress in Pariah, who I was truly blown away by. Mara doesn’t belong in this category, especially when Rapace was the better Salander and truly deserved the nomination. I felt nothing with Mara. I was more taken aback by her physical transformation than her actual performance.

  8. Mara is a good actress, but LOL look at her PR team going to work. It must be family members and friends going on Deadline articles to act as plants.

    1. Why? I see exactly FIVE unqualified positive comments here out of 16. Are you saying all five must be plants? (I’m a fan, for lack of a better word, and I assure you I’m not her PR, a family member, or a friend. If you want proof she’s gained a lot of fans since Dragon Tattoo, go to Tumblr.)

  9. Absolutely outrageous, the comments here about the circumstances of Rooney Mara’s birth and upbringing, as if no one who is born wealthy (something out of their control) should be lauded for their talent and hard work.

    Shame on some of you, who appear to be jealous and petty in the extreme.

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