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Rooney Mara and a loss beyond words

Rooney Mara and  a loss beyond words


CINDY PEARLMAN
NYT Syndicate
"I like the moments in a scene when my character says nothing," Rooney Mara said."I love that moment, during a take, when you look at someone or they look at you and wonder, 'What is he or she thinking?'"
She might have found her perfect role in one of the year's stranger films, A Ghost Story, which scored a hit at the Sundance Film Festival in January and will open on July 7.
Written and directed by David Lowery, the film revolves around a young Dallas musician named C (Casey Affleck), who dies in a car crash but returns in ghost form to the suburban house he shared with his wife, M (Mara). She can't see him, but the audience sees him lingering, shrouded in a white sheet, endlessly haunting his former home.
"It's not a horror film," Mara said."It's about love and loss and the meaning of existing."
The film marks a reunion between Lowery, Mara and Affleck, who worked together on the crime romance Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013). For Lowery, fresh off the big-budget Pete's Dragon (2016), it was a chance to get back to basics.
"I had one small ultimatum for this movie: We had to keep it small and I'd only make it with friends," the filmmaker said in a separate interview."I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and be free to explore and create, because this film was so strange and tiny.
"I called my friends Rooney and Casey and asked them to come to Texas for a few weeks and make something in secrecy."
Mara was the key to casting the film, he continued.
"I wanted an actress who could do an enormous amount with very little," Lowery said."There is dialogue, but there are sequences where she has to be filmed for five minutes, and sometimes in extreme close-up, with very little in terms of words. There had to be a great deal of emotion on her face."
Affleck's proven chemistry with Mara made him an ideal complement.
"I knew I could kill off Casey in human form," Lowery said,"and yet we'd still feel attached to them as a couple because they have this powerful chemistry."
As the living centre of A Ghost Story, Mara must convey her loss without anyone to tell it to. There's a scene in which M spends several screen minutes sitting on her kitchen floor, alone, eating a pie in silence.
She then vomits ” which the actress didn't do in real life, though she did really eat the pie.
"It was just one pie," Mara said.
"I promised her that, if it worked out right, we only did it once," Lowery recalled."I don't think anyone could eat two pies in a row. We rolled. I told her, 'Keep it going until you feel you're done.'"
Recently Mara was involved in another afterlife-related project, The Discovery, a Netflix movie co-starring Robert Redford and Jason Segel.
"I'd like to think there is some sort of afterlife," she said."Obviously I don't really know. It is fun to play with and makes you think. It's a very personal experience to try to figure out your views.
"These projects were just different," Mara said."I was really interested in exploring these worlds with big concepts about life and death."
The third of four children who grew up in Bedford, New York, Mara is from a famous football family. Her mother is Kathleen Rooney McNulty, a real-estate agent whose family founded the Pittsburgh Steelers, while her father is Timothy Mara, whose family founded the New York Giants.
After graduating from high school, Mara spent time in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as part of the Traveling School, an open-learning programme. She returned home to attend New York University, where she studied psychology, international social policy and nonprofit management ” and acted in a few student films.
"I didn't make a decision early on that I would act," she recalled."But I grew up loving movies, and have the most wonderful memories of watching all of the classics with my mother. We went to see plays and I loved it.
"Somewhere along the line, I decided to try it."
Her sister Kate ” currently on multiplex screens as the star of Megan Leavey ” had preceded her to Hollywood, so Mara stayed at her apartment while going on auditions.
Before long, she was about ready to quit.
"I was just starting out and living in LA," Mara recalled."I was miserable and lonely. I went on a bunch of auditions and faced the inevitable rejection. I did a lot of things that had nothing to do with acting."
She had almost decided to move back to New York when she landed a small part in Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005). Heartened, Mara stuck with it, and broke through with the indie coming-of-age film Tanner Hill (2009). She went on to Youth in Revolt (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and then The Social Network (2010).
The young actress vaulted to stardom playing Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), David Fincher's film adaptation of the best-selling Swedish novel. It earned her an Oscar nomination as Best Actress and put her on the path to meaty roles in Side Effects (2013), Her (2013), Pan (2015) and Lion (2016).
Her performance opposite Cate Blanchett in Carol (2015) earned her a second Oscar nomination, as Best Supporting Actress.
"I didn't know the chemistry with Cate would work," Mara recalled."You can adore someone to no end, but you never know what the camera will see. We did have two weeks of rehearsal to form the trust. When we got to set, we were able to try everything and anything without fear."
Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner. Young actors usually deny any nerves in dealing with established stars, but Mara confessed that it isn't always easy to find herself doing a scene with the likes of Blanchett, Redford or Nicole Kidman, with whom she co-starred in Lion.
"I do get nervous," she admitted."I just always want to live up to what they're doing."
Next up for Mara is the title role in Mary Magdalene, with Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. She also co-stars with Phoenix in Gus Van Sant's upcoming Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot. That film, which also stars Jonah Hill and Jack Black, is the based-on-fact story of artist John Callahan (Phoenix), who was paralysed in an auto accident at 21 and turned to cartooning as a form of therapy.
Much of her free time is spent working with several charities, notably the Uweza Foundation, which supports empowerment programmes for children and families in Nairobi, Kenya. She works to provide housing, food and medical care for orphans in the city's slums.
"It's wonderful to have something outside of yourself and your work that really means something to you," Mara said."This other work is a big part of my life. If we're able to provide to these kids, it's everything. It's special and meaningful."
Part of the appeal of her charity work, she admitted, is the chance to step away from the world of Hollywood.
"I'm not the actress," Mara said."It's just about making a difference in these kids' lives."

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