Rooney Mara: A Career in Transition

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures
May 7th, 2012

Rooney Mara: A Career in Transition

--For several years at the beginning of her career, Rooney Mara was better known as the kid sister of more successful actress Kate Mara. Kate started acting before Rooney and had already earned recurring roles on television series like "24," "Nip/Tuck" and "Jack and Bobby." She was also featured in the tearjerker "We Are Marshall."

It was Kate's success that inspired Rooney (who was actually born Patricia Rooney Mara) to move to Los Angeles and to try her hand at acting. When she arrived, she moved in with Kate, not only to make the transition easier, but also to help her learn the ropes. To this day, Rooney says that living together brought the two sisters closer.

Rooney wasn't exactly an overnight sensation. Like most actresses, she had to pay her dues. Her first credited role was as Classroom Girl #1 in the straight-to-video movie "Urban Legends: Bloody Mary."

Rooney persisted and soon got better guest spots on television shows such as "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Women's Murder Club." She toiled like this for five years until she earned her big break.

Director David Fincher announced that he would make an American adaptation of the novel and European movie "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in 2010. He was looking for someone to play lead Lisbeth Salander, a very tough role that would require extensive work. He auditioned several actresses for the role and, after many callbacks, cast Rooney in the part.

Filming took place over several months and the film was released in the United States on December 21, 2011. It was released late in the year so as to stay fresh in the minds of Academy Awards voters. This is a commonly used tactic for serious award-contender films, and it worked for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

The film was nominated in several categories, including a nod for Rooney in the Best Actress category. It earned her nominations for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards as well as the Golden Globes. Though she didn't win any of them, she left a lasting impression on producers and directors. It didn't hurt that she also became something of a fashion icon, on account of the many designer dresses she wore to premiers and awards shows.

Since her star-making turn as Lisbeth, Rooney has been sought after for many new roles. It remains to be seen if she can sustain this level of success. Many young starlets have been dubbed "The Next Big Thing", only to fade into the spotlight. A great example is Gretchen Mol, who seemed to be rumored to star in almost everything in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, she has faded into semi-obscurity. Only time will tell if Rooney will suffer the same fate.

All of this sudden success almost didn't happen, though. Rooney was somewhat shy while growing up and didn't have a lot of self confidence. She has said in interviews that she always had an interest in acting, but was afraid she would be terrible at it. For a while in high school, she figured it was better not to find out whether she was any good at acting. She only auditioned for one play, in which she got a small role.

Instead of pursuing acting, she went to college. Her family is the famous Mara family that owns the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. In fact, her middle name, Rooney, which she goes by, is the name of a famous grandfather. One of the advantages of growing up in this type of lifestyle is philanthropy. Her family was always generous to various charities, and this inspired her to work towards a degree in philanthropy.

She graduated from NYU just as her acting career was about to take off. As a graduate, she could easily have taken her degree and begun working and living a fairly anonymous life. Instead, she decided to follow in her big sister Kate's, footsteps and to try her hand at acting. She freed herself from the fear of not being good at it and decided to give it an earnest try. She could always have fallen back on her degree, had she been unsuccessful.

Fortunately for Rooney, she has not needed to fall back on her degree. It is always there if she should tire of acting, but it is not needed right now. Her career has entered a completely new phase. She has successfully made the transition from bit player to major star. Now, she just has to figure out how to maintain that success.