Rooney Mara shares with the Ukrainian Week what difficulties she has faced playing Lisbeth Salander
U. W.: Had you already got to know the character from the books before you auditioned for the part?
I had seen the Swedish film before I’d even read the books. And then I had my first audition, and after that I knew I was going to be screen testing, so I read all three books then, before the screen test.
U. W.: Lisbeth Salander has become one of the most iconic characters in modern popular literature. Why do you think she resonates with so many people?
I really related to her and understood her as a person. I think the reason she resonates with so many people is the fact that most people at some point in their lives relate to the feeling of being held down by the powers that be, being an outsider, being oppressed. People can relate to that. They see it happening to her and they want to root for her. They want to see her succeed.
U. W.: The character apparently owes her genesis to the Pippi Longstockings character from Swedish literature and film…
I know that Pippi was definitely an inspiration for Stieg Larsson when he was writing the book. It is quite obvious the comparisons that can be made between the two. Pippi is this orphan waif who is incredibly scrawny and little, yet she can carry a horse over her head. She is crazy strong and is always fighting bad guys. Lisbeth is the same. She is meant to look incredibly frail and young and tiny, yet she can thoroughly defend herself and has a sort of super-human strength. She is fighting against bad guys. There are a lot of comparisons.
U. W.: Can you describe the day you were transformed into Salander for the first time, with the face- and body-piercings, and the punk hairstyle?
We did it all in one day. We cut the hair, we shaved the head, we dyed it, we bleached the eyebrows, and then we went out and got pierced all in one New York afternoon. I was really fine. I think the eyebrows freaked me out the most. That really changed the way I looked. I think I was freaked out for about five minutes, then I just let it go and became used to it. The pain wasn’t too bad either, with the piercing. It didn’t feel good but it wasn’t that bad.
U. W.: What skills did you have to learn for the movie; Salander is an accomplished and complex woman?
There was so much training that we did for this role. We did skateboarding, there was the computer training, kickboxing, motorcycle training, the dialect. I did all this reading and research. I went to this school called The Help Group that teaches kids with asperger’s and autism, and I went to a centre for women who had been sexually abused. There was a lot that went into it. The centres for women and the schools for autism I asked to do. The kickboxing was something I really wanted to do as well. The rest of it was stuff that I had to do to get through the part.
U. W.: Will you keep up the skateboarding, motorcycles and kickboxing now that the movie is over?
The kickboxing for sure I would definitely like to keep going. I loved that. The motorcycling, I’d probably like to get my licence. I may as well. But I don’t think I will be riding a motorcycle around L.A.
U. W.: Your director, David Fincher, said that he made the casting process difficult for his actors. How did this compare with The Social Network?
The Social Networkauditions were quite easy. I went in twice, I think, and got the part, so that was pretty simple. I went in and read for Aaron [Sorkin – Ed.] and then I went in and read for David. That was it, whereas this was like a two and a half month process. I had my first reading with the casting director and then I had my first screen test, and after the screen test there were several other screen tests. There was a test with Daniel and then David and me went off and did hair, costume, make-up and we filmed a bunch of stuff on the subway in L.A. with me in character. We did all sorts of things. It wasn’t official filming. It was a little dinky camera and I had a black wig on. We just wanted to test out different looks.
U. W.: Did that process get easier as you spent more and more time with the character?
I wouldn’t say it got easier. It was quite frustrating towards the end. David was so supportive through the whole thing, though, and he was championing me the whole time.
U. W.: Does David Fincher manage to keep things light on set, which is important when you’re making a very intense film like this?
We had so much fun on set. You are right, this is a really intense movie, but we still had fun. There is hard work and it is serious but there is also a lot of laughing that goes on. The thing with David is that he doesn’t make anyone work any harder than he works. There is nothing wasteful. He does so many takes because he knows exactly what he is looking for. People spend so much time and money in pre-production, getting everything ready, and then you just show up and do 3 takes. What is the point? You may as well explore it and do it so that you know you really have it. David also has an incredible sense of humour and he is hardworking and serious and I can’t imagine having done the movie with anyone else, and I wouldn’t want to.
U. W.: How severe were the conditions when you filmed in Sweden?
We left before the really crazy cold weather set in, but still it was colder than anything I had ever experienced before. The weather conditions were really tough. In the winter it was freezing and it was like pitch-black at 3.30pm so there wasn’t a lot of daylight. And then when we went back for the summer part there was no night time, so it was definitely hard to work around that! But it was definitely worth any hardship to be able to shoot there.
U. W.: What did you admire when watching Daniel Craig at work?
Daniel is incredible. I am so grateful that he was in the film and that I got to work with him. I had to do so many things in the film that I had not done before and it was really great to have someone like Daniel there. He has experienced so many things.
U. W.: Are you excited by the fact that you’ll hopefully get to explore Lisbeth Salander over a potential trilogy of films?
Yes, and hopefully we’ll get to do that. We will have to see how the first movie is received. I would be very sad if that were the end of the character for me. I would love to be able flesh her out. I really hope that people like the movie.
U. W.: So much is demanded of your character, both emotionally and physically. Was one aspect more challenging than the other?
I think I had prepared myself and I knew how emotionally and physically challenging it would be. The physical challenge was the more shocking, because there were lots of days that we were doing stunts, with many takes, over and over. There is this scene that takes place in the subway on the escalator and I was in pretty good physical shape but even so I was unprepared physically to do that many takes. It was really hard, beating people up and there is a lot of running and pivoting over. It was pretty hard and the next day I felt a bit rough!
U. W.: Now that the film is over, do you feel any different, any wiser, or perhaps more confident as an actress?
We have only just finished four days ago so it is quite soon to look back and really think what I have learned. I know that I have learned so much from the experience, though. I am just not fully conscious of what those things are just yet.
U. W.: Do you know what you are going to do next?
I am not sure yet what I am going to do. I wouldn’t mind taking a little break. I could use one probably but I haven’t really decided. There’s nothing official although there are a few things up in the air.
U. W.: When did you first decide that you wanted to try acting as your profession?
I grew up with my mom, enjoying old films and going to the theatre, so I always loved that. And I did silly little acting class and stuff. I always knew I wanted to do it in some capacity, but I also knew that I wanted to go to school first before I did it professionally. While I was at college I was studying and trying to get acting jobs and auditioning on the side. I was doing both at the same time.
U. W.: Was your mom a film buff?
I wouldn’t call her a buff but she loved old movies and she was always playing films like Gone with the Wind andBringing up Baby!