Director David Fincher anointed a new star today, casting relative unknown actress Rooney Mara as the title character in his three-movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster novels, starting with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a role that will launch Sony Pictures’ most highly anticipated new franchise.
The 24-year-old American actress beat out three other leading contenders for the role of Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander, a sexy but asocial character with a dark past who personifies the bestselling Millennium trilogy of crime thrillers.
Australians Sophie Lowe and Sarah Snook and French actress Lea Seydoux, who appeared in Inglourious Basterds and Robin Hood were said to have been among the top four vying for the part. They all fit Fincher's mandate that the star be boyish, young, petite, and unknown. But Mara may have had a leg up on her competitors considering Fincher had cast her once before in his upcoming Facebook feature The Social Network. And Mara was comfortable with Fincher’s famously rigorous filming style. She told an interviewer last spring that it was common for him to want “50 to 100 takes” per scene.
Mara joins the rest of Fincher’s stellar lineup hired in the last three weeks: Daniel Craig as the series’ protagonist, the lady-killing journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Robin Wright as his sometime lover and magazine editor, and Swede Stellan Skarsgard as businessman Martin Vanger. Production is expected to start in Stockholm by early October and the film is due out December 2011.
The studio’s announcement comes after months of speculation that had everyone from Kristen Stewart to Ellen Page in the role. Just last week, Oscar nominees Carey Mulligan and Natalie Portman resurfaced on the rumor mill as possible contenders. (Rooney’s camp had no comment on the announcement.)
In Fincher’s The Social Network, opening in October, Mara has a small role as the woman who breaks the heart of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, inspiring him to start the networking site. Mara told Collider.com in April that she knew going into that role that Fincher demanded a lot from his actors.
“I was a little worried about it,” she said, referencing the dozens of takes the director asks for. “Am I going to feel stale? But it never felt like that. His notes are so specific and what he wants is so specific that every time we did it, it felt fresh and new and in the moment.”
Mara is one of four children, raised in the affluent Westchester County town of Bedford, New York. She told Paper magazine earlier this year that she was a “loner” who shied away from team sports, despite the fact that her grandfather founded the New York Giants and her uncle is a co-owner. After high school, she lived in South America and ended up establishing a charity in Kenya called Faces of Kiberia, devoted to orphans in the impoverished region. "I needed to get out of the bubble of Westchester,” she told the magazine. “I wanted to finish high school and experience other parts of the world before I tried acting."
She went on to study psychology, international social policy and non-profits at New York University. In 2007, she left New York for Los Angeles to join her actress sister Kate Mara and seriously pursue an acting career. Things took off for her almost immediately and Mara soon became a bit of an indie darling.
And after a series of one-off TV guest starring roles, she won more high-profile parts opposite Sam Rockwell in The Winning Season and alongside Emmy Rossum in the drama Dare. Last year alone, she appeared in five films, notably as a college girl who attempts to bed 50 men before graduation in the Michael Cera romantic comedy Youth in Revolt, and as a precocious boarding school girl who has an affair with a married man in the indie drama Tanner Hall, which opens nationally next month. This year, she starred as the protagonist Nancy Holbrook in the remake of the 1980s horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Gina Piccalo spent a decade at the Los Angeles Times covering Hollywood. She's now a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and her work has appeared in Elle, More and Emmy. She can be found at ginapiccalo.com.