Rooney Mara

Oscar nominee Rooney Mara gained mainstream success as Lisbeth Salander in the U.S. version of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,’ later earning more acclaim for her role in the drama ‘Carol.’


Rooney Mara was born into a prominent American football family in 1985. She began pursuing acting while at NYU, earning her breakout role in The Social Network (2010). After months of grueling auditions, Mara was tapped to play Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), for which she garnered an Academy Award nomination. She has since earned more acclaim for her performance in the romantic drama Carol (2015), receiving both Golden Globe and Oscar nods.

Background and Education

Actress Rooney Mara was born Patricia Rooney Mara on April 17, 1985, in Bedford, New York. Mara is one of four children of Chris Mara, senior vice president of player evaluation for the New York Giants, and Kathleen McNulty (née Rooney), a real estate agent. Football runs deep in the actress's family; her paternal great-grandfather, Tim Mara, founded the New York Giants and her maternal great-grandfather, Art Rooney Sr., founded the Pittsburgh Steelers. Her uncle, John Mara, is CEO and president of the Giants.

Mara graduated from Bedford's Fox Lane High School in 2003 and enrolled in the Traveling School, visiting Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru over the course of four months to study. She then attended George Washington University for one year before transferring to New York University to study psychology and nonprofits.

Mara was inspired to act after going to Broadway shows and watching classic films such as Gone With the Wind with her mother. She was also influenced by her older sister, actress Kate Mara. Rooney Mara began auditioning for roles at age 19, appearing in student films in the meantime. She graduated from NYU in 2010.

Commercial Success: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

Mara first appeared as an extra in films starring her sister, Kate, beginning with the horror movie Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005). She billed herself as "Patricia Mara," and then made television appearances in programs like Law & Order, The Cleaner and ER, calling herself "Tricia." 

Mara won her first lead role in the film Tanner Hall, released in 2009. She dropped her first name, explaining that she never felt like a Tricia and that Rooney was more memorable. That year, the actress also appeared in the films Youth In Revolt, Dare and The Winning Season. She was included in Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" list.

Mara's breakthrough appearance was in 2010's The Social Network, as the ex-girlfriend of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). That same year, she starred in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. In August 2010, after two and a half months of auditions, and beating out actresses Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, Mara was cast as the lead in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.

In the film based on Stieg Larsson's bestselling novel, Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, a genius computer hacker. As the role required the actress to look more like a punk teenager, she cut, shaved and dyed her hair black, bleached her eyebrows and got body piercings. The well-received project co-starred Daniel Craig and was released in 2011, grossing more than $232 million internationally. Mara was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in the lead actress categories for her performance.

Mara followed with the 2013 sci-fi drama Her, playing the estranged wife of a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with a personality-driven computer operating system. After the 2014 Brazilian thriller Trash, Mara in 2015 appeared in the children's adventure Pan. 

That year, the actress also starred in the acclaimed romantic drama Carol. Set during the 1950s, the Todd Haynes film was adapted from a 1952 novel (originally titled The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith, the same author who'd penned The Talented Mr. Ripley. Mara plays a store clerk/photographer who secretly becomes romantically involved with a more established housewife, portrayed by Cate Blanchett. Both Mara and Blanchett have received Golden Globe lead actress nominations, with Carol itself receiving additional nods in the categories of best drama, direction and score. Mara then received the second Oscar nomination of her career for the role, contrastingly in the category of supporting actress.

Personal Life

Rooney Mara has carried on the tradition of philanthropy in her family, founding Faces of Kibera, a charity that provides food, medicine and housing to orphans in Nairobi, Kenya. Mara is close to her family, and while she didn't love football growing up, she says it's the glue that holds them together. 

A resident of Los Angeles, Mara has been involved in a long-term relationship with director Charlie McDowell, son of actors Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen.

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