We talk with actress Rooney Mara at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she's appearing in no less than three films - including 'Lion', which just took third place in the People's Choice Awards.
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19 Sep 2016 - 2:17 PM  UPDATED 23 Sep 2016 - 11:39 AM

Rooney Mara admits she has something for Australians. She took a small part as Saroo Brierley’s girlfriend in Lion because she wanted to support such an interesting film and director Garth Davis. Now she’s set to play the title role in Davis’s Mary Magdalene in Italy, and with Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Frenchman Tahar Rahim as Judas, the film should be more than interesting. 

“I just really loved the idea of returning to work with Garth,” Mara says. “He’s a very special human being. He’s very tapped into the earth and he’s great at connecting lots of different types of people – as you can see with the casting of Mary Magdalene.”

Mara also takes the title role in Una directed by another Australian, Benedict Andrews, who is known for his stage work at Sydney Theatre Company including The Maids with former STC co-director Cate Blanchett. He’d met Mara through her Carol co-star and discovered she’d loved the New York stage production of David Harrower's Blackbird, on which Una is based, and which he’d directed as a play at Berlin’s Schaubühne. Finding the actor to play the paedophile Una tracks down for the movie version proved much harder. 

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Ben Mendelsohn ultimately delivers one of his best performances as the neighbour who had been entranced by Una as a teen and the pair had fallen in love. Reviews have extolled the Australian actor for not demonising his character.

“There’s nothing black and white about him,” Mara says. “At times you think he’s evil and she’s the victim, and there are times when you think she’s crazy and he’s a good guy, and there’s even a time when you want them to be together. That was the most conflicting thing for me, that they could love each other again and be together.”

“The Australians man, they’re just the best at everything they do! And it’s really hard to keep up with them. They have a really great spirit and they’re used to overcoming adversity.”

Mara was grateful to be working alongside Mendelsohn, who interestingly first met his future Star Wars co-star Riz Ahmed (who plays one of Mendelsohn’s employees) on the film.

“We really connected right away and felt as if we were in our own little universe. We really took care of each other.”

Andrews: “Ben’s really prepared to go to dark places and I think that's why people want to watch him. Many male actors would not have touched this and he gave the role such dignity and was prepared to expose himself. The meeting between the two of them on screen is an extraordinary thing.”

Mara had a third film at the festival, Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture. Again she plays a tortured character, who is locked up in an asylum for over 50 years, where (as Vanessa Redgrave) she is discovered by a man who is prepared to re-open her case – and he is played by yet another Australian, Eric Bana. Of course Mara didn’t share scenes with the actor though says she loves working with Aussies.

“The Australians man, they’re just the best at everything they do! And it’s really hard to keep up with them. They have a really great spirit and they’re used to overcoming adversity.”

Watch Una scene clip:

 

Watch a Ben Mendelsohn movie now at SBS On Demand:

The Idiot Box

What's it about?
A pair of jobless mates living in the western suburbs of Sydney, who spend their days watching TV, get the notion that they can alleviate their boredom by planning and executing a bank robbery.

"The most completely successful Australian film since the very different Shine." ★★★★★ David Stratton

Watch The Movie Show original review

 

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