Kate Mara, of the Irish American acting dynasty that includes her sister Rooney (seen recently in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) will star alongside Channing Tatum and Oscar Isaac in the high school reunion flick 10 Years, opening nationwide on Friday, September 21.
In conversation Mara, 29, reveals she is so comfortable with her Irish heritage that she’s actually seeking a role that could bring her to Ireland.
“I’m dying to play an Irish girl in a film one day,” she confesses to the Irish Voice. “Do you have any ideas for me?”
It’s a good question because she can already bring generations of her own experience to any role she’s offered. That includes having living links to the old country, by the way.
“I’m a little embarrassed when I’m asked about Ireland because my grandparents on my mom’s side (the Rooney side of the family) have a farm in Dublin and I have never been there,” she says.
Mara’s maternal grandfather, Timothy Rooney, was the 245th grand marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He is also the owner of Yonkers Raceway and its Empire City Casino. And Mara’s great-uncle, Dan Rooney, is the current U.S. ambassador to Ireland. The Irish roots clearly run very deep.
“It’s sort of embarrassing because I’ve been to Scotland and I feel like I betrayed them by doing that! I’m Irish and Italian. My dad’s side of the family, the Mara side is lots of different things but I’m sure back in the day it was O’Mara,” Mara says.
“But my mom’s side of the family are the McNultys and Rooneys. I wish that I knew more about my Irish heritage because I couldn’t look more Irish if I tried. My younger brother Conor and I have red hair and look incredibly Irish. So I’m definitely planning on going over.”
Rooney, Conor and Danny – Kate’s siblings sound like they could live up the road in any Irish village. She laughs when I tell her this.
“Our parents didn’t shy away from the Irish thing. But honestly, I think if you said what you just did to my parents they would be surprised. Conor’s first name is Arthur but he goes by Conor. My sister Rooney’s first name is Patricia but she goes by Rooney. It’s just how it happened.”
Mara, who is reportedly dating 10 Years co-star Max Minghella, is perfectly cast in the celebrity heavy new reunion flick as a bit of a loner who isn’t certain why she’s turned up at her 10-year high school reunion at all.
“My character is based on what I was like myself in high school,” she confesses. “It’s because writer and director Jamie Linden and I have been friends for a while – he wrote this movie I did called We Are Marshall – and ever since then I we have wanted to work together again.
“Then Jamie ended up working with Channing Tatum on the film Dear John. They ended up wanting to work together again. And I’m friendly with Channing’s wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum (who plays the onscreen girlfriend of her real life husband in the film). So Jamie asked himself, how can I get as many of my acting friends into one movie together? Then he came up with this high school reunion movie idea.”
Onscreen Mara, like her sister Rooney, has a sort of mysterious and seductive quality that is riveting, pulling you into her story from the moment she appears. It’s a quality that made writer and director Linden anxious to work with her again.
“Jamie and I were hanging out and he was asking me what my experience in high school was like and I ended up telling him. Because we were very close I was more honest about it,” Mara says.
“But the more questions he asked the more I became a little bit suspicious of why he was asking. Then he told me he had this idea for a movie.”
Mara finds quite a few points to relate to in her character Elise.
“When I was in high school I was really focused on work and getting out of school. I wasn’t a loner. I had friends, but when I wasn’t out of school making movies or doing any job I could get in the movie world I was dong plays at school. That was really all I had time for,” Mara recalls.
“The whole social aspect of school really terrified me. I was pretty shy. I have changed a lot since then because being an actor you have to constantly put yourself out there and talk to people and all of that. I could not wait to get out.
“I ended up graduating a year early to start my real life. That’s how I thought of it.”
Mara plays Elise with a nervy ambivalence throughout 10 Years. Along the way she finds a romantic prospect where she least expected to, and the chemistry between Mara and co-star Oscar Isaac is palpable.
“We got lucky because Jamie is so good at writing love stories. He doesn’t like to think so, because he dislikes the idea of ever being sentimental. But from his background on films like Dear John he’s good at writing about relationships, and not just male-female ones, all different kinds,” Mara says.
“I think that the most focused story in the script when we all received it was my story with Oscar.
veryone else in the script was there, but a lot of the scenes that you saw in the film are improved.
They found a lot of those moments while they were on set. Oscar and I found that it was all there to begin with, and Oscar and I were friends beforehand.”
Elise is one of the only characters who goes into the reunion with no expectations and doesn’t feel like she’s going to be affected by it at all. So when a connection happens she’s surprised. Doors open for her she never expected. She catches glimpses of how her life might be.
“I think a lot of people who say they don’t care so much about what other people say or think of you, there’s still that deep down curiosity about how they perceived you,” Mara says. “The question becomes how have I changed and how have I not changed.
“Elise is not able to find a single picture of herself in her high school yearbook, in a place where she spent four years of your life, which would probably be a little upsetting.
“But then she kept herself to herself and so seeing a picture and realizing how sad she looks is interesting. And she never knew that there is this other person who saw her in a completely different light. To the point where he wrote an entire song about her. That’s pretty spectacular.”
Mara, of course, first came to national prominence with her memorable turn as the late Heath Ledger’s daughter in the Oscar winning Brokeback Mountain in 2005. Appearing in the climatic scene of the film, she was riving as a young woman whose romantic happiness contrasted starkly with his solitude.
“I think Heath was only four or five years older than me at the time we filmed those scenes,” she says.
“At first I thought, how in the world can that be? Burt with help from hair and make-up he became the role and he was so believable and fatherly.
“By the time we got to that last scene I discovered how challenging a director Ang Lee was. I felt for sure after my first day I was going to be fired. I thought there is no way he is enjoying what I’m doing.
“But then I realized that was his way with everyone. He was like that way with Heath too and I instantly felt I’m going to be okay.”
Here's the trailer for "10 Years":