Patricia Rooney Mara was born and raised in Bedford, New York, a town in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. She is the daughter of Timothy Christopher Mara, the vice president of player evaluation for the New York Giants, and Kathleen McNulty (née Rooney). She has three siblings: Daniel, Conor and Kate.
Mara is of Italian (from her maternal grandmother) and Irish descent; the Rooney family trace their Irish ancestry to County Down. Mara is the great-granddaughter of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr. and New York Giants founder Tim Mara. Her paternal grandfather,Wellington Mara, was the long-time co-owner of the Giants, succeeded by her uncle, John Mara. Her maternal grandfather, Tim Rooney, has run Yonkers Raceway in Yonkers, New York since 1972. She is the grand-niece of Daniel Rooney, chairman of the Steelers, the United States Ambassador to Ireland, and the co-founder of The Ireland Funds charitable organization.
Mara graduated from Fox Lane High School in 2003, and then traveled to Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in South America for four months as part of the Traveling School, an open learning environment. She attended the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, where she studied psychology, international social policy, and nonprofits. She graduated in 2010.
Mara was inspired to act by going to see musical theatre and by watching old movies, like Gone with the Wind (1939), Rebecca (1940), andBringing Up Baby (1938), with her mother. She also wanted to be like her older sister, Kate Mara, a professional actress. Mara resisted pursuing acting as a child, stating to The Journal News that “it never seemed that honorable to me, and I guess I was always afraid that I might fail.” She won the role of Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet, after being signed up to audition by a friend, and acted in a few student films while at NYU. Mara then began pursuing a career in acting.
Mara made her professional acting debut in a bit-part in the 2005 direct-to-video horror film Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, which starred her sister. She found work in television, appearing on the New York City-based drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2006, as a girl who dislikes fat people. She guest-starred on the legal drama Women’s Murder Club in 2007, and played a drug addict in an episode of The Cleaner in 2008. Mara appeared in the feature films Dream Boy and Friends (With Benefits) that year, and guest-starred as Megan for two episodes of NBC’s ER in 2009.
Mara landed her first lead role in the film Tanner Hall, starring Amy Sedaris and Tom Everett Scott, a story of four teenage girls set in a New England boarding school. Mara played Fernanda, who has an affair with a married family friend (Tom Everett Scott). The coming-of-age film was the debut feature by filmmakers Tatiana von Fürstenberg and Francesca Gregorini. Tanner Hall debuted at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and had a limited theatrical release in September 2011. Mara dropped her first name, Patricia, to be known professionally by her middle name after working on the project. “I never really liked my first name,” Mara stated to Paper magazine. “I never felt like a Tricia. And Rooney is more memorable”.
Mara’s experience lead to other film work. She appeared in the comedy Youth in Revolt in 2009, starring Michael Cera and directed by Miguel Arteta, based on the 1993 cult novel of the same name by C.D. Payne. Mara played Taggarty, the love interest of Cera’s best friend. Her character tries to sleep with 50 guys before she goes to college. Mara had auditioned for the starring role, but was offered the smaller part when the lead went to Portia Doubleday.
Mara appeared in the 2009 independent film Dare as Courtney, the best friend of Alexa (Emmy Rossum), a high school student set on expanding her life experience. She also filmedThe Winning Season that year, starring Emma Roberts and Sam Rockwell, playing a high school basketball player in a story similar to The Bad News Bears. Her character has an affair with a 40-something year old shoe salesman (Kevin Breznahan). Dare and The Winning Season premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Mara was included on Filmmaker magazine’s list of “25 New Faces of Independent Film” that year.
Mara starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street, a 2010 remake of the 1984 horror film of the same name. She played the protagonist Nancy Holbrook, based on the original film’s Nancy Thompson, a teenage girl who is eager to leave town after graduating from high school. Mara began shooting the film in Chicago on May 5, 2009, directed by Samuel Bayer. Mara told Filmmaker that she felt that the remake’s Nancy was “completely different from the original” and could be described as “the loneliest girl in the world”. The film was released on April 30, 2010. Depending on its box office performance, Mara will appear in a sequel to the remake, continuing her role as Nancy.
Mara appeared at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October 2009 as part of its Breakthrough Performers Program, where she was tutored alongside Zach Gilford, Emmy Rossum and Emma Stone by Sharon Stone. She appeared in the 2010 film The Social Network by David Fincher, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Brenda Song and Justin Timberlake. Her character breaks up with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, which inspires him to start the social networking website.
In August 2010, Mara was cast as the lead in an upcoming film adaptation of the Millennium book series by Stieg Larsson. She won the role over several other actresses, including Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Katie Jarvis, after auditioning with a rape scene from the film, and performing multiple screen tests. David Fincher will direct the first of three films, based on the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with Scott Rudin producing; The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest will also be adapted. Fincher convinced executives at Columbia Pictures to cast Mara for the part. She plays Lisbeth Salander, a damaged bisexual computer hacker who helps journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) attempt to solve a series of murders.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo began shooting in Sweden in September 2010, and has a release date of December 21, 2011. Mara doesn’t consider the film to be a remake, but an interpretation of the novel. “I plan on giving my interpretation of the character”, she stated to Variety. Mara’s long brown hair was cut short and dyed black, in a style reminiscent of 1970s punk and 1980s goth fashions. She also had each of her ears pierced four times, and had her lip, brow, nose, and nipple pierced for the role. Her eyebrows were bleached, and she wears a temporary dragon tattoo.
Mara will work with filmmaker Francesca Gregorini again, the writer and director of Tanner Hall, in the film Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. Mara will play a troubled teenager, hired to babysit a lifelike doll in the independent drama. The project will be Mara’s first time co-producing a film, and will begin shooting in mid 2011.
Faces of Kibera
Mara oversees the charity Faces of Kibera, which provides housing, food, and medical care for orphans in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenyawhere approximately 1 million people live in a single square mile. The charity’s goal is to build an orphanage in the region, for which 6 acres of land have been purchased. The charity auctions memorabilia from the Steelers and Giants, as well as training camp events on eBay to raise money.
Mara visited the area as a volunteer in 2006, at age 21, and was moved to help the orphans, many whose parents have died from AIDS and HIV-related illnesses. She began the charity due to her frustration with, according to Mara, the growing number of nonprofits that are just business opportunities. “The people who need help aren’t really getting it. So I started my own”, she told Interview magazine in 2009. Mara was not really working yet when she started the charity, so now finds it challenging to balance her charity work with her acting career. “I need to do both; I can’t just do acting,“ she stated to The Journal News.