Kate Mara has always been driven, but for this charmingly straightforward House of Cards actress, the time is now.
Kate Mara throws her black leather Carven jacket casually over the back of the makeup chair in the sparse photo studio and plunks herself down. A round robin of praise starts: “What a wicked moto jacket.” “You look so cool.” The 30-year-old actress lets out a playful laugh. “It’s my sister Rooney’s jacket. I can’t take credit. I just shopped her closet.”
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In person, Mara is softer, more fawnlike, than Zoe Barnes, the complicated character she plays on Netflix’s hit political show House of Cards (HoC), but she is equally ballsy. Twenty minutes into the prep for our shoot, Mara convinces the hairstylist to whip out scissors and chop a few inches off her auburn hair to “make things more interesting!” When her long-time boyfriend, actor Max Minghella, drops by, she introduces him around and then plops unselfconsciously onto his lap.
The New York-based star wasn’t always this self-possessed. “I was very shy as a kid,” she explains. But as Mara watched old movie musicals with her mom and sister, she realized that acting could be an escape. “Most of my friends and family members had to figure out what they wanted to do. That was never a challenge of mine,” she says, a twitch of a smile brightening her face. “I was motivated and ambitious. I had a crazy drive.... Pretending to be different people was my way of not being shy.”
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Her family supported her resolve. Mara travelled to auditions with her mom and landed her first studio movie when she was 15 years old. In Random Hearts, with Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas, Mara played the teenage daughter of an ambitious Republican congresswoman whose husband is having an affair. Though she later starred alongside Mark Wahlberg in Shooter and James Franco in 127 Hours and guest starred on American Horror Story, it’s fitting that her first role was in a highly charged political film. In HoC—in her most recent, and arguably most exciting, role—Mara plays an enterprising journalist who is entangled in an affair with a cutthroat Democratic congressman, played by Kevin Spacey. Their relationship (and the riveting show itself) is as much about sex and power as it is about politics.
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It’s hard to picture a shy girl playing the brash Zoe, though. “I became more confident as I got to know myself,” says Mara, laughing. “That’s why I don’t think getting older is so bad. I was also an old soul when I was a kid. I wanted to get out of school so that I could start my little life.” But as ready as she was to take on an adult acting career, Mara’s childhood was pretty cinematic. As the great-granddaughter of both the New York Giants founder and the Pittsburgh Steelers founder, she is one of the princesses of the NFL royal family. She grew up in leafy Westchester, across the street from several of her cousins. (She has “hundreds of cousins.”) “There was a never-ending supply of family members,” she says excitedly. “We’d go to football games as a family every other Sunday.”
Find out if Kate Mara is still a football fan (plus much more) on the next page...