Kate Mara Talks The Martian, Sexist Questions & Equal Pay For Women

Andrew H Walker/REX USA.
The Martian was a "rare" experience for Kate Mara. Why? Because she finally got to share the screen with another woman — Jessica Chastain — in most of her scenes. "I’m used to being the only girl," the actress told Refinery29 in Toronto, where The Martian premiered. "So, that’s sad. And I hope that that changes."

Mara plays Beth Johanssen, one of the crew members of the Mars mission that leaves Mark Watney (Matt Damon) for dead on the Red Planet. Chastain plays the commander of that crew, Melissa Lewis.

Directed by Ridley Scott, The Martian tells the (fairly technical) story of how Watney gets home, and it's been one of the hits of the Toronto International Film Festival. The Huffington Post hailed it "one of the year's best movies," and Vanity Fair called it "sublime, sophisticated entertainment."

Refinery29 spoke with Mara — who was curled up in an armchair on a chilly day up here north of the border — about the film, as well as her thoughts on equal pay for women in the industry.

This is a semi-off topic question that I wanted to start out with, but I loved your
True Detective parody with Ellen Page, "Tiny Detectives." And I was wondering how you felt about the second season, if you watched it, and —
“I haven't seen it yet. No. I plan on watching it because I liked season 1, but I haven't seen it.”

Okay. Because people were disappointed, and I feel like maybe if "Tiny Detectives" had actually gone through, it would have been —

“Oh, I wish they had hired Ellen and I.”

I was rooting for it. I thought that would be so fun.

“Yeah, we loved shooting that little spoof.”

Matt Damon obviously has a lot of the movie to himself. Did you even spend that much time with him on set, or were you guys and the crew totally separate?

“Well, we spent time with him in the scenes we were with him; I think there were about three or four scenes. So that was it. Other than that, we did our own thing. Ridley describes the movie — shooting, anyway — as three different movies in one. So, I only just met everybody else who is working in the NASA scenes. We all met the other day. So, yeah, it was very secluded.”

It’s such a scientific story. Did you have to undergo any training at all?

“No, there was no training. I mean, I know Jessica had time to go to JPL [Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] but none of us had the chance to do that, I think, just because of timing. There was no training with the zero-gravity stuff either. I just sort of learned it as we went along. That was easy, though. We had a great stunt team, and it was very choreographed. So that was more fun than anything else.”

There was a lot of talk about
Fantastic Four, both the aftermath and the actual production on set. There was a report in Entertainment Weekly that you were treated poorly by Josh Trank. And I was wondering if you could talk about that experience at all.
“I can't. The boring answer is I can't. And yeah, I can't. Unfortunately. But, I understand why you asked.”

During the press tour for that movie, I really loved the way you handled the intrusive comments about your hair in an interview that went viral. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about having to deal with comments on your appearance.
“I don’t usually have to deal with that kind of stuff, so it's not something that I feel is even necessarily worth conversation, because it's not something that I experience every day in interviews. That doesn’t happen a lot. Yeah, it's just a boring thing for them to even comment on. Do you know what I mean? When a boy gets a haircut the world doesn’t — not the world, but, you know, people don’t walk into a room and mention it for the very first thing."

When an actor gets a haircut, there's not a lot of news posts like, "Oh, my god, you got a haircut." Whereas when a woman does, that tends to pop up.

“Yeah, I try not to let it bother me too much, because there are a lot of more important things that we should be worried about. For example, just getting more roles for women and the equal pay in our industry for men and women. That’s more important to me than worrying about the look aspect of it all. Because that, as you know, that’s just something that women have been dealing with for a while. It's less important to me than, like, actually focusing on the fact that while I worked on this film, I got to do scenes with Jessica Chastain, and I was in most of my scenes with another female.”

There was that hashtag campaign, #AskHerMore. I don’t know if you saw that...

“Vaguely, yeah.”

It was a campaign around red carpets to say, let's not ask a woman, "What are you wearing?" Let’s ask her interesting questions about her work. Where do you think we are in terms of the issue of equal pay for women in the industry?

“I understand how that might be difficult to change. And when you're on a red carpet, you know, of course they're going be asking you what you're wearing. But, that said, I do think that the fact that it's even a conversation now is a good thing — the fact that we're acknowledging that there are much more interesting things to be discussing than one's appearance. So, I think it's a really good sign that there are these campaigns, and there are so many women that are speaking up.

"I know Patricia Arquette said that great thing [about equal pay during her Oscar acceptance speech], and also Emma [Watson has spoken up] as well. I think it's a great thing and I think it'll probably only help expedite the change.”

There have also been women like Amanda Seyfried standing up and talking about getting paid less than their male co-stars. Do you think that's a step in the right direction?
“Yeah, of course. The only way change will happen is if people talk about it and take some sort of a stand.”

The Martian
has a big, diverse cast, and there are a lot of women, but it's not really female-centric. So, it's funny that you mention that this is one of the few times that you shared scenes with another woman. Do you think it's important to have more films that are focused on women, or just more women integrated into films like this?
"Well, I think both would be great. There should just be an equal amount of movies when half the population — actually, I think it might be a little bit more than half the population — are female. Why are there not more stories being written in that voice? I think both are great. One of reasons I love Ridley Scott and admire him so much is because a lot of his films have been about women.”

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