Kate Mara Tells Us Why Getting Older Isn’t A “Big Deal”

Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/ Getty Images.
Walking into a sun-filled, sparsely decorated West Hollywood hotel room to see Kate Mara so deeply tucked into the corner of a vast sectional that she's practically swallowed by it, it's hard to believe that this is the same woman I watched on the big screen just the night before. I'm talking about the woman who mopped the floor, both verbally and physically, with her co-stars in the sci-fi thriller Morgan. Now, the toughest thing about her seems to be a newly bleached bob and heavy black eyeliner. “I surprised myself sometimes,” the 33-year-old Emmy nominee admits over the course of her sit-down with Refinery29. “This is the most physically demanding role I’ve ever done. There was lots of training, before and during the shoot, and I did almost every one of my own stunts…in heels. One pair of which, as it turns out, she unapologetically smuggled from the set to remember all the blood, sweat, and tears she shed to play a cold corporate troubleshooter, sent to a remote research facility to determine the future of an AI project after a violent incident occurs on company time. It is a long overdue leading-lady part for the House of Cards, American Horror Story, and Fantastic Four alum, and she’s hopeful it will be the first of many — and she doesn’t mind saying so. This is, after all, why she skipped college and moved West those many years ago. You worked with Ridley Scott on The Martian. Is that how you connected with his son, Luke Scott, the director on Morgan?
"I don't know how they thought of me for it. It's quite possible, but I was shooting The Martian when Ridley and his producing partner approached me about the script and said that they thought that I would be great in it and that I would love it. So I read it while we were shooting The Martian, and they were right. Conveniently, Luke was working on the second unit there, and he and I, we had a day of — not even a day, like a scene — to shoot together. So I got a taste."
How would you describe Morgan to people? What’s it about and why should they see it?
"Well, from my character Lee Weathers' point of view, anyway, it's about a risk-management consultant who's hired to assess whether or not this artificial being named Morgan is too dangerous to keep alive, and whether it and the project should be terminated after it attacks one of the researchers. It's science-fiction, and a thriller and an action movie. It addresses the big questions, morally speaking, when it comes to artificial intelligence. It's definitely a cautionary tale, because things don't end well for a lot of people." When I first read that you were playing a risk-assessor, I thought that sounded like a potential snoozefest. But it most certainly is not. Can you talk about your character and why playing Lee Weathers appealed to you?
"I can see that. Even [the other characters] called her 'the suit,' and the company was always 'corporate.' They definitely don’t want her to be there. And while she certainly wears a suit, she is also a highly trained expert in a lot of different areas, physically and mentally speaking. And she carried a gun. So to me, as an actor, that's fun because you do get to explore those things." She is such a beast, kicking ass and taking names in heels. There are a lot of brutal fight scenes. How did you train for that? Was it more than you usually do to prepare for a shoot?
"There was a lot of physical training for me and Anya [Taylor-Joy, who plays Morgan] before the shoot. Luke is a boxer, and [it's] sort of his life. I'm pretty sure he considers it a hobby, but he's very passionate about it. He suggested that I take up boxing for this character, to get into that athlete mentality. And then he also wanted me to be able to do ballet and Pilates. It was to balance the sort of feminine and masculine sides of the character. Then, when we went to Ireland, we were trained with weapons. We drag raced at one point, because I have to be able to drive really well for a chase scene. And then there were weeks of stunt training as well. So it was more prep than I've ever had to do for a role."

In the past year, I have worked with two female directors. I've been acting for more than half my life and I've only worked with one other. So two in the past year is a fucking massive deal.

Kate Mara
Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Bumps and bruises? Anything more serious?
"There was nothing serious luckily, but yeah, Anya and I — and our stunt girls — would all get together at the end of every day and compare bruises. But we got lucky we didn't get injured [even though] we did do everything. We did all the stunts, except for flying out of a window from the second floor. It was challenging and so much fun. We were really happy to get the chance to do that." Have you kept up any of it?
"Yeah, but not drag racing. Drag racing wasn't my favorite thing. I do still box, just for fun. And yeah, the Pilates. I took private classes from a Pilates/ballet instructor who is this amazing ballerina. And it's the hardest workout I've ever done, and I still do it. Any time I'm in L.A., I drag myself to see her, and she makes me cry almost every time." Morgan shot in Northern Ireland, and the scenery is beautiful. Did you have much of a chance to explore the country? Do you have a favorite part or any recommendations?
"We all stayed in Belfast. We were working six-day weeks most of the time, so we had only one day a week off. Doing that — especially with the physical stuff — I would sleep on my day off. But we did, as a cast, go on this weird ghost tour at night, and it was really fun. We all took it very seriously. It was in the middle of the night, but it really wasn't that creepy. It was just like a weird thing we all did together to bond." I know you mentioned that you often kept yourself isolated from the group most of the time.
"I chose when those moments [to hang out with the cast] were for me, depending on what I was shooting the next day. I'm not always that crazy [about staying in character], but for this specifically, because she is not supposed to be liked by the researchers, it just kind of helped. It helped become adversaries."
Lee is intense and ambitious. Zoe Barnes, your character on House of Cards, was both as well. Do you see that in yourself?
"I definitely am ambitious, for sure. I guess that I related to that aspect of Zoe when I was in House of Cards. But this character is certainly very different than I am. You don't always connect to every character that you play. Sometimes it's more interesting to me to play somebody that I'm like, 'Oh, I don't get it. I don’t get her.' It's enjoyable for me to play those kinds of characters, because I also just love those kinds of movies. I like high-tension dramas and thrillers." You have been in the business a long time now, foregoing college and moving from New York to pursue your Hollywood dreams at 19. In the last couple of years, a lot of actresses have spoken out about unequal pay and finding themselves in sexist situations at work. Have you ever had a bad experience over the course of your career?
"Nothing that I can really think of. I don't really have anything necessarily that I could share specific to that, but I feel lucky to be able to say that. I'm aware of all these things that have happened to other actresses, and they are certainly not okay, and the unequal pay thing is wrong. I'm sure little things have happened to me that I just can't think of right now or that I was not made aware of." There is also the question of ageism. You’re only 33 now and getting a ton of work, but do you worry parts will dry up, or have you seen improvement? Do you feel pressure to stay skinny and young-looking or do you welcome getting older?
"I wasn't brought up to be concerned with that. Like my mom never made a big deal about getting older. She still doesn't, and my grandma never did. I have a huge family, and the women in my family have never put a great deal of energy into that in a negative way. So even though I'm in this industry where that is a huge part of the discussion, and aging is seen as a negative, aging, to me, so far, hasn't been a scary thing. I do find it interesting that people never lie about their age in the opposite way. They never say they're older than they are. It's always the opposite. "I get excited about getting older because the women that I look up to typically are much older than me and doing much more interesting things than I'm doing. And yeah, I know younger women that are amazing as well. To me, it's just something that I look forward to. But I do think a lot of that has to do with my upbringing, so I know I'm lucky in that sense. I also just try not to focus on it, because it's just fear. And I don't know when fear really helps anybody succeed. So I'm trying to keep a check on that because I know that it is a big deal in our industry." Maybe it helps that women are making some strides in creating the work behind the scenes as well. I know you just announced that you plan to produce your first film — a drama about the death penalty with Ellen Page called Mercy.
"I have to say in the past year, I have worked with two female directors. I've been acting for more than half my life and I've only worked with one other. So two in the past year is a fucking massive deal. So it has to be getting better unless that's just a coincidence, which I just don't think it is. I'm planning on working with another female director in this next year. I think that it's rare, but maybe, hopefully, it's becoming more normal."
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!

More from Movies

R29 Original Series