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Kate Mara Doesn’t Want to ‘Just Play Likable Characters’

She comes from two football dynasties, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants, but actress Kate Mara won’t say which she favors. Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr. was her great-grandfather on her mother’s side. Her father’s family owns the Giants.

Her younger sister, Rooney Mara, earned an Oscar nomination for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The 30-year-old Kate Mara is burning up the small screen on Netflix’s House of Cards. She has appeared in the films We Are Marshall and Brokeback Mountain and is in Transcendence with Johnny Depp, coming out in April. Season two of House of Cards will be available Feb. 14 on Netflix.

Q. “House of Cards” is addictive. When you took the role, did you sense it was going to be so popular?

A. When I take a role, I don’t necessarily think of it in that way. I was just thrilled to be working with David Fincher and the cast. You know, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are two people that I’ve always wanted to work with. The expectation of it doing well and that sort of thing was just the cherry on top. It could have failed miserably, and sure that would be disappointing, but the experience of working with those people and the challenge of that is really why I got involved.

Q. You have been acting since you were 9, so what do you get out of it?

A. I mean, it’s the only thing that I ever wanted to do. When I realized I could pursue my passion and get paid for it, there was nothing else I ever wanted to do. I was a very, very shy child, and acting was an escape for me. I think a lot of actors say that.

At the time, I was much more comfortable pretending to be other people than being myself. Acting really helped me get out of my shell. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself shy now, but it was a real problem for me as a child.

Q. So it was like therapy.

A. Yeah, I mean, auditioning for things and having to be comfortable meeting new people all the time. It was an amazing learning experience.

Q. Do you remember the first audition that had you shaking in your boots?

A. One of my first auditions ever was for the television show Homicide: Life on the Streets. I think I was like 14 or something. I remember it because I think it was the first thing besides theater that I auditioned for. I really wasn’t familiar with movies or television or anything like that. I wasn’t used to being in front of a camera. It was very emotional, of course. All those shows are (laughs). I didn’t get the job, but I did get the bug as soon as I left that audition.

Q. Are you as comfortable doing the whole talk show circuit or is that a different animal for you?

A. Yeah, for sure, those things make me very, very nervous. You get used to it and you definitely get better at it, you know, as you do more and more. You are supposed to be performing but as yourself. It feels exposing. I’m certainly not a comedian.

You are supposed to have funny anecdotes and funny stories about the set and that feels like a lot of pressure to me. I would much rather go on and be playing somebody else. That would be much more appealing to me.

Q. You have played a lot of characters over the years. Were there any that you just didn’t really like?

A. Honestly, no. Nothing comes to mind, and it’s not as though I’ve only played likable people. I was on American Horror Story and played a very unlikable character (laughing). But I had the best time playing her.

I don’t find it super-appealing to just play likable characters. I am interested in doing all of it, and it doesn’t bother me to think an audience is probably not going to like me very much. If they don’t and you are playing an unlikable character, well, you are just doing your job well.

Q. So how do you describe your character on House of Cards?

A. I would describe Zoe Barnes as a very, very strong-willed, ambitious reporter who is very smart but also has a lot of growing up to do. She is still finding her way in the world in all aspects of life. We basically shoot two episodes at a time.

Q. Do you feel you know a character better the longer you get to play her?

A. Um, I don’t know. I guess so. I look at House of Cards the same way I look at doing a character in a movie. It doesn’t feel that different. I feel a little more spoiled because I get 13 hours to play this character and show different pieces of her, so that’s very cool.

Q. Any sibling rivalry, especially with Rooney?

A. (Laughing) I think it excites people to hear about sibling rivalry because a lot of people with siblings have some sort of rivalry. I don’t think of my sister as somebody I am competing with. She and I are only two years apart, so growing up we were best of friends and then we weren’t and then we were playing together constantly. You grow up a little bit and you fight a lot, and then you don’t.

I mean, it was normal, really close family stuff. When it comes to acting, there is nobody more supportive of me than my sister. I feel the same way towards her. I know I could call her about anything.

For me it is special to have that because I didn’t for so long. My sister didn’t start acting until a good seven years later. She moved out to L.A. with me and started acting. So I had a large chunk of time where I was really doing it on my own, and no one else in my family had ever been through it before. We can really share the ups and downs.

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Q. Your family business is football. I know you don’t admit to a favorite team, but do you remember times when the Steelers played the Giants and you got together with your Rooney cousins?

A. People always want me to choose a side, but I don’t have to. It’s not a problem for me and my siblings. It’s not as if the Giants and Steelers are playing each other very often. When they do play each other, it’s really, really exciting. There is a lot of cheering because we don’t really know who to cheer for (laughs).

It’s been a while since I went to a Giants/ Steelers game. I think I was working somewhere and wasn’t able to go to the last one. But there is nothing more magical and surreal than having both sides of my family in the stadium watching two Super Bowl teams playing each other. Very few people can relate to that. So yeah, it is a very unique thing to experience with my family.

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