Sure, Kevin Spacey is mesmerizing as the cutthroat congressman Frank Underwood in Netflix's critically acclaimed political drama House of Cards. But he gets some help from his equally captivating costar Kate Mara, who plays Zoe Barnes, a journalist hell-bent on making her mark in the White House by breaking influential stories that compromise journalistic ethics. She's smart, cunning, and scene-stealing.
Mara, who was raised with her famous younger sister Rooney in the house the New York Giants built (her great-grandparents founded the team), is currently preparing to shoot the second season of House of Cards as well as Transcendence, alongside Johnny Depp. Details sat down with the 30-year-old actress to talk about working with Spacey on the hit Netflix series, her political feelings toward Cory Booker, and the New York Giant who first caught her eye.
DETAILS: House of Cards is the first original series for Netflix. Did you have any reservations about signing on to a project hosted by a streaming-movie site?
KATE MARA: No. I didn't need to hear anything except for the fact that David Fincher was involved and Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. To me, it was a no-brainer. It really didn't matter to me if it was on TV, on the Internet. It didn't cross my mind, honestly, until we were done with the series and everyone was discussing how it was going to be released. I thought, "Oh, right, this is not like a normal situation at all."
DETAILS: It's an exciting roll of the dice to see how people will respond to it and watch it at their own speed.
KATE MARA: The response has been incredible. You really don't know how people are going to react to it. I love watching TV shows in bulk; I really don't like to wait week to week. I assumed there would be a lot of people that would really appreciate this way, but you just don't know until you try.
DETAILS: You play Zoe Barnes, a young political reporter with some complex relationships. Beneath her badass exterior, is she vulnerable?
KATE MARA: She's totally a badass. I like that she doesn't tend to show her vulnerabilities. As an actor, that's hard to play. They have to be there, underneath all of that exterior hard stuff. But that's just fun, to play someone who says whatever she's thinking, does whatever she feels at that particular moment, and really has a hard exterior. She has to, given her line of work. We really made a conscious effort throughout the series to not show Zoe really vulnerable. You never see her crying, and I think that's a very smart choice.
DETAILS: Does working on a show like this introduce you to a new way at looking at our political system?
KATE MARA: I wouldn't consider myself a political person, but I'm very aware of the important things going on in our country. And I'm also aware of who I admire and who I'm rooting for and who I want to vote for. I'm not somebody who likes discussing it all the time. I've been a massive fan of Cory Booker's for a while, and it's because of the documentary series, Brick City. That show really opened my eyes to a lot of things. His team asked me if I would announce him at an event in D.C., and I couldn't have been more excited.
DETAILS: A lot of people think he's the real deal. Is he?
KATE MARA: Listen, I think he's the real deal. I've never been more moved and inspired by somebody. He's probably the best speaker I've ever heard in person. I was trying not to weep every time he gave a speech—and I wasn't the only one. I like people that inspire, and he really makes you listen whenever he talks. There's something about him that I just believe in.
DETAILS: What's Kevin Spacey like when he's not in character?
KATE MARA: I love working with Kevin. He's hilarious. He wasn't Method acting at all when I was working with him. As soon as they say, "Cut," he's telling jokes, making me laugh. He's far less serious than he is on our show.
DETAILS: What was the trickiest scene to shoot with him?
KATE MARA: For me, the hardest was the Father's Day scene in my apartment, with the spider that he traps in a cup—for a lot of reasons. It's a really long scene; I think it was 12 pages. Because of scheduling, instead of one day of shooting, it ended up taking us three days, but not all day. We'd be shooting at 3 A.M. after a long day of shooting other stuff.
Emotionally speaking, it's not the most comfortable thing to shoot in front of people, given the circumstances. [Ed. note: Underwood performs oral sex on Zoe.] That scene was hard, but if I had to do it with anyone but Kevin, it would've been a lot harder. I felt so protected by him. He's really sensitive and thoughtful in those weird circumstances.
DETAILS: It's probably a little precarious to be in a scene like that. But it's a phenomenal scene.
KATE MARA: It's hard because we'd been working together for so long, so I thought, "Oh, God, how am I going to get through this without cracking up?"
DETAILS: You grew up in an unequivocally football family. Was your first celebrity crush an NFL player? Was it Phil Simms?
KATE MARA: How did you know, did I say that already?
DETAILS: No, but you must be a Giants fan, so it's not a huge stretch.
KATE MARA: Yeah, that's definitely my first crush. My family thought he was the shit, and I was like, "He's blond and handsome."
DETAILS: Your sister Rooney [The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects] is an actor as well. Growing up, did you two get along, or were you competitive?
KATE MARA: We've never been competitive. We're only two years apart, and as kids we were really close. We spent a lot of our childhood acting together. We would play Little Orphan Annie. I was always Annie, and I would force her to be the evil Miss Hannigan. Little did I know, we'd both be acting together years later.
—Mike Ayers is a New York City-based arts and entertainment writer. Follow him at @themikeayers
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