Bedford native Kate Mara plays an ambitious political reporter on Netflix's new original series, "House of Cards," but during Thursday's sit-down interview with Newsday Westchester, the movie and TV star said she couldn't imagine being anything other than an actor.
"I literally couldn't do anything but act," said Mara, smirking as she sank into a lobby couch on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill Building. "I think I'd be a really bad [reporter]."
Luckily for Mara's livelihood, she's more than held her own in movies, especially opposite Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," James Franco in "127 Hours," and Mark Wahlberg in "Shooter." She's also made the most of recurring appearances on TV's "American Horror Story," "24," "Nip/Tuck" and "Entourage."
But with "House of Cards," Netflix's American adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries and British novel of the same name, Mara, 29, may have landed her best role to date.
IN THE 'HOUSE'
On "House of Cards," Mara plays Zoe Barnes, a young, hungry journalist working for a major metropolitan newspaper in Washington. Feeling underappreciated in the newsroom, Zoe confronts Francis Underwood (two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey), the House Majority Whip who's been jilted by his superiors. With power and revenge on his mind, Francis leaks stories to Zoe while his wife, Claire (Golden Globe nominee Robin Wright) plans for her own ascent.
"House of Cards" also stars Nyack resident Sakina Jaffrey ("Definitely Maybe"), Corey Stoll ("Midnight in Paris"), Kristen Connolly ("The Cabin in the Woods") and Michael Kelly ("The Adjustment Bureau"). And with David Fincher, a two-time Oscar-nominated director, serving as an executive producer and part-time director of the series, there's been no shortage of buzz for this Netflix venture.
"There was no fear of, 'Is this the right thing to do?' because, when I was sent the scripts, it was already [attached to] Fincher, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright," Mara said. "There was no question from me. I was like, 'Of course, I want to be a part of this.' All of those people have such impeccable taste; I just trust [them]. What they're going to be a part of, I want to be a part of."
Last March, when Netflix was primarily known as a movie rental service, it outbid premium-cable channel HBO to produce 26 episodes of the political drama for its subscribers. Netflix will allow East Coast subscribers to begin streaming all 13 episodes of the first season as of 3 a.m. Saturday.
Although the series won't be seen on any network or in any movie theater, Mara said she didn't perceive the unprecedented project, or its medium, as a risk. "[As for] the streaming of it all, I didn't think that much about it, because, as an actor, I was just more interested in the work," she added.
SISTERLY LOVE IN BEDFORD
In recent weeks, Mara walked the red carpet for "House of Cards" premieres in London, Washington and New York City. That last event included some very special guests in the audience. "My whole family was there, and it was kind of thrilling for them to see it," Mara said. "It's just really nice to share something you've been working really hard on with your family."
At Wednesday night's premiere, Mara posed for photographers with her younger sister, fellow actor Rooney Mara; a night later, just hours after chatting with Newsday Westchester, Kate would be back on the red carpet with her sister, but this time to support Rooney's new movie, "Side Effects."
They've both come a long way since they played "pretend" as kids in Bedford. The two children also acted beyond their Bedford home, at the defunct Dance, Drama and Song center in Bedford Hills. "That's where my sister and I had our first play experiences," Kate said. "I was the Scarecrow in 'The Wizard of Oz,' which was really upsetting, because I wanted to be Dorothy. But the Scarecrow is a much cooler part, if you really think about it." Kate has fonder memories of playing Emily in a Fox Lane High School production of "Our Town," which she said remains one of her favorite plays.
FAMILY REUNION IN LOS ANGELES
After taking extra classes in her third year at Fox Lane, she graduated early to pursue acting and, eventually, move to Los Angeles. A few years later, Rooney would not only join her in L.A., but move in with her for a short time.
"When she was living with me, that was, like, super bonding for us," Kate Mara said. "There's such rejection [for actors] constantly. So, to have someone in your family who experiences it on a daily basis, and knows what it's like, the highs and the lows, and to get to share that, [it] was such a massive thing for me."
Audition and script conversations aren't the only thing the sisters have shared; they've both worked with Fincher, who directed Kate's first two episodes of "House of Cards," and directed Rooney in "The Social Network" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
Asked why Fincher has an affinity for the Mara sisters, Kate laughed and said she didn't know. "I'm a fan of it, too," she said. "I'm so grateful that he gave me this opportunity. He's a dream director to work with."
STILL 'SHOCKED AND EXCITED' TO ACT
Kate says that she plans to collaborate on a joint acting venture with her sister at some point, but she also has other plans, too. "I definitely want to do a movie musical," she said, "or, like 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' to play a character who sings." In the meantime, she's game for karaoke, for which she has go-to material: "Oh, 'A Whole New World,'" she said. "All that Disney [stuff]."
Singing isn't a new hobby for Mara, who's showcased her chops by singing the national anthem at home games for her two favorite football teams: the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's fair to say her family has shaped her rooting interests: She's a great-granddaughter of Giants founder Tim Mara on her father's side and of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. on her mother's.
She's such a fan of both teams, in fact, that she made a vow to herself after a role caused her to miss the Steelers' 2005 Super Bowl victory. "If I'm ever working during the Super Bowl period, we need to have that in my contract," she said, smiling.
That wasn't an issue during "House of Cards," which Mara confirmed has her returning for its second season, slated to begin filming this spring.
"I don't take it for granted," she said, "because I am constantly shocked and excited that I am working, period, [especially given] the fact that I'm working on stuff like this, with people that I respect so much, and have been a fan of forever."
All 13 episodes of the first season of "House of Cards" can be streamed by Netflix subscribers on the East Coast as of 3 a.m. Saturday.