There are actors we all are aware of, but don’t think of as performers who should be considered as among the best. Rooney Mara is one such actress who has been flying under the public radar for over a decade now, which is a shame since she’s turned out one phenomenal performance after another.
Mara has matured with the characters she’s played onscreen as she’s grown over the years, and her performances have reflected this maturity. She’s still not a household name, meaning that many of her fine acting credits haven’t been very popularized. In order to remind you how good of an actress she is, and how much she’s been underrated, here are 10 of Rooney Mara’s best performances.
10 Mary Magdalene
You’d think being the lead in a film would mean a more rounded characterization, but the lead character didn’t quite live up to the standards we had in mind. What makes Mary Magdalene worthy of a top-10 spot in Rooney Mara's credits, though, is how well she worked with what she had.
The film doesn’t dive deep in any of Mary Magdalene’s history, and seems more of an excuse to pair real-life flames Mara and Joaquin Phoenix together. However, Mara does her best to convey some level of feeling in a character lacking in depth. That’s a commendable effort, seeing as she didn’t have much to work with.
9 Erica Albright - The Social Network
A film where Mara only got a few scenes, and a role where her appearances were mainly in flashbacks. The Social Network came out when Mara was still in her mid-twenties, and helped her gain some much-deserved exposure.
She played the role of Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend, whom you find unbearable for the most part, until you see how unlikable the Zuckerberg character is. This role had Mara require a far-reaching part to play, as she needed to portray a two-dimensional character – someone whom you found unlikable at first, but then understood her point of view once new information came to light.
8 Catherine Klausen - Her
She didn’t have a large number of scenes in the film, but Her’s plot was possible only because of Rooney Mara’s character. It was due to the heartbreak of losing her that the main character got an A.I. girlfriend to keep him company.
Mara’s scenes provided perfect parallels to how the protagonist’s lonesome life was now, compared to the innocent love he was experiencing with her. Her scenes were almost exclusively flashbacks, where she played the sweet girlfriend whose departure was a mystery. It was her reappearance later in the film that showed the actress’ wonderful contrast in acting ability as the character was now a thoroughly resentful person. A huge departure from what we’d seen of her beforehand.
7 Nancy Holbrook - A Nightmare On Elm Street
It’s almost unheard of for a well-known actor to appear in a slasher film (unless it’s Scream or a role the famous actor had before they became mainstream popular) so Rooney Mara’s inclusion in A Nightmare on Elm Street was a surprise.
She outshines the rest of the cast in a not-so-great movie, and plays the part well of a fighting character who’s still very afraid of her fate. Now that she’s known mainly for drama roles, this film is more impressive in her credits for how different it is. Unfortunately, her performance couldn't save this film from being pretty bad overall.
6 Una Spencer - Una
You have to give credit to an actor for giving a commendable performance toward a character that’s despicable to say the least. Una is a bizarre film where a young woman finds the man she was involved with back when she was a fresh teenager.
The film is extremely weird and unsettling – and not in a good way – with the only thing of note the performances of the cast. Mara herself was in good form, as she convinced viewers her character was a person with pure motives, only to turn out to be a vengeful opportunist. The actress is believable, although the film itself is hard to watch, thereby making it impressive how she held interest for the viewer to see the movie through.
5 Therese Belivet - Carol
What can you do when you’ve been cast opposite Cate Blanchett? If you’re Rooney Mara, you try your best. And that’s just what she did in this period film detailing a relationship between two women. Had Cate Blanchett not been her love interest, then Mara would’ve been the most valuable performer here.
She’s still nothing to scoff at, though, as she plays the part of the younger lover just as it should’ve been. She brings curiosity and energy of a young person in a radical kind of love in the part, and does her best to keep up with the more experienced Blanchett. The film was very well-received, with critics making sure to mention Mara’s performance, although it did go underrated.
4 Lucy - Lion
Sometimes a character needs to be one-note in order to make the lead standout as the main character. Rooney Mara did just that in Lion, where her role saw her play the supporting girlfriend to a boy lost from home.
This performance ranks among her better ones mainly because she doesn’t seek to steal the spotlight. The part is made specifically to elevate the mental struggles of the hero, who just can’t appreciate his loving girlfriend due to his personal problems, and yet is met with more love from her. It’s another smaller role for the actress, but a more memorable one compared to the others.
3 Lisbeth Salander - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
For almost all the people who weren’t aware of Rooney Mara’s caliber as a serious actress, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the film that brought this then-26-year-old actress into the spotlight. She became one of the younger actresses to bag a nomination at the Oscars for Best Leading Actress, and it was her ability to completely capture the character that made her a cut above the rest.
You could say Mara lived and breathed Lisbeth Salandar for the film, and her appearance was a total transformation, both in appearance and in personality. It was the best performance for her big break, although it misses out for the top spot due to the actress making more impressive dramatic turns in the future.
2 M - A Ghost Story
We’ve mentioned a few films where Rooney’s acting ability has elevated the role of others, but A Ghost Story is entirely brought to a different level thanks to Mara alone. The film looks through different stages of grief, along with delving into questions about life after death, and Mara captivates in the grieving process.
Just the one scene featuring her character mowing down an entire pie in one long take is incredible to watch. She tells the viewer all about her anguish at losing her husband by refusing to stop while eating the pie, and the scene ends with her throwing up; a representation of a person holding down their immense pain and unwillingly releasing it in the world. Mara’s performance is especially significant as she’s mainly the only one featured in her scenes.
1 Emily Taylor - Side Effects
Side Effects is an ingenious film, one which deserved enormous praise and didn’t get enough credit. Steering the ship here is Rooney Mara, whose character makes us question everything we see. She plays the devious, manipulative antagonist, who convinces everyone – especially us – that she’s the victim in the situation.
Every scene Mara is in can be used as an example for prospective actors over how to fool an audience. The character is impossible to read, and makes us sympathize when she’s the one behind the murder of her husband in the first place. Mara has the viewer believing she’s insane when she’s not, and turn our concern for her in the start of the film, to wishing she’d spend the rest of her days behind bars. It’s commitment to one’s craft at its best.