When the Telluride Film Festival announced last week that Rooney Mara would be the subject of one of its prestigious tributes, some of the festival's cineaste attendees reacted with surprise.
At 30, Mara is young to receive the honor -- the other two recipients at this year's Colorado festival are 58-year-old director Danny Boyle and 60-year-old documentarian Adam Curtis. And though Mara's resume includes an Oscar-nominated performance in "The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo," and small but memorable roles in distinguished films like "The Social Network" and "Her," the introverted actress is still in the early stages of her career, and seems reluctant when navigating awards season's obligatory, chest-beating rituals.
But at a festival tribute that preceeded Friday's North American premiere of "Carol," the Todd Haynes period film in which Rooney stars as an awkward young shopgirl with a crush on a glamorous customer (Cate Blanchett), Mara revealed a bit of the real woman behind the aloof persona.
"I'm a very moody person," Mara said, explaining why she took a year off after the rigors of filming "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." "I'm kind of all or nothing. A lot of times, I feel like I have to spend some time living in order to act again."
Like the actress, Mara's character in "Carol" is shy but intense, communicating not with the rat-a-tat dialogue of a film like "The Social Network," but with a glance or a touch.
"I've kind of been preparing for that my whole life," Mara said of her role in "Carol," which earned her the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in May. "I'm a very quiet person. As a quiet person, I feel that's wonderful. Extroversion is over-valued."
Mara said she initially wasn't interested in "Carol," which was in development for over a decade, but became persuaded when Haynes came aboard the project.
"I didn't see myself in it at all," Mara said. "Sometimes if you can't see yourself in it, it means you shouldn't do it, and sometimes it means you're afraid of it."
Adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel "The Price of Salt," "Carol," which the Weinstein Co. will release Nov. 20, received a rapturous response from critics at Cannes and played to an appreciative audience in Telluride as well. Both Mara and Blanchett's performances have been tipped for Oscar nominations, as has the film's lush 1950s costuming by Sandy Powell.
At the tribute, which included clips from her films and a Q&A moderated by KPCC's John Horn, Mara talked about appearing naked on screen, including in the gentle love scenes in "Carol."
"I don't think the female body is anything to be ashamed of," she said, before the film screened. "Everyone has seen me naked multiple times. You're about to see some more."
Mara, who has four films due next year, said she had no idea whether the sequels to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" would ever get made.
"I would love that, but sadly I'm as in the dark about it as everyone else," she said. "I've pre-ordered the next book on Amazon."
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