Kate is currently on cover of Haute Living, for its July/August issue. Photographed by John Russo, she talked about Megan Leavey, her love for animals – and the work she and Rooney do on Humane Society, growing up watching musicals, football, the upcoming Chappaquiddick, her friendship with Ellen Page and their movie Mercy and, obviously, Jamie.
You can find the full interview below, and also on Haute Living website. Also, the pretty photoshoot is already added in our gallery. Scans will be added as soon its available – the magazine is set to be on stands next July 4th!
Kate Mara has always had a special bond with dogs. The actress’ two Boston terriers, Bruno and Lucius, are her constant companions. Even when working, she travels with her furry mascots who then accompany her to set. So when the script for the recently released film, Megan Leavey, landed in Mara’s hands, it was a no-brainer: she knew she had to play the title role. The movie tells the real-life story of a United States marine corporal and member of the military’s canine team, who—alongside German shepherd Rex—served over 100 missions in Iraq, saving countless lives. However, her relationship with Rex is what saved her own life; he taught her how to love and provided her with a purpose.
Despite being initially forced to clean out kennels as punishment, when she learned that the dogs and their handlers were heading to Iraq to sniff out bombs, weapons and improvised explosive devices, Leavey found a new calling. Now, viewers can see Leavey’s journey chronicled on the big screen—including the four-year-long fight she underwent to earn custody of Rex after they were both injured by a blast. “I knew I wanted to do it when I read the script. It was pretty simple,” Mara remembers. “I thought it was a really important story to tell, and I worked with the producer a very long time ago, so it was an obvious choice for me. I was just very moved by it, and I’m excited that it hasn’t been told before.”
Shooting this type of movie was challenging, but Mara was more than up for the task. She reached out to Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the documentary Blackfish, and convinced her to take on Megan Leavey. She also worked with the sergeant major of the Marines, Ronald L. Green, to learn everything she could about the military. “He was training me in all the ways that a marine would be trained if they were to go to boot camp—mine obviously being different, but I needed to learn the basics of how to put your uniform on correctly, how to load your weapon, how to put the weapon together, how to march—basically everything because I knew nothing about it.”
Mara then vigorously worked out with a trainer to build the strength necessary to handle the gear and a large dog. “I had just finished a movie not too long ago where I was training very intensely in a physical way, and so my trainer and I just sort of switched the focus. I had been… going between ballet and boxing for another role, and then I just switched to regular bootcamp stuff, so sprinting and running and doing push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and all that good stuff.” Besides military and physical training, she also worked with a dog trainer to learn how to properly handle a German shepherd.
On top of all of this, Mara was playing a living character—meaning, more pressure to accurately convey the role and satisfy the real-life person. “You don’t want to disappoint whoever it is you’re playing. You want them to feel proud of the product and the way you portrayed them,” she says. “I definitely wanted to make sure that I met [the real Megan Leavey] and just talked to her about some things before we started to shoot. She was amazing. She was super open and vulnerable; she’s very warm and just kind of puts you right at ease, which I think was a little bit of a surprise to me… I definitely had preconceived notions of what a marine might be like, you know? Or what someone who has experienced the things that she’s experienced might be like. But she was just incredibly kind and willing to talk about it all, which was awesome.”
Like Leavey, Mara finds comfort in her connection with dogs, so she was eager to meet Varko, too, who primarily played the role of Rex in the film. “I usually bring my dogs to work whenever I’m on a location… because they make me feel grounded and safe in a lot of ways. There’s a sort of comfort I think they bring, that animals in general bring to people, and so when you have this amazing animal that is by your side the entire time—I mean, it’s a very special experience.” She says with her signature frank tone. “We bonded very quickly and, when I didn’t have scenes with him, I truly missed it. I missed having [the multiple dogs playing Rex] in my space.” Although there were stand-ins, Varko was in almost all of Mara’s scenes and, in many cases, she simply had to interact with him. Her performance is honest, authentic and heartfelt. “It was totally unique and really joyful and amazing, and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced going to work.”
Although she has played her fair share of complicated characters, something about Leavey was different. The character is multifaceted—she has a deadbeat mom, lost her best friend to a drug overdose, and returns from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder—and filming was an emotional experience for the 34-year-old actress. “The whole thing was really intense. People would think that it would’ve been maybe the war scenes—which definitely were intense—but, emotionally speaking, even the scenes where she goes back home, that stuff was very emotionally draining.” She continues, “I think the whole thing, the whole experience, was quite challenging in a beautiful way.”
Another thing that makes Megan Leavey a film unlike any other Mara has worked on? It’s a war film that features a female lead. Zero Dark Thirty, Courage Under Fire, Camp X-Ray… the pictures that accurately and authentically depict a female in the military can be counted on one hand. The veterans’ foundation Got Your 6, a non-profit that promotes normal representations of the military and veterans in film and television, recognized Megan Leavey for its positive portrayal of service. It applauded Mara’s ability to illustrate that the marine’s real life was enriched by her time in the military and also that being a veteran isn’t a trait that defines her. “I’m incredibly honored and relieved that the people that have experienced these things—and they are the most important critics of all—that they’re giving it their stamp of approval. That means the world to us, and it’s a massive relief in a lot of ways,” Mara says. “That was something that we were definitely concerned about and focused on when making the movie. We wanted it to be as truthful as it could be… It is so important for us that [veterans and their families] have something that they can watch that they feel they relate to, and is truthful to something they’ve experienced.”
Megan Leavey wasn’t Mara’s first silver screen experience with the Armed Forces. In 2015’s Man Down, she starred as the military wife of one, a marine portrayed by Shia LaBeouf. “Shia had this great [military] advisor on set with him, and I learned a little bit about the Marine Corps then. I’ve always been fascinated and had so much respect for people that join. So I was talking to this guy Nick, who’s a marine, and I was saying I would love to find some kind of great female marine story because that would be a really amazing experience and you never see those. He was saying, ‘Yeah, there are so many. They’re just not told.’” Less than a year later, Mara was sent the script for Megan Leavey—which was, as she describes it, “perfect timing.”
Animals, Football, and Theatrics
If she’s being honest (and she is), signing up for a film that co-starred a dog was a huge bonus for Mara. One quick look at her Twitter feed reveals just how passionate about animals she actually is. The petite redhead is a spokesperson for the Humane Society and stresses how important it is to stand up for the vulnerable. “It’s our responsibility as human beings… to speak out when we see something is unjust, and when you believe in something. The Megan Leavey story is that exactly. It’s ‘you should never give up fighting for something you believe in,’ whether it’s about a person that you love, or a thing, or a cause.” She continues, “I think that that’s one of the most important things we have as human beings, is to do the right thing… especially for people and/or animals that can’t stand up for themselves.”
Mara and her fellow movie star sister, Rooney, have spent years campaigning to rescue a group of 66 chimpanzees chimpanzees after the New York Blood Center used the animals for biomedical research and left them stranded on a remote river in Liberia. The Mara sisters traveled there to visit the chimps and raise awareness for the cause and, in late May, their hard work paid off: the Blood Center came to an agreement with the Humane Society, which will take responsibility for the chimpanzees, by providing $6 million to the organization to help cover the costs of the animals’ care.
Mara’s love of animals makes her a natural vegan who promotes plant-based diets and Meatless Mondays. “I read this book called The Beauty Detox Solution about five or six years ago. This nutritionist, Kimberly Snyder, wrote it and I was actually introduced to it by my friend Jenna Dewan-Tatum… It tells you a lot about food combining and how our bodies digest, and what our bodies are meant to digest, and how it affects us from the inside out.” Mara was a vegetarian on and off before the book, but reading it made her become more aware of how dietary decisions affect the body. “Knowing why my body was reacting in certain ways to dairy and that kind of thing, that’s what made me really become… a conscious eater. Then, my love of animals and learning about how eating meat is actually really detrimental to our environment. All of those things combined made me become a vegan.”
When she’s not campaigning on behalf of the Humane Society or making movies, Mara can most likely be found hanging out with her family. The activist is one of four siblings who comes from a large clan of footballers. Her mother’s family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers; her father’s family owns the New York Giants. She grew up in Bedford, New York and attended football games every fall and winter Sunday, where she would occasionally belt out the national anthem on the field.
For years, she knew that she wanted to be an actress. “My mom brought us up on old musicals and going to the theater, from a very young age. I remember the first movies that I saw were Oklahoma, Annie and The Sound of Music. That’s what I grew up on, and that’s what my passion was. I just always knew. From as long as I can remember, that’s what I knew I wanted to do, and I definitely feel quite blessed… because it can be hard to figure out what your passion is, or what you want to do with your life. I’m just as passionate today as I was then, so I feel lucky.”
In Megan Leavey, a woman who is firing the title character from her job says, “You don’t really connect with people very well.” According to Mara, the same statement could be applied to her as a child. She was impossibly shy and intimidated by the social aspect of school. Instead of going to college at Tisch School of the Arts, Mara deferred and moved to Hollywood by herself and scored recurring roles on several television shows like Nip/Tuck and Jack and Bobby. Her first big film break came in 2005 when she starred as Heath Ledger’s grown daughter in Brokeback Mountain.
Mara has worked steadily in both film and television ever since. Most recently, she played a pivotal role in the first season of House of Cards and starred as a superhero in Fantastic Four. She doesn’t prefer one medium over the other, but instead looks for projects that are shorter-term. “I’ve never done a show that’s a very long commitment. House of Cards is only the first season, because I don’t love the idea of… playing the same role for years on end, or being on the same show for years on end. Even now, that’s changed so much. It’s so normal to find projects that are limited series and things like that. It’s an exciting time.” She pauses before elaborating, “I made a television show with David Fincher, who’s one of the great filmmakers, I think, of all time, and alongside Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright who—again,―to me—are two of the great film actors, as well. Now you can say… that they are two of the great television actors. I think it just depends wherever the great work is and wherever the great films are, wherever the great directors and writers and actors are.”
Mara’s next project, Chappaquiddick, is about the 1969 car accident involving politician Ted Kennedy, who was driving, and his companion, Mary Jo Kopechne (played by Mara), who was killed when they crashed through a bridge and were submerged under water. “The film is really about… what happened on that day before and what happened—what may or may not have happened—to cause it, and then the outcome of it. We shot it in Boston, which I love, I mean, I love that city so much. Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy. It was amazing to watch him transform into him because he really did; the voice, and the way he looks, it was all… really just impressive to see.” She also describes shooting the car crash scenes—the crew headed to Mexico to shoot the underwater scenes in special tanks—as “really tricky and challenging.”
She also co-produced and co-starred in a project with her friend Ellen Page. “We wanted to make a movie together and we found this script called Mercy, which is a love story that takes place in the midst of a… well, the death penalty plays a big part of the time of this story, and the argument of it. [It’s about] the two opposing sides to the death penalty, for and against. She and I found this script and really wanted to make it together, and so we decided we should produce it together and set it up. That’s how that happened. It’s still in post-production right now, so I’m not sure yet what we’ll do with it, but hopefully we’ll know soon.” Mara’s been in Hollywood long enough to know that, sometimes, in order to get the roles you want, you have to develop the project yourself—which is why she and Page joined forces. “If I didn’t have to, I don’t necessarily think I would [produce], but because I don’t want to spend a lot of time just waiting for things to come to me, I’d rather be proactive about it.”
Another thing she’s proactive about is her upcoming wedding. Mara is marrying British actor Jamie Bell, whom she met on the set of Fantastic Four in 2014. To win her over, Bell, who didn’t know much about American football, immersed himself in the sport. “He did something super romantic for me when we first started dating. He spent a night where he just watched an entire season—an old Giants season—and had one of his American friends teach him all about football so, by the time football season started, he was very experienced and knew exactly what was going on, and probably knew more about it than I did.” Although the actress is one of those celebrities who prefers to keep her private life private, she did share some details of her future nuptials and—surprise!—Bell has even helped with the wedding planning. She says he “is very much on the same page as I am about what we want and what we don’t want… so far, it’s been relatively easy.” She won’t share a date or details on the dress (rumor has it, it could be Valentino), but the menu will be mostly vegan and they will be going on their honeymoon “somewhere warm, for sure—warm and relaxing.”
Afterwards though, we assume the hard-working actress will focus right back in on her next film or television spot. But who knows what that could be? Mara doesn’t exactly have a formula for choosing the projects she participates in. Sometimes, like Megan Leavey, it’s because it tells a great story. Other times, such as House of Cards, it’s because she wants to work with the director or actor who’s already attached to it. One criteria that remains the same: she wants to do things she’s never done before. “I’m always looking for something that is different than the last thing I did, specifically the characters that I play.”
Getting to temporarily explore so many different identities and rid herself of that formerly awkward one as a child where she didn’t fit in are part of the reason she loves acting so much. “There are a lot of things you get to experience as an actor that you wouldn’t normally—pretend to be a marine for a couple of months, go through the training and have all the experts surrounding you to really teach you what it means and… just a taste of what it feels like. Being able to do those sorts of things for a role is a very unique experience.”