Rooney Mara, the young American actress who won an Oscar nomination playing Lisbeth Salander in the English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), was born into professional football royalty in Bedford, New York in 1985. Christened Patricia Rooney Mara when she made her debut on the world stage, she is one of four children of New York Giants executive Timothy Christopher Mara and Kathleen McNulty, the granddaughter of Art Rooney, Sr., the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers football franchise. (Her mother's maiden name is Rooney.) Her paternal grandfather was Giants founder Tim Mara.
Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, the former Ambassador to Ireland, is her great-uncle, and she is of Irish descent through both her father and mother. Her maternal grandmother, who was Italian-American, wed Tim Rooney, owner of Yonkers Raceway.
After graduating from Bedford's Fox Lane High school, she enrolled in the Traveling School, which took her to South America to study. She spent a year at George Washington University before transferring to New York University, where she studied international social policy and psychology. She took her degree from NYU in 2010. Her studies focused on non-profit organizations, as her family has a tradition of involvement in philanthropic causes.
She had thought of acting after watching old movies and attending musical theater, but did not think of it as a serious vocation and was afraid she might fail at it. As a result of her reservations, she appeared in only one play while in high school.
She wasn't seriously bitten by the acting bug until she was at New York University, when she appeared in student films. Inspired by her older sister, the actress Kate Mara, she began to pursue the craft, auditioning for acting jobs at the age of 19. She appeared with her sister Kate in the video horror movie Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) (V), billing herself as "Patricia Mara". As "Tricia Mara", she had guest roles on TV and won her first lead in the movie Tanner Hall (2009), which was shot in the fall of 2007.
She originally auditioned for the supporting role of Lucasta in "Tanner Hall", a $3-million independent film, but director Tatiana von Furstenberg was so impressed by the young actress, she had her return to audition for the lead role of Fernanda, which Mara won. Furstenberg was delighted with her nuanced performance, saying, "Still waters run deep".
Continuing to call herself Tricia Mara, it was during the making of "Tanner Hall" that she considered changing her professional name to Rooney Mara, soliciting the advice of the cast and crew. After premiering at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, her performance in "Tanner Hall" brought the rechristened Rooney Mara a "Rising Star" award at the 2009 Hamptons Film Festival and a "Stargazer Award" at the 2010 Gen Art Film Festival.
It was in 2010 that she got her "big break", the lead in the $35 million remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). The movie proved disappointing at the box office, grossing only $63 million domestically and racking up a world-wide gross of just under $116 million. However, that same year, she was noticed by critics in the small but pivotal role of the Boston University undergrad Erica who dumps Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the prestigious art house-mainstream hybrid hit The Social Network (2010). The $40-million movie was a big hit, grossing $225 million worldwide and garnering many awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
"The Social Network " was her first collaboration with director David Fincher, who subsequently cast her as the lead in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) trilogy. The legendary director Terrence Malick picked her for the lead in his upcoming film Lawless (2013), signaling the quickening of what promises to be a long and successful career in A-List pictures.
In the spirit of her family's philanthropic endeavors, Rooney created Faces of Kibera, a charity that provides food, medical care and housing to orphans in Nairobi, Kenya's Kibra district, a small slum that houses a million people. There are many orphans as AIDS is rampant in the slum.