Small but mighty. That’s Kate Mara, both in physical stature and acting prowess. She’s a powerful presence in the room – articulate, thoughtful and intelligent – even though she is petite. Kate also has the ability to communicate layers of emotion through the slightest movement – a mastery she’s deployed in unforgettable performances on TV (House of Cards) and in movies (127 Hours).
Such skill is on full display in her new film, Megan Leavy, a touching biopic about a grieving young woman who joins the Marines and forms a unique bond with her partner, a military combat dog named Rex. It’s a role that combined two of Kate’s self-proclaimed passions: acting and animals. “Animals can’t protect themselves, so it’s our responsibility to be a voice for them,” Kate told Hello! “This story is important for that reason.”
We sat down with the animal-loving actress, 34, while she was in Toronto promoting the film to chat about working with the real Megan, what she learned from her co-stars and why her bond with her sister, fellow actress Rooney Mara, is so unique.
Many of your co-stars in this film are dogs. Did you enjoy working with them?
I’m a massive animal lover. I’ve got two dogs, Bruno and Lucius, and I’d never worked that closely with an animal before. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a complete and utter joy. People act differently when there are animals around – you see people’s softer sides come out, which is sweet to see. I feel more calm when there’s a dog around, so it was really special.
What was it like parting ways with the dog who played Rex after working so closely with him?
I was sad to say goodbye, but I also hadn’t seen my own dogs in a couple of months, so it was OK because I got to run home to them.
You also got to know the real Megan [who plays a drill sergeant in the film].
We hung out before we ever started shooting and she was so easygoing and down to earth, it definitely put me at ease. And then she was there for the scenes, and it was so much fun to have her watching. I didn’t feel the sort of intimidating thing that I felt before meeting her – I felt like I had a partner and that she was rooting for me.
What was it like working with co-stars like Edie Falco and Common?
Common was so much fun to work with — he’s so funny and I adore him. A lot of the stuff we have in the movie is his own improv. And he’s also such a sweetheart, he’s a very positive person. I loved working with him. And Edie Falco is a genius. We wanted more for her to do because she’s one of the best.
Megan’s family situation is challenging and she’s an only child. You are one of four siblings, including sister and fellow actress Rooney. What’s special about the bond between sisters?
It’s hard to put that into words. [Rooney] and I have a unique scenario where we share the same passions. One being acting and another, animals. So we’re similar in many ways and we’re experiencing a lot of the same things, which makes the bond that much more special.
The two of you have appeared on the red carpet together before. Does that make the experience any less nerve-wracking?
I always prefer doing a red carpet with somebody, if it’s a friend or your sister or your co-star. You can breathe a little better, for sure!