The confrontation

Rooney Mara on clothes, garbage and Una

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Benedict Andrews' Una star ‪Rooney Mara‬ on Ben Mendelsohn's Ray: "She can't take her eyes off of him."
Benedict Andrews' Una star ‪Rooney Mara‬ on Ben Mendelsohn's Ray: "She can't take her eyes off of him." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Benedict Andrews' harrowing debut feature Una, screenplay by David Harrower, based on his play Blackbird (on Broadway with Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels), stars Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn and Ruby Stokes with Riz Ahmed and Tara Fitzgerald. The costumes are by Steven Noble (Danny Boyle's T2 Trainspotting, Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin and Mark Romanek and Alex Garland's adaptation of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, announced today).

Una (as in either the one and only or the first of many) is a young woman (Rooney Mara) who as a teenager (played by Ruby Stokes) was the victim of a sex offender. A decade and a half after the trial that sent him, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) to prison, she decides to drop by his job in a factory and confront him with their past that ropes them together. Mendelsohn and Mara give tour de force performances in a nightmarish dance that is a duel of memories.

Rooney Mara: "A lot of people can't [she laughs] watch my gaze."
Rooney Mara: "A lot of people can't [she laughs] watch my gaze."

While Ray is at first incapable of looking Una in the eye, she pierces him with her looks. Mara turns this wounded woman's search outside and in. Her reactions surprise and startle, her heartbeat gives the story its rhythm. We wonder how she sees the power of seduction, what thoughts go into her choice of dress, where her childhood went.

At the Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side, Rooney Mara spoke about the costumes, her gaze, the struggle with her character, and what scene was really fun for her.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Your eye contact is completely different [from Ben Mendelsohn's Ray who cannot make eye contact with hers at all]. You are staring at him.

?Rooney Mara?: This is just my life, though. A lot of people can't [she laughs] watch my gaze. No, no, I'm just kidding. Well, I mean, she's been, I think, like waiting for this moment for a long time.

AKT: The gaze is like an arrow.

RM: She can't take her eyes off of him. It's almost like - is he even there? She can't take her eyes off of him.

Rooney Mara is Una and Ben Mendelsohn is Ray
Rooney Mara is Una and Ben Mendelsohn is Ray

AKT: The most devastating dialogue that you have is when [Ray says] "I can't be with you" and you say "Am I too old?" That vulnerability you have at that moment, that's brilliant. Can you talk a bit about that?

RM: That was a really hard moment and scene and day to shoot. I think it took us a lot longer to figure out how to sort of not block or stage that than some of the other stuff. We kind of struggled with that a lot. More so than I thought. It seems like very straightforward to me. When we did it we couldn't really find what felt right. But, yeah, that's for sure gut-wrenching.

AKT: The costumes I found interesting. She dresses for him. What you have on early on, the dress with the roses, the platform shoes. We wonder what is going on in her head. This is part of the communication. Were there discussions about what you are wearing?

RM: I mean, I don't know if I can speak intelligently about what I was wearing. I loved that outfit, but, you know, I always thought that I'm sure somewhere deep down she was dressing for him. But I don't think when she got up that morning she necessarily knew she was going to see him, necessarily knew she was going to drive there.

Una poster at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema
Una poster at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And even if she did drive there, I don't know that she knew that she was actually going to go inside. You know, I don't think she had a set plan of what was going to happen. I think it really all is unfolding in … All the decisions are being made in real time. I don't think it was so premeditated.

AKT: The garbage scene and what you're doing there - was that very detailed and choreographed or were you just throwing the garbage? [Andrews actually used real garbage, "that stank"]

RM: We didn't really do it until the first take. That was fun doing that. It was really fun. [Andrews calls it "a Pina Bausch moment"]

AKT: That's great, it had some Pina Bausch dance moves to it. And then you're sitting there in the garbage like a child.

Coming up - Rooney Mara's co-star Ben Mendelsohn and her director Benedict Andrews on Una and more.

Una opens in the US on October 6.

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