Actress Rooney Mara graced the stage Friday night at the Arlington Theater, where she humbly accepted the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Vanguard Award for her role in the Oscar-nominated drama Carol. Presenting the award was Mara’s director, and Hollywood pioneer himself, Todd Haynes, whose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt brought the young actress to Santa Barbara. The final tribute of SBIFF, the award honors an actor who has made an essential contribution to film while remaining true to their eccentricities.
Wearing all white, black heels, and a bun at the nape of her neck, Mara traced her theatrical beginnings back to girlhood, when she and her mother watched classics like Bringing Up Baby at the theater down the street. Entertainment Weekly correspondent Joe McGovern led the interview portion of the evening. Between clips of her most recent films — Her, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects, and Carol, among others — McGovern quizzed Mara on working with highly nuanced directors David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh and whether she watches the movies she’s acted in (she does at least once, out of respect for the director).
Poised, candid, and only slightly uncomfortable watching herself on screen, Mara discussed two clips from Carol. The most memorable was a dinner scene between her character Therese and Carol, Therese’s love interest, played by Cate Blanchett. “The film feels like we could’ve just found it…in 1952,” said Mara. To much applause from the audience, she mused “how pure and uncertain communication was back then. There’s just no longing anymore…it’s really a romance killer.” As in every clip projected on screen that evening for the packed Arlington, McGovern praised the “stillness” of Mara’s face, describing her expressions and smiles as something we must “earn.”
“She takes you by surprise — always,” said Blanchett in a video tribute to Mara. The two actresses have come full-circle since Mara presented Blanchett SBIFF’s Outstanding Performance of the Year Award two years ago for her role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. “There are very still waters that run very, very deep in Rooney,” she said of Mara.