Patricia Rooney Mara was born on April 17, 1985 in Bedford, New York, United States, is an Academy Award nominated American film and television actress. Mara made her acting debut in 2005 and has gone on to star in films including A Nightmare on Elm Street, the remake of the 1984 horror film, and The Social Network. Mara portrayed Lisbeth Salander, the title character in the 2011 version of the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of three Sony Pictures films based on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium book series. She received critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.
Mara is also known for her charity work. She oversees the charity Uweza Foundation, which supports empowerment programs for children and families in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, one of the largest slums in Africa. She is also the younger sister of actress Kate Mara.
Mara was raised in Bedford, New York, a town in Westchester County, north of New York City. The daughter of Timothy Christopher Mara, the vice president of player evaluation for the New York Giants, and Kathleen McNulty (née Rooney), a part-time real estate agent, she has two brothers, Daniel and Conor, and an older sister, Kate.
Mara has Irish roots on both sides of her family. Her “Rooney” ancestors originate in Newry, County Down. Through her maternal grandmother, she is also of Italian descent. Her paternal grandfather, Wellington Mara, the long-time co-owner of the Giants, was succeeded in that position by her uncle, John Mara. Her maternal grandfather, Timothy James “Tim” Rooney, has run Yonkers Raceway in Yonkers, New York since 1972. Mara is the great-granddaughter of both New York Giants founder Tim Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr. Her great-uncle, Dan Rooney, is chairman of the Steelers, the United States Ambassador to Ireland, and the co-founder of The Ireland Funds charitable organization.
After graduating from Fox Lane High School in 2003, she went to Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in South America for four months as part of the Traveling School, an open learning environment. She attended George Washington University for a year, and then transferred to New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she studied psychology, international social policy, and nonprofits, graduating in 2010.
Mara was inspired to act by seeing musical theatre and classic movies, like Gone with the Wind (1939), Rebecca (1940), and Bringing Up Baby (1938), with her mother. She also wanted to be like her sister, Kate Mara, a professional actress. Patricia resisted pursuing acting as a child, stating to The Journal News that “it never seemed that honorable to me, and I guess I was always afraid that I might fail.” Her first and only role in high school was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, which she got after being signed up to audition by a friend. Mara acted in a few student films while at NYU, and then began her career in acting, first auditioning at the age of nineteen.
Mara founded the charity Faces of Kibera, which aimed to provide housing, food, and medical care for orphans in Kibera, a Nairobi, Kenya slum. The charity’s goal was to build an orphanage in the region, for which 6 acres of land have been purchased. The charity auctioned memorabilia from the Steelers and Giants, as well as training camp events on eBay to raise money.
Mara visited the area as a volunteer in 2006 and was moved to help the orphans, many whose parents have died from AIDS and HIV-related illnesses. She began the charity due to her frustration with the growing number of nonprofits that are just business opportunities. “The people who need help aren’t really getting it. So I started my own”, she told Interview magazine in 2009. Mara was not really working yet when she started the charity, so later found it challenging to balance her charity work and acting career. “I need to do both; I can’t just do acting,“ she stated to The Journal News.
In January 2011, Faces of Kibera merged with Uweza Foundation which runs community-based empowerment programs in Kibera, including soccer leagues and after-school tutoring. Uweza is a Swahili word meaning opportunity, ability, and power. Mara serves as the president of the board of directors for the foundation.
Mara moved to Los Angeles in early 2007, and lived with her sister temporarily. Although they do not live together anymore, Mara felt that the experience brought them closer together, and they still regularly discuss the film business and movie scripts. As of January 2012, Mara lives in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. She described football as “….the glue that holds our family together,” to the New York Post. She includes Gena Rowlands among the actors who inspire her, especially her performances in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Opening Night (1977).