The comedy Happythankyoumoreplease follows the lives of a group of 20-something New Yorkers struggling to not only figure out themselves, but navigate their lives and loves. Actress Kate Mara plays Mississippi, an aspiring singer who is currently working as a waitress. She meets aspiring novelist Sam Wexler (Josh Radnor) and, as the two explore their attraction to each other, she tests his fear of commitment by wanting him to open his heart to her.
At the film’s press day, actress Kate Mara did this exclusive interview with Collider to talk about how she got involved with the film, getting to showcase her singing talent, working with Josh Radnor and trusting him as a first-time director, what initially interested her in acting, and how she and her sister, Rooney Mara, would love to do a project together someday. She also talked about her upcoming roles in the medieval period piece Ironclad and the ensemble drama Ten Year. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
KATE MARA: I was sent the script and loved it, and just asked if I could meet Josh [Radnor]. We met and had breakfast and talked about it, and I told him I really responded to one of the characters. I actually responded to the role of Mary-Catherine, at first, and he said that he didn’t think I was right for it, but we talked anyway. We kept in touch for a couple weeks, and then he called me and left me a message saying, “I know I said you weren’t right for Mary Catherine, but I think you’re perfect for Mississippi. Would you like to play her?” So, I said yes. I would have been happy playing any of the characters.
Were any changes made to the character, once you had been cast in the role?
MARA: No, not at all. Everything stayed. I used to sing a lot as a kid, but I hadn’t in awhile. I was excited to get the opportunity to sing something in a movie ‘cause I love musicals and I would love to be able to do more movie musicals, in the future. That was an added bonus for me.
Was it nerve-wracking to do something like that?
MARA: Yeah. The song was difficult for me. It wasn’t necessarily a song that I was just naturally comfortable singing, but you’ve gotta make it work for the role and the movie. So, yeah, for sure, it was really the only thing I was anxious about. Everything else, I just went for it. But, I was nervous about that day, for sure. Once it was over, I felt good about it. It was a little bit of a hurdle to get over.
MARA: Yeah. As soon as we decided I was going to do it, Josh hooked me up with a vocal coach in L.A. And then, when I was in New York, I worked with a couple a couple times as well. You’ve got to train. I hadn’t trained in such a long time. It’s like an athlete. You have to train your vocal chords, otherwise you don’t sound as good. It was like a crash course, really, before shooting.
How was Josh Radnor, as a first-time director? Did he seem to take to it easily?
MARA: Yeah. If I didn’t know that, I would have never even guessed he was a first-time director. There is usually that fear with first-time directors of, “Oh gosh, are they going to be able to pull it off? Do they know what they’re doing?” But, Josh was so specific and so confident, from the very beginning, that there was never a doubt in my mind that he was going to be able to deliver what he said he wanted to. He is the master at multi-tasking. He always has so many projects going on, at the same time, and I don’t know how he does it, but he gives 100% to each thing and never slacks, on any level. It’s pretty inspiring.
What’s it been like, waiting for this to come out since it premiered at Sundance in 2010? Are you excited that wider audiences will finally get to see it?
MARA: Yeah. It’s really nice to be in something that you really love and want to share with people. And then, for it to actually get shown and for people to be able to see it is awesome. It’s really exciting.
MARA: Honestly, it didn’t feel like a challenge because I feel like Josh wrote her, and all of the characters, so well that it was more fun than it was anything else. I always felt like I was free to give any opinion that I had or any concerns, if I were to have any. I always felt really trusting of Josh, in being able to figure things out with him. I love the way it’s written, and I love how quick it is and how real it feels.
What can you say about Ten Year and the experience of working with that ensemble?
MARA: It was really fun. We just finished it a couple weeks ago. It was awesome to get to work with so many friends and actors that I’ve always admired. By the end, we all were friends. It was funny because there were like 16 of us, all with our own little stories.
Who do you play in the film?
MARA: My character is supposed to be a little bit of a loner, so she unfortunately wasn’t really friends with that many people in high school. It was a little weird for me because I had all of my actor friends in the movie and didn’t really get to do scenes with them. My character wasn’t supposed to really know anybody that well, so that was a funny challenge for me because I really wanted to just hang out with everyone. A lot of my scenes were mainly with this actor named Oscar Isaac, who’s a brilliant actor, and he’s also a friend of mine. It was really fun. There was a lot of improv and just whatever goes.
As an actor, is it easier to work with a director who also wrote the script, so if you have any questions about the character or story, they’re right there?
MARA: I wouldn’t say it’s easier. It doesn’t really matter whether the director has written it or not ‘cause a lot of times the writer is there as well. If you have questions, they’re generally available. It just depends, I guess.
Did you enjoy doing the period piece Ironclad?
MARA: It was so much fun. I’ve always wanted to do a period piece. It was a challenge because of the weather. We shot outside in Wales and it was freezing, rainy and muddy. It really did feel like I was a little kid playing dress-up. We shot outside of this castle for a couple months. It was really fun. I loved that. And, it made it easier to act. The character was British, so I was using a different voice and looked completely different. That just makes it all easier to get into character.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?
MARA: I’m going to be working on something that I’m not supposed to talk about yet because the deal isn’t done, but it’s starting next week.
MARA: I definitely try to be. Sometimes you try to be selective, and then it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. That happens. You can’t control that. But, yeah, the older I get and the more experience I’ve had, my goals change and my taste changes. I’ve definitely become more aware and conscious of what directors I’m working with because it’s so important. The director is really more than half the battle of the film. You really rely on that. That’s become really, really important to me, for sure.
What initially interested you in acting, and do you have the same passion for the craft that you did when you started?
MARA: The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is be an actor, and that’s never gone away. I feel lucky because I really do feel like I’ve just become more and more passionate about it. The more movies I make, I realize how lucky I am. I haven’t become disheartened by it yet, even though it is really tough. It’s a tough business to be in, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else. And, I hope that never changes. So far, I’ve just fallen more in love with it.
MARA: Yeah, for sure. The first seven years that I was acting, I was on my own. Of course, my mom was there supporting me, but for her and I both, it was all new and I had to figure it out on my own. So, to have somebody else now to share it with is really amazing. It’s bonded us more now than we even were before.
Would you like to do a project together, at some point?
MARA: Yeah. One day, we definitely would love to, for sure. We don’t have anything planned, but it’s something we both definitely would love to do.
When you see somebody like Josh Radnor, who’s in charge of everything and does it so well, does that give you a desire to get beyond the camera at all?
MARA: I don’t have that desire, and I never have. I like leaving the control up to the director. That’s one of the reasons I love a director who is really specific and knows exactly what they want. I like to do my job and then trust everyone else to be the one in charge. That responsibility, to me, is not really appealing. I’d like to produce one day because I do love films and I would love to try that out, but definitely not direct.
Is it challenging to find characters that are complex, interesting and well-rounded, and not just the girlfriend?
MARA: I don’t know if it’s challenging. There is definitely a lot of great stuff out there. It’s hard to get the parts because the competition is really high. I certainly read a lot of really great roles, it’s just competitive. I guess there aren’t enough great roles to go around. There’s ups and downs. Sometimes there are periods where there is a lot of great stuff written for women, and then it goes through a period of not.
Is there a type of role or a genre that you’d still like to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
MARA: I feel like there’s everything. I did one period piece, but other than that, I haven’t really done that many period pieces and I would love to do more. I love playing characters that are not me. I would love to have to transform completely. That would be a dream of mine, to play somebody where I literally don’t look like me and don’t sound like me. That’s challenging, and that’s what acting is all about.
HappyThankYouMorePlease opens on March 4th