Actress and philanthropist Rooney Mara was born on April 17, 1985 in Bedford, New York. She made her screen debut in the slasher film Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), went on to have a supporting role in the independent coming-of-age drama Tanner Hall (2009), and has since starred in the horror remake A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), the biographical drama The Social Network (2010), the thriller remake The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and the romantic drama Carol (2015).
Patricia Rooney Mara is one of four children of Kathleen McNulty (née Rooney) and NFL football team New York Giants executive Timothy Christopher Mara. Her grandfathers were Wellington Mara, co-owner of the Giants, and Timothy Rooney, owner of Yonkers Raceway, and her grand-uncle is Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, the former Ambassador to Ireland. She is the great-granddaughter of Art Rooney, the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers football franchise. Her father has Irish, German, and French-Canadian ancestry, and her mother is of Irish and Italian descent.
After graduating from Bedford's Fox Lane High School, 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, where she studied international social policy psychology and nonprofits. She took her degree from New York University in 2010. Her studies focused on non-profit organizations, as her family has a tradition of involvement in philanthropic causes.
She had thought of acting after watching old movies and attending musical theater, but did not think of it as a serious vocation and was afraid she might fail at this. As a result of her reservations, she appeared in only one play while in high school.
She began seriously focusing on acting when she was at New York University, appearing in student films. Inspired by her older sister, actress Kate Mara, she began to pursue the craft, auditioning for acting jobs at age 19. She appeared with her sister Kate in the video horror movie Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), billing herself as "Patricia Mara". As "Tricia Mara", she had guest roles on television and won her first lead in the movie Tanner Hall (2009), which was shot in the fall of 2007.
She originally auditioned for the supporting role of Lucasta in "Tanner Hall", a $3-million independent film, but director Tatiana von Fürstenberg was so impressed by the young actress, she had her return to audition for the lead role of Fernanda, which Mara won. Furstenberg was delighted with her nuanced performance, saying, "Still waters run deep".
Continuing to call herself Tricia Mara, this was during the making of "Tanner Hall" that she considered changing her professional name to Rooney Mara, soliciting the advice of the cast and crew. After premiering at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, her performance in "Tanner Hall" brought the rechristened Rooney Mara a "Rising Star" award at the 2009 Hamptons Film Festival and a "Stargazer Award" at the 2010 Gen Art Film Festival.
She received her first lead role in a major feature, in the $35 million remake A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). The movie proved disappointing at the box office, grossing only $63 million domestically and racking up a worldwide gross of just under $116 million. However, she was noticed by critics in the small but pivotal role of the Boston University undergrad Erica Albright who dumps Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010). Director David Fincher subsequently cast her as the lead, Lisbeth Salander, in his thriller remake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium book series. She received critical acclaim for her performance, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama.
She starred in the thriller film Side Effects (2013), the independent drama Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013), and the acclaimed sci-fi romantic drama Her (2013). The following year, she starred in the adventure drama Trash (2014). She garnered further critical acclaim for her performance in Todd Haynes' romantic drama Carol (2015), for which she won the Best Actress Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama and the SAG, BAFTA, and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In the spirit of her family's philanthropic endeavors, Rooney created Faces of Kibera, a charity that provides food, medical care and housing to orphans in Nairobi, Kenya's Kibra district, a small slum that houses a million people. There are many orphans as AIDS is rampant in the slum.