In the thrilling new Netflix series House of Cards, Kate Mara plays Zoe Barnes, an aspiring political reporter who makes a deal with the devil (ie: Kevin Spacey's Majority Whip Francis Underwood) and injects herself into a world of corruption, criminals and congressmen.
While Mara never had any political aspirations herself, she deeply identifies with Zoe's drive as that's what led her to score roles in Iron Man 2, American Horror Story and Brokeback Mountain. With House of Cards, Mara tackles her biggest and juiciest role to date -- and is poised to devour some of Hollywood's heaviest hitters in the process.
ETonline: When you read the script, what was your first reaction?
Kate Mara: It was an easy thing to want to be a part of even before I read the script because of the people involved. I've always wanted to work with [director David] Fincher, and Kevin and Robin [Wright, who plays Spacey's wife, Claire] are incredible actors. Beau [Willimon, creator] wrote an awesome world. As soon as I finished reading the first two hours, I wanted more, which is always a good sign! Also, my character Zoe is so fun to play and being able to do this back and forth thing with Kevin Spacey is an actor's dream.
ETonline: There's this sense that Zoe is chomping at the bit to get in the game, what appeals to you about playing someone with that kind of ambition?
Mara: Her drive and ambition and passion for her job is the thing I loved and related to the most with her. I'm still passionate now about my job, but when I first started out as a kid, I was so motivated. No one had ever acted in my family before, and my parents had no idea how to help with that. I would leave notes on my parents pillow every night at 13 saying, "Please help me find an agent!" Eventually it worked, so I relate to that go-getter mentality.
ETonline: The Netflix model (13 episodes, released simultaneously) is unique to the industry. For the actors, are you coming into the show knowing your character's entire arc, as you would with a film, or learning bit by bit, as you would with a TV show?
Mara: One of the great things about it is that from the beginning, I was told roughly what my arc was going to be, which makes it a lot easier to play. The thing I always hated about TV was being in the dark and feeling like you have no control over the week to week journey. That's so unsettling to me. That's why this was perfect; it's not just two hours of getting to work with all these incredible people, it's 13 hours and still having the control like you would in a movie.
ETonline: In the first hour, Zoe makes a mutually beneficial deal with Underwood; do you think she's in over her head, or is he?
Mara: It's a bit of both, I think. They're very dangerous to each other and using each other for their own benefit. It gets more and more complicated the deeper they get into this relationship, and that dynamic, which you rarely see on TV, was fun to play.
ETonline: Did you shadow any reporters for the role, or, in your mind, is what she does not as important as why she does it?
Mara: I didn't feel the need to and whenever anybody asks me, I worry I was being lazy [laughs]. But there was so much that was already written about Zoe that, yeah, the reporting wasn't quite as important to me as her goals and finding out why she's so driven. Plus, I barely even had to carry around a notepad, the world of reporting is so much different now, everything is done on your cellphone.
ETonline: What are you excited for people to experience with House of Cards?
Mara: I'm excited for them to see that it's not just a political show. Obviously it takes place in that world and there is a lot of that, but to me, the most interesting parts of the show are the politics you have at home between a husband and a wife or between a boyfriend and a girlfriend. Our show has so many different angles you could be drawn in by, and, as an actor, it's exciting to be part of a show that layered.
House of Cards is available on Netflix starting February 1.