Kate Mara Gives a Voice to Untold Stories (Exclusive)

Kate Mara
Mike Pont/WireImage

The actress talks to ET about portraying Mary Jo Kopechne in “Chappaquiddick” and exploring the ballroom scene in the upcoming FX series “Pose.”

In the film Chappaquiddick, Kate Mara doesn’t get much screen time as campaign aide Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned in a Massachusetts pond on July 18, 1969, when she became trapped inside an Oldsmobile driven off a bridge by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (portrayed here by Jason Clarke). “This movie is not Mary Jo’s movie, obviously; it’s Ted’s movie,” Mara tells ET. But when the actress does appear onscreen, she makes the most of it, giving justice to a woman whose life became a footnote in the scandal that followed after Kennedy waited 10 hours to report the accident.

“It was a story that was largely swept under the rug when it happened, and she was not painted in the greatest light with the media,” Mara continues. “I think that it’s important we show who she was.” And speaking to the timeliness of today’s political climate as our president’s administration is being investigated by the FBI as well as facing allegations of affairs with multiple women, and Hollywood is faced with the Time’s Up movement, she stresses the “importance of shedding the light on untold stories, specifically about women.”

Having earned an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of an ambitious D.C. reporter, Zoe Barnes, whose fate is ultimately controlled by the House majority whip, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who pushes her in front of a train when she becomes a liability on House of Cards, Mara can appreciate that Robin Wright, who plays Frank’s wife Claire, is taking over as lead of the series when the show returns for its sixth and final season. (Spacey was ousted by Netflix after allegations of sexual misconduct on and off set surfaced late last year.) “It’s finally her time on the show,” Mara says. “Truly, from the beginning, I’ve been waiting for her to have all the control. Her taking over is not a surprise. She’s an incredible force in real life and on the show.”

Taking control is also what Mara, who has recently added producer to her list of titles with the film My Days of Mercy, is now doing with her career. “To be in control of things that you want to make is something I think is important and necessary, if you want to do things that are meaningful to you,” she says. Mara has recently teamed up with longtime James Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli to bring reporter Nellie Bly to television and is developing another show as well. “As an actor, I’ve been trying to produce and develop things for myself,” Mara explains. “I think we’re moving in the right direction, but it doesn’t feel like we’re moving quite fast enough.”

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne in “Chappaquiddick.” - Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Before she can tackle Bly’s story, in which she’ll also star, Mara is busy filming FX’s Pose on location around New York City. The dance musical series, which has the largest transgender cast in series regular roles of any television series ever and is slated to premiere this summer, will focus on characters living in 1980s Manhattan during the rise of the Trump empire and downtown ballroom culture. Mara plays Patty, whom the actress describes as a devoted wife and mother, whose world is turned upside down when her husband, Stan (Evan Peters), gets a new job working for the Trump organization; she also begins to suspect he’s having an affair with someone from the ball culture. Only four episodes into an eight-episode order, “we still have a long way to go,” Mara says, adding that she’s been enjoying learning about ball culture, which was also the subject of the critically acclaimed 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. “It really has been an amazing experience,” she says, crediting the actors and dancers for immersing her in that world.

“I can’t imagine that Pose is not going to move people,” Mara continues. “It’s so shocking to me that nothing has been made about that time period. I’m so excited to be a part of that and tell these stories -- because they deserve to be told.” And true to form for Mara, it fits into her mission of shedding a light on untold narratives that feel as important and vital as ever.

Chappaquiddick is in theaters Friday, April 6.