Rooney Mara on the Extra Intelligent and Intense Lisbeth Salander

Rooney Mara

Lisbeth Salander is one of the most intriguing and powerful characters in literature, and both Rooney Mara in the new movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Danish version, bring to life a richly complex and dynamic young woman.

The “extra intelligent and intense” of my title is a reference to the book: Enjoying the Gift of Being Uncommon: Extra Intelligent, Intense, and Effective, by Willem Kuipers.

In her article (a guest post on my High Ability site) 3 Things To Learn From The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – A Gifted Trauma Survivor, psychotherapist Lisa Erickson writes about the connections of this character with gifted teens and adults, noting that “Lisbeth Salander is the fictional heroine of Steig Larsson’s trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

“As the heroine, Lisbeth Salander embodies certain characteristics of giftedness, and these characteristics help her survive terrible, long-term physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”

Rooney Mara studied at George Washington University for a year, then transferred to New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she studied psychology, international social policy, and nonprofits. [Wikipedia]

She uses her intelligence and other personal qualities in making her character so compelling, and comments about Lisbeth:

“The thing that I found most interesting was that she could be as off-putting as she is, but at the same time she’s also quite innocent and childlike. She’s this genius and she’s brilliant, but at the same time she’s kind of naive and emotionally stunted. So I think that sort of makes her very unpredictable; you don’t really know what you’re going to get, what’s going to pop out of her.”

Much has been written in reviews about her ‘goth’ appearance in the movie, but Mara thinks “She’s not a badass, she’s not a punk. I hate it when people call her a punk or goth, because to me that’s just the antithesis of what she is.

“I think in order to be punk or goth, you have to be part of a group or part of a subculture, and her whole thing is that she never wants to draw attention to herself. She dresses the way she does because society has constantly, throughout her entire life, told her that she’s worthless.”

She notes how personal for her this role is: “It would probably be smarter of me as an actor to pretend that I don’t relate to her and that I’m completely different than her, but that’s just not true. I would certainly come off as a much better actor if I did that, but the truth is that I do really relate to her.”

From Rooney Mara: Lisbeth Salander Of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ More Than Just A Role by Jordan Zakarin,

The interviewer above refers to Mara as “naturally shy” – perhaps one of the qualities she relates to in the character.

Rooney Mara

In another interview, Mara was asked if she liked Lisbeth.

“I do really like her. I think most people really like her. I also think part of the reason she’s so great is that you don’t always agree with what she does yet you still like her. I think that’s really why she’s so interesting.”

[Would Lisbeth like you?]

“I don’t know. I feel like if we were stuck in a room together not a lot would happen. We’re both shy and quiet and not very good communicators.”

[From Rooney Mara Interviews with Boston Globe.]

Both tough and vulnerable

Mara also has said of Lisbeth: “She is described as an anorexic waif. At the same time, she has this superhuman strength. She looks quite tough. But she’s quite vulnerable.

“She’s this brilliant hacker and wise beyond her years, and at the same time, she’s emotionally stunted at 12 years old and naive in a lot of ways. She is full of all these contradictions. And we never wanted to make her just this angry and violent person.”

[From ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’: An Interview With Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, and David Fincher, by Louise Roug, Newsweek Magazine.]

Obsessive and perfectionistic

Mara thinks she and Lisbeth are “very similar in a lot of different ways. We’re both obsessive and perfectionists. We’re both contrarians. Neither of us likes to be controlled. I’m someone who overthinks everything and really needs to investigate every part of something before I’m ready to do it in front of other people, and he [her director David Fincher] really allows for that. That’s the part of me I think is very similar to Salander.” [From The Contenders: Rooney Mara’s ‘Tattoo’ studies, By Sam Adams, Special to the Los Angeles Times.]

Complexity, paradox

As portrayed by both of these outstanding actors – Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace – Lisbeth Salander also reminds me of some of the writing of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high-ee) – one of the major creativity researchers on personality and creative expression.

In one of my Creative Mind articles, I include a quote of his:

“If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude.

“Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos –and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”

From my post The Complexity of the Creative Personality.

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