THE CHAMELEONKate Mara
By Merle Ginsberg and Laurie Sandell
KATE MARA IS STILL A VIRGIN. A hair-color virgin, that is. "This is my first dye job ever!" laughs the natural redhead turned blonde at Café Gratitude, a vegan restaurant in L.A. "It's for an indie movie I did called Captive [in postproduction]. I felt relieved getting rid of red—people in my family were saying, 'Red hair is your identity—you'll ruin it!' But I'm an actor. I'd shave my head if the part called for it. I love morphing into someone different; it makes you wear makeup differently."
It seems to be making her wear clothes differently, too. She's clad in a black-and-white perforated-leather Yigal Azrouël motorcycle jacket, a black skirt, a rock-and-roll T-shirt, a fringed Prada bag, and black spiked Miu Miu loafers. (Her actress sister, Rooney Mara, "bought this same jacket and T-shirt—without knowing it!") It's a little flamboyant for both the boho Angeleno and for Zoe Barnes, her ambitious D.C. reporter character on House of Cards who (spoiler alert!) meets a violent, Anna Karenina–like end when ex-lover/source House Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) pushes her onto the tracks at a Metro station in the premiere episode of season two. "It was the plan from before we began the first season," says the 31-year-old. "It was definitely shocking, but I was quite mentally prepared for it. Everyone on the show was so sweet about my leaving. The nicest thing is people's reaction that they will miss Zoe's character."
Thankfully, we don't have to miss Mara, who's had poignant yet only small movie roles (Shooter, 127 Hours, Brokeback Mountain) for too long. She's currently filming the next Fantastic Four sequel, in which she plays Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, alongside Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller. But first up, she stars with Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany in this month's mega-budget man vs. technology action-adventure-drama Transcendence. "For a movie this large, it didn't feel huge," says Mara, who plays the leader of an anti-technology revolutionary group. "Except for the occasional explosion. A lot of my scenes are just me and Paul—intimate. My favorite kind of project. I would love to be in a love story. My favorite movies to watch are relationship dramas."
Meanwhile, her own relationship with actor Max Minghella, son of the late director Anthony Minghella, has had little drama since they met in 2010 (just a brief breakup in 2012). "Our only issue," she says, "is he insisted on buying me an iPhone, and I wanted to stay with my BlackBerry. I know I'm in a movie about technology, but I'm not interested in it at all. Nor do I pay attention to politics. I'm not the person looking for the next big thing. Just the next good role." —Merle Ginsberg
PROVENANCE: Bedford, NY
CURRENT RESIDENCE: L.A.
BIG BREAK: Netflix's House of Cards
SEE HER NEXT IN: Transcendence, out this month
WHO KNEW? She once sang the national anthem at a New York Giants game.