Having spent over two decades in front of the camera, actress Kate Mara has amassed an impressive body of work. The actress’ rise to household name was cemented with her role as reporter Zoe Barnes in Netflix’s House of Cards.
The first season saw her character enter a dangerous relationship with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as she slowly unraveled his secrets in the dark world of D.C. politics. Mara’s performance as the driven journalist earned her an Emmy nomination and widespread acclaim.
Her new project, FX’s A Teacher, delves into the complexities of a teacher who initiates a sexual relationship with her student Eric Walker (Nick Robinson). Created by Hannah Fiddell, the series is based on her Sundance winning independent film of the same name.
A Teacher has been praised for its delicate and thoughtful conversation around consent, and in particular for the nuanced performances by both Mara and Nick Robinson. As an Executive Producer on the series, Mara was able to help construct her character as someone intelligent, yet unsatisfied and alone. The intentionality was that audiences would see Mara’s Claire Wilson as a sympathetic person making questionable choices, and it paid off in dividends.
Mara spoke with Awards Focus about developing her chemistry with Nick Robinson, balancing motherhood with the demands of the shoot, and her feelings on the series finale.
Awards Focus: Can you talk about how A Teacher was filmed, and how the blocking effected your approach for the role?
Kate Mara: For the most part each director would shoot three episodes at a time, so the first three were shot together. It was interesting because it did feel like we were doing one long movie. It made it easier to shoot in that way as well because then you’re not shooting the first scene of the entire series, and then the last scene.
AF: Can you speak about the challenges of going into production with a daughter that’s only a couple months old?
Mara: It was definitely challenging. We had been trying to get this made for years so by the time that FX greenlit the show and said they were ready, it just happened to be when I was seven months pregnant.
We scheduled it as soon as we could after me having the baby, but we also really didn’t want to lose Nick Robinson as our lead guy because he was going off to do a broadway show. We just had to do it when we did.
My daughter wasn’t even three months old when we started shooting but I had the incredible privilege of being able to bring her on set, and she really was in my trailer everyday with me. I would just run between set and the trailer.
AF: How did you build chemistry with Nick Robinson prior to filming?
Mara: We were lucky to have a couple of weeks where we were rehearsing with Hannah, our director, and really talked about the whole season, the characters, and where the story goes.
You don’t always get that much time. It doesn’t sound like very much but that was a very useful thing to have where we could just read through the script and talk about everything.
Hannah, Nick and I had lunch before we had cast him or before he said yes. We just knew that we would all get along. You can usually tell right away.
AF: What overlaps did you find between motherhood and working as an EP on the series?
Mara: As a parent you kind of always have to wear so many hats so I think that’s helpful to be able to multitask which goes with producing on any project.
It was an interesting test on how much you can focus and compartmentalize during this period of time. Luckily It was also a two and a half month period of time. So knowing it was short time frame, I knew I’d be able to do it because as soon as it ended I was going to go home and just focus on my baby.
AF: Can you talk a bit about the conversations that went into making Claire fully dimensional on the page?
Mara: Hannah and the other writers wanted to make sure that when we talked about the character of Claire, that we had done everything in our power to make her feel like she wasn’t this monster.
We wanted to show things about her that people could relate to, or feel sympathy for, and that she was a layered human being, not just someone who was a predator or a villain.
AF: How do you think the show adds nuance to conversations about consent?
Mara: The show in general is a conversation starter for sure. People seem to be very opinionated and passionate about how they think she should be treated or how they think she should have been punished, which I think is really interesting.
One of the goals going into this was that we wanted to make more of a conversation piece and open up the conversation for people to discuss this type of male victim, because there are so many stereotypes when it comes to a student-teacher relationship.
If it’s a female teacher, I think it’s treated very differently than when its a male teacher, and vice versa for when it’s a female student versus a male student. It’s treated different in our society. It was just something that we hoped people would really talk about and maybe see things differently when watching.
AF: Were you aware of how the story would end, and what were your feelings toward the openness of the ending for Claire?
Mara: I always knew exactly what was going to be happening throughout the whole season. Hannah and I spoke a lot and I would go visit the writers room.
I really loved the ending and how the power dynamic really shifts from Claire having power throughout most of the show. Eric really regains his power and finally gets to confront her and explain how much this has affected his life, and how badly she took advantage of him.
I think that so many survivors don’t get that opportunity so I really admired that.