|February 27, 1983|
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Born on Feb. 27, 1983 in Bedford, NY, Mara was raised with siblings Daniel, Conor and Rooney - who later starred in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011) - by her father, Chris Mara, vice president of player evaluation for the New York Giants, and her mother, Kathleen, a part-time real estate agent. In fact, Mara was part of two legendary NFL dynasties. Her grandfather, Wellington Mara, owned the Giants, which her great-grandfather Tim originally founded, while on her mother's side, her great-grandfather, Art Rooney, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a childhood that was anything but ordinary, Mara's Sundays were often spent in a family routine of church followed by football games at Giants Stadium, before many of which the teenager was often called upon to sing the national anthem. At the age of nine, Mara informed her mother she wanted to act after becoming enthralled with a performance of "Les Miserables." Her interest in musicals - which her mother aided through trips to Broadway - only grew and eventually led to landing an agent at 14 years old after persistently prodding her mother.
That same year, Mara made her professional debut with a guest starring role on "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) and later appeared as the daughter of a congresswoman (Kristen Scott Thomas) in "Random Hearts" (1999), all the while remaining a student at Fox Lane High School. After starring in the Sundance favorite, "Joe the King" (1999), she continued landing guest spots and eventually graduated high school a year early. Fully expecting to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, in part due to pressure from her family to go to college, Mara wound up deferring school in favor of acting fulltime. After co-starring alongside Sigourney Weaver in the indie favorite, "Tadpole" (2002), Mara had recurring arcs as a teenager impregnated by her piano teacher on "Everwood" (The WB, 2002-06) and as a lesbian teen involved in a love triangle on "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 2003-2010). In 2003, she fulfilled her dream of performing on stage, making her debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in John Guare's "Landscape of the Body." Despite her preference for the East Coast, Mara soon decided to Los Angeles in hopes of increasing her onscreen prospects.
By 2005, Mara had indeed increased her visibility with a recurring role as Matt Long's former girlfriend on "Jack & Bobby" (The WB, 2004-05) and a small, but memorable turn as the grown-up daughter of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) in the Academy Award-winning "Brokeback Mountain" (2005). The following year, she originated the role of Shari Rothenberg, a shifty CTU computer analyst and chemicals expert on "24" (Fox, 2001-2010), before playing a telekinetic teen in the poorly received superhero comedy "Zoom" (2006). Moving on, Mara played a small-town waitress whose fiancé was one of 37 football players killed in a plane crash in "We Are Marshall" (2006), a moving drama starring Matthew McConaughey that was based on real-life events that occurred at Marshall University in 1970. From there, she was the widow of a sniper spotter who helps his best friend (Mark Wahlberg) after he is framed for an assassination in "Shooter" (2007), and co-starred alongside Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley in the underrated thriller, "Transiberian" (2008).
Going back and forth between film and television, Mara appeared in the British-made adventure comedy "Stone of Destiny" (2008) before joining Justin Timberlake and Jeff Bridges for the indie seriocomic road movie "The Open Road" (2009). On the small screen, she played Eric's (Kevin Connolly) new assistant for a few season six episodes of "Entourage" (HBO, 2004-2011), while in theaters she was a waitress trying to make it as a singer in New York in "happythankyoumoreplease" (2010). After a small role as a U.S. Marshal in "Iron Man 2" (2010) and a lost hiker in "127 Hours" (2010), Mara was the emotionally unstable former lover and student of Dr. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) on the acclaimed series "American Horror Story" (FX, 2011- ). Meanwhile, she replaced Megan Fox as Lady Isabel in "Ironclad" (2011) and appeared as the former teen crush of a famous musician (Oscar Isaac) who reconnects at their 10-year high school reunion in "10 Years" (2011), which co-starred real-life beau Max Minghella, son of late filmmaker Anthony Minghella. On the television side of the ledger, Mara starred on Ryan Murphy's hit show, "American Horror Story" (FX, 2011- ), an anthologized series that served as a self-contained miniseries each season. Mara played a murdered young woman who appears in a restored mansion haunted by other former inhabitants. From there, she stepped up to a starring role on "House of Cards" (Netflix, 2013- ), playing an ambitious young reporter who uses a Machiavellian congressman (Kevin Spacey) to receive off-the-record scoops on the behind-the-scenes machinations of Washington politics.
By Shawn Dwyer