Kate Mara reenacts the ‘rollercoaster’ life of Marine corporal Megan Leavey

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Off camera, Kate Mara is cordial and calm. On camera, she likes diving into characters with dysfunction.

“I probably subconsciously choose roles that are a little bit crazy to get the rebellious part of me out,� says Mara in Toronto promoting the biopic Megan Leavey. Yes, add Megan Leavey to her flawed list. In the movie, Mara portrays the real-life Leavey, an incorrigible Marine corporal who ends up bonding with Rex, a belligerent military combat German shepherd.

As an unlikely K-9 unit, they save many lives during their deployments to Iraq. During two tours from 2005 to 2006, they complete over 100 missions until both are wounded. After Leavey and Rex return stateside for the final time, Leavey has to launch a public campaign to adopt Rex, which red tape won’t allow.

Co-starring are Bradley Whitford and Edie Falco. They portray Leavey’s parents who have varying degrees of compassion and understanding. Common is a straightforward sergeant who tries to assist the floundering Leavey. Harry Potter graduate Tom Felton shows up as another sergeant foreshadowing the war-is-hell theme.

The movie is a tale of redemption while defining determination in a subtle way. When Mara first read the screenplay by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt, she couldn’t resist its obvious allure. Her enthusiasm, however, didn’t guarantee her the role. “I was really moved by (Megan’s) journey,� the 34-year-old says. “Her life is a rollercoaster, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to be apart of it.�

A protective Leavey, who has a cameo playing a drill sergeant in the film, was cautious initially. “Our first interaction was on the phone,� says the House of Cards actress. “I was nervous and I was intimidated. I wanted to make sure she approved of me. When we met in person though, I felt even more at ease because it felt like we had known each other for years.�

Their subsequent connection helped the actress with her performance. “I had a preconceived notion that because Megan’s a female Marine, she was going to be super hard and tough, and she was none of those things,� Mara says. “She’s vulnerable and open, so I used that. And I always felt like she had my back when I did.�

After earning the retired Marine’s approval, Mara spent three weeks at a mini-boot camp learning how to be a soldier; from getting the posture right to loading a weapon properly. She also spent time with the German shepherd Varco that plays Rex. Ironically, they connected during their training exercises just as Leavey and Rex had more than a decade before. “Without that genuine trust and respect and bond between us, the movie would die,� says Mara.

The compelling yet understated tone of the movie is all director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. “Definitely give that credit to Gabriela,� says Mara. “She is allergic to anything that feels too big.�

Meanwhile, besides her engagement to Fantastic Four buddy Jamie Bell (Mara played The Invisible Woman and Bell was The Thing in the movies), Mara has a few other career things on the go. She stars opposite Ellen Page in the romantic drama Mercy and co-stars in the dark comedy The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards with James Franco.

Next fall, she can be seen in the movie Chappaquiddick. Mara plays Mary Jo Kopechne, who was the campaign strategist killed in a controversial 1969 car crash that derailed Ted Kennedy’s political career. Australian actor Jason Clarke plays Kennedy with an incredibly positive review from Mara. “Jason’s transformation is mesmerizing,� she says.


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