Waifish Rooney Mara Reveals Some of Herself in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
by Brad Balfour
Against the backdrop of 1970s Texas Hill Country, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints tells a gothic American tale of three characters straddling various sides of the law – outlaw Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck), his wife Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara), and local sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), who gets caught in their crosshairs.
The film starts where other stories often end with the outlaw being captured, the lawman getting wounded and the wife finding out she’s pregnant. This noir-ish narrative puts in play a set of characters who follow a very deliberately downward spiral that concludes with a death and a redemption.
Bob escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he’s never met. Her settled life in this small Texas town becomes disrupted by his arrival and the goals she’s not sure she shares with him anymore.
Supported by veteran actors Nate Parker and Keith Carradine (who played a similarly tragic outlaw in Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us), this methodically paced drama neither involves larger than life characters nor grapples with huge issues. There is more to that whether to make the choice whether to live or to love in a place where doing one almost certainly endangers the possibility of the other.
The second feature from writer-director David Lowery, this film was developed at the Sundance Institute’s Writing and Producing Labs. It received the U.S. Dramatic Cinematography Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Making the transition from her high-profile role as Lisbeth Salander in the big-budgeted Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to this low-keyed film, Mara delivers a cool nuanced performance. Spurred on by her older sister Kate’s already busy acting career, Rooney has been building a resume that both includes Hollywood tentpole projects and intimate indies such as this feature.
As your character develops from being a child to an adult that takes on the responsibilities for her kid, your character serves as an archetype for the person who goes through this transition of growing up.
Most of the film is played when she goes through that transition. Certainly it’s something me and David talked a lot about; how Ruth was before [the situation in the film]. I think she used to be a very fiery, stubborn, feisty character who was full of life. I think having a child definitely changed her. When Ruth finds out she’s going to have a baby I don’t think she’s particularly excited by it. She doesn’t feel ready and it’s not something she wants. Bob is more excited about it than she is. Then, when he gets taken away to prison she really doesn’t want to have a baby. It’s like, “No I want Bob back, I want my life back, and I want my childhood back.” She really [feels that way.] It’s not exactly in the movie, but at least for me, she really is fighting it the entire time until she sees the baby for the first time. Then she’s in.
What made you want to play Ruth? You don’t play her as an archetype but as a living character.
The person that she is was so interesting. Where she ends up with the relationship between her and Bob was also interesting. Also I really wanted to play a mom. But so many times I just read these scripts where it’s just like the mom. It’s just the protective mom, and it’s so unrealistic to me. People are more complex than that. I found that the way she’s a mom to be was really different from anything else that I’d read.
In what way?
Because she did fight it. It’s not like she found out she was having a baby and was all of a sudden she was like, “Yes I am a mother now I am going to make smart responsible decisions.” That’s not how life happens. You can be a parent and love your child more than anything and still make bad decisions. And you think you’re making the right decisions. A lot of the mothers I have read about are just like that. Just a very idealized version of like a protective mother. I found this to be more realistic, her relationship. I just found their relationship and the way she’s a mom with the decisions she has to make [intriguing].
She’s hugs her daughter all the time, singing to her, sleeping with her, she’s very bonded with the little girl.
Yes, they’re very bonded. But at times it felt like a relationship you have with your little sister, if you had a sister and had to raise her. It felt much more interesting and real to me than anything I’d read.
Was it insightful to you in terms of how you might think you would behave or not behave if you were having a kid?
No, I didn’t think of it in terms of that. But certainly I thought of it in terms of… Ruth has to make these decisions between the life that she had with Bob and the life and responsibilities she has now with her child. Like I said before, she can have a kid and still think that going with Bob is the right thing to do for your child. I think you really can convince yourself of anything when you’re in love with someone. I don’t think parents always make the right decisions. Sometimes parents make selfish decisions. That doesn’t mean they love their children any less.
Bob takes the fall for Ruth. There’s punishment to be meted out and he takes it. But Patrick represents forgiveness, so he’s the bridge to a different life for your character that takes you out of that eye-for-an-eye realm. Do you think your character understands what he’s offering? Did you personally see this as a two-parter, the old testament vs. the new forgiveness aspect of your life?
I never thought of it in terms of the New and Old Testament [laughs]. But in terms of Patrick and Ruth…
He represents a different way of looking at the law.
It’s very sweet that he offers her forgiveness. That’s great and can certainly help her. But at the end of the day it’s more about forgiving herself. While she has guilt for shooting this man, most of her guilt lies with the fact that the person she loves has taken the blame for it and is now been spending his life in prison. It’s more about forgiving herself than getting forgiveness from someone else.