Rooney Mara On Playing Tiger Lily In 'Pan'

by Lia Beck

When it comes to the upcoming live-action Peter Pan origin story, Pan, if you've heard anything, it's likely that it had to do with a certain casting decision. Back in March 2014, Rooney Mara was cast as Pan 's Tiger Lily, and it got people pretty up in arms. After all, wasn't Tiger Lily a Native American character? Why was she going to be portrayed by a white actress? Well, it turns out that the casting isn't quite as problematic as it originally seemed, because Pan does not present Tiger Lily and her people as Native Americans. Instead of being the major issue of the film, Tiger Lily is one of the best parts. At a press conference for the film, actress Mara, writer Jason Fuchs, and director Joe Wright, speak out about Tiger Lily's character and the decision to make her such a powerful character.

Mara says of the filmmakers' decision to make Tiger Lily a strong woman with perhaps the most intense fight scenes in the movie:

For me it was another one of the reasons I wanted to do the film. Like I said, I grew up loving fairy tales, but unfortunately in most fairy tales the female character is some sort of victim or damsel in distress, and Tiger Lily wasn't like that at all. She's sort of more capable than any of the boys, and she can fully take care of herself and then some. And I really loved and appreciated that about the script and about the part.
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It's impossible to go unaware of how kickass Tiger Lily is, and watching the film, I couldn't help but wonder what little girls who see the movie must think. I know 8-year-old me would have loved seeing such a cool woman on screen.

Wright echoes this idea saying,

Some of my favorite audience responses have been from young girls coming to see the movie whose favorite character is always Tiger Lily. And when asked what they like about Tiger Lily, they respond, "'Cause she can do anything." And I think that's really cool. I always trying to portray women as strong and powerful. Those are the kid of women I like, so those are the kind of women I like in my movies.

Fuchs, who wrote the screenplay and was inspired after being a lifelong fan of the original Peter Pan story, says he likes writing strong female characters. "I grew up with a very strong Jewish mother, who never accepted the first table given to her at any restaurant," he says jokingly. He continues,

I always am drawn to strong female characters, and I feel like the Tiger Lily character in every interaction that I've seen her in has felt underserved. She's usually serving someone else's role, someone else's quest; she's reacting to events. So I was kind of excited by the idea of a Tiger Lily that was very much in charge of her own destiny with a very clear objective and would do what ever was required to see it through.

For Fuchs, "Tiger Lily ends up being sort of the most brave character in the film ... Tiger Lily is wise and knows the risks she's getting herself into and still does what she feels she has to do."

So what about that casting decision? According to Wright, Tiger Lily is shown as a Native American in the Disney version, but that in Pan the native group that Tiger Lily is a part of is supposed to be "natives of planet Earth and the indigenous people of the globe" who have ended up living in Neverland. It's true that in the film, Tiger Lily's people are of all different nationalities, but there's still the question of how this connects with the original text. It does seem the J.M. Barrie was referring to a Native American group in his story, but, on the other hand, if you're making up a completely new origin story, you're obviously already taking liberties.

In the end, even if Tiger Lily is going to be played by a white actress and even if that makes sense in the world of the movie, it still would have been cool if one of the lead actors was non-white, but that's an issue that is bigger than one film. Regardless of whether the portrayal of Tiger Lily is problematic for its casting, there is plenty of good that comes from the way the character is shown, and I'm sure any young girls who see the film will feel the positive effects of that.

Images: Warner Bros.