“I want you to find out who in the family murdered Harriet...”
THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY
1. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher . 2010
It’s not often that film critics are concerned with the casting of a movie. But Roger Ebert, the Mr Cinema of Chicago - or indeed, of the USA - was so impressed by the original Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo that he (a) fell heavily for the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, “more fascinating than the story... with body piercings and tattoos: thin, small, fierce, damaged, a genius computer hacker... Lisbeth is as compelling as any movie character in recent memory.” And (b) he couldn’t think of any American actress who could play her. His advice to Hollywood was: “Simply cast Noomi Rapace... She played Lisbeth with an unwavering intensity, she finds her own emotional needs nurtured by the nature of the case she investigates, the disappearance of a young girl 40 years earlier.”
A few months earlier and producer Scott Rudin wouldn’t have known what Ebert was on about.... “We didn’t know there were Swedish movies. Nobody told us, I had no idea. Honestly, we started out buying movie rights and it turned out we were buying remake rights. We got way down the road before anybody said: ‘Oh, by the way, these were made”.” He thought the first one was especially good and entertaining, but felt that Lisbeth was such an astonishing character, “she could go as long as you wanted her to go.”
Noomi, however, had made it clear she was not about to re-make the trilogy. “No, I’m done with her. Everybody said: ‘But it’s David Fincher.’ There can’t be any reason to do it again. I don’t want to repeat myself... I totally loaned myself to her and she took over most of my life... like non–stop. The last scene was quite strange. All the producers came in with champagne and I had to go to the bathroom to throw up. I knew my whole body was just throwing Lisbeth away.”
After a round of interviews with Hollywood suits in LA, Noomi chose to start her international career with Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (whoops) and, much better, in Sir Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
Some Hollywoodians - Deadline reporter Mike Fleming, in particular - compared David Fincher’s search for Lisbeth Salander to that of the similarly hyped hunt by David O Selznick in 1938 for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. Only right, therefore, that another Scarlett (Johansson) should have been among the 18 possible Lisbeths... well, 17 when the Harry Potter bird, Burberry model and fashion designer Emma Watson denied cutting her long hair short to try for the role.
Seveneteen? That’s where any GWTW comparisons ended. Selznick (wow, also called David) saw 1,400 potential Scarletts. Fincher settled for far less as long as they were under 24 and not over 5ft 5ins. Salander was described as 24 who could be taken for 14 - sometimes. It was The New York Times, not author Stieg Larsson, calling her:
“A fierce pixie
of a heroine”
Admittedly, when compared to the the hunt for The Avengers (comicbook, not TV) , the new Spider-Man, the on-off-on-again hunt for a new Superman and the rush to be Tom Cruise’s partner in Mission: lmpossible 4, the Salander hunt was a biggie on the Richter casting scale... And the meatiest female role of the decade, as the anglicised titles of the books implies: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, called her one of the most original characters in thrillers, “a gamin, Audrey Hepburn look-alike but with tattoos and piercings, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Lara Croft and the cool, unsentimental intellect of Mr Spock. She is the vulnerable victim turned vigilante; a willfully antisocial girl... who has proved herself to be as incandescently proficient as any video game warrior.”
Odd description for the bisexual redhead (her hair is dyed raven black) and with not one but four tattoos: the dragon, a wasp, and loops around her left bicep and left ankle. Author Stieg Larsson first described her on page 32 as looking “as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers.” Oh, very Audrey Hepburn!
Salander is one tough cookie; fearsome. She set her abusive father, ex-Soviet spy Alexander Zalachenko, on fire at age 12 with a petrol bomb. When declared legally mentally incompetent, her legal guardian Erik Burman also proves abusive and pays for it. She videtaopes him raping her (as her hold over him) and tattooes him: I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT AND A RAPIST.
No, nothing Audrey
about her at all!
Indeed, Lisbeth Salander has been compared to Peter O'Donnell's tough gal, Modesty Blaise. They both survived horrendous childhoods and operate outside the law with notable fighting skills - plus Lisbeth’s eidetic, or photographic memory, and sheer genius as a black hat or cracker - a computer hacker who can break any computer security password. Her hacker name is Wasp. And surely Larsson’s model for her must have been Asia Argento or... Amanda Ooms.
No wonder Natalie Portman tried to buy the English-language screen rights to this multi-million-dollar Swedish industry. Rudin beat her to it (One story had Fincher still offering her the role).
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy has been published in 44 countries and has sold more than 62 million copies globally. At one point in America, the books were being sold at the amazing rate of one book every second! No wonder the three Swedish films earned a global $215m.
Although trying hard to keep secret the fact that he knew from Scott Rudin’s opening phone call who he wanted as Lisbeth, the British director David Fincher went through the ritual of interviews, readings and tests with several other actresses... One French, a South African, four Aussies; “stars,” said Rudin, “non-stars, unknowns, Swedes, rock stars - I mean, he looked everywhere." (Swedes? Not unless he meant Scarlett Johansson).
the Lisbeth brigade
Johansson was extremely keen and it was probably her agent behind the news story that Fincher was “very impressed” by Scarlett’s test, complete with Swedish accent, and that she was a shoo-in... unless he went for a newcomer.
Such as Jennifer Lawrence, the Louisville blonde who was the Oscar-nominated wood-chopping, squirrel-skinning and all-out fighting Ozarks mountain gal in Winter’s Bone and the new Raven Darkholme, aka the blue-skinned Mystique, in X-Men: First Class. “I’ve never cried over not getting a role. What’s meant to be will happen. I don’t know if I’m any better than anyone. I was just like every actress in LA that auditions for everything, and those were the roles that picked me.” She won a more triumphant franchise, instead, as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, from novelist Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic teen trilogy.
From Australia came Emily Browning and Sarah Snook, from Julia Leigh’s erotic Sleeping Beauty; Mia Wasikowska, Tim Burton’s 2009 Alice in Wonderland; and Sophie Lowe, from Blessed, Blame and Beautiful Kate.
One surprise was French actress Lea Sedoux. Successful at home in La belle personne, Mes copines, Des poupées et des anges, she had also impressed in Sir Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Difficult thought for a French girl to adopt a Swedish accent - as Fincher was insisting upon (and then not).
“I was so nervous.,” said Lea. She was quite pleased at losing the role. “I didn’t resemble Lisbeth at all - she’s petite, puny, deathly pale.” And the very next day, her favourite director, Woody Allen, called her to be in his Midnight in Paris. Next came Tom Cruise - “no need to test,” he said about Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.. ironically, with Rapace’s Millennium co-star Michael Nyquist
No one, much less Fincher could see the Juno pair (Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby) as the fierce, computer-hacker - not even after Inception. So she made her own test to show Fincher the error of his ways. He still didn’t agree... Nor about the other usual suspects of that particular casting season: the ex-French Bond Girl, Eva Green,;Anne Hathaway, Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Twilighter Kristen Stewart) and Evan Rachel Wood
Also seen: Rooney Mara, who had recently finished working for Fincher in his Facebook bio, The Social Network. A late entry from Britain, Katie Jarvis, sure had the anger for the role - she was famously discovered for Fish Tank when arguing with her boyfriend across platforms at Tilbury Town railway station.
However, Fincher’s biggest outsider was the South African singer and rapper Yo-Landi Vi$$er, of the Die Antwoord group. She was flattered but had scant interest in acting.
“Look, we saw some amazing people,” recalled Fincher. “Scarlett Johansson was great. It was a great audition, I’m telling you. But the thing with Scarlett is, you can’t wait for her to take her clothes off,"” he told Vogue magazine. “I keep trying to explain this. Salander should be like ET. If you put ET dolls out before anyone had seen the movie, they would say, ‘What is this little squishy thing?’ Well, you know what? When he hides under the table and he grabs the Reese’s Pieces, you love him! It has to be like that.”
Finally, Salander came down to four relatively unknowns for the final tests opposite co-star Daniel Craig and the full monty make-up - piercings included - for Lea, Rooney, Sarah, Sophie.
Finally, it was
no great surprise
... when the winner proved to be Rooney Mara, from the famous ten minute opener of Fincher’s previous gig, The Social Network. In that single film, Fincher has given Hollywood the new Lisbeth and the new Spider Man - Andrew Garfield.
“He didn't want to see me at first,” Mara told The Hollywood Repoprter. “It was hard for him to imagine me as Salander when the things that he needed from me to play Erica Albright were, you know, the exact opposite qualities... At first, I was like, ‘Okay, I can understand that. I don't necessarily think that I’m right for it either.’ I hadn't read the books at that point. And then, you know, when I started seeing all of these names thrown around for the part, I was like, 'Well, that doesn't make any sense! If these girls are going in, I should be able to read for it, because they’re not any more right for it than I am.'"
“I wanted her from the beginning,” is Fincher’s version. “Rooney may be a trust-fund baby from football royalty [the Rooneys own the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Maras own the New York Giants], but she’s levelheaded and hardworking. It’s so odd how who people are comes out in auditions. We didn’t make it easy for Rooney, and there was no way to dissuade her.”
And so, after shaving head and eyebrows, obtaining ear, eye , nipple pioercings and starving herelf into Salander, she joined Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist (George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortensen and Brad Pitt had been run up the flag-polealso ), Robin Wright (as Erika Berger) and Stellan Skarsgård (as Martin Vanger - after having refused the role in the Swedish version). Superstardom awaited her... and Fincher made sure she was “aware of all of the bad shit that would come along with playing the part, not just the good stuff.”
“That kind of fame is not something I ever wanted for myself,” she confessed to American Vogue magazine. “It just so happens that this huge, gigantic monster of a film came around that also happens to have the most incredible character that I ever could have dreamed up. But my fear with a movie like this is the kind of exposure you get from it. I think that can be death to an actor. The more people know about you, the less they can project who you are supposed to be. It's unfortunate that you really only get one shot at that. After this, I won't be able to be that girl again.”
“She’s unbelievably brilliant in the movie,” said Rudin. “I couldn’t possibly say I had an idea at the beginning how good she would be. And, really, [Fincher] deserves all the credit for it. He thought she had ferocity and he loved how young she was. I think he thought she could grow into the role [over the course of the trilogy] and that he could deliver the version of the part he wanted to with her.”
“Stieg Larsson’s vivid characters,” the Economist said, “ the depth of the detail across the three books, the powerfully imaginative plot, and the sheer verve of the writing make the trilogy a masterpiece of its genre.”
The blockbuster trilogy by the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson has titles galore. The first book came out in 2005 as Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) and was translated into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Next: Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl Who Played With Fire) and then, Luftslottet som sprängdes (The Air Castle That Exploded), aka The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.
That’s not necessarily the end
of Salander and Blomkvist
Based on Larsson, himself. Mikael Blomkvist is the crusading editor of Millennium magazine just as Larsson fought extreme right racists (leading to death threats) as editor of Expo.
Before his fatal heart attack (at 50), Larsson has written about three-quarters of a fourth book on his computer (in the possession of his partner, Eva Gabrielsson), plus synopses or manuscripts of the fifth and sixth in the series, which he originally envisaged as a total of ten books. Too many for the movies, too many even for novels - or the Swedish law courts should Eva ever complete the books. Because she was not his wife, Larsson’s father and brother inherited all his Millennium income - although the only reason Larsson and Gabrielsson were not wed was for their pedrsonal security (adressess have published upon on marriage in Sweden).
Karl Stig-Erland Larsson is a movie in himself. And probably will be.
2. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
3. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS’ NEST