HACK THE SYSTEM_
Ever since hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander put Nordic
Noir on the map, the girl with the dragon tattoo has been kicking Hollywood’s hornet’s nest. Back for sequel/reboot
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, Salander's mission to bring abusive men to justice looks mor timely than ever in th midst of the #MeToo movement. But as Total Film learns from director Fede Alvarez and star Claire Foy, this time Salander's own past is returning to haunt her…
On a blisteringly sunny day in Barcelona, Total Film is about to meet the girl with the dragon tattoo. You know the one, the girl who played with fire, who kicked the hornet’s nest, who kickstarted a cultural phenomenon. Walking over to TF dressed head to toe in black – blouse, trousers and high heels – it seems that, just a month and a half after filming wrapped, something of Salander still lingers. But any expectations that Claire Foy and Lisbeth Salander are one and the same are shattered three seconds into the conversation when a waiter steps up to the table. “I’ll have an English breakfast tea,” Foy announces, in perfect RP. “Push the boat out. Woo hoo!”
As charmingly British as they come, Foy couldn’t be further from Stieg Larsson’s difficult-to-like but easy-tolove private investigator. Gracious, affable and unfailingly polite, Foy’s casting may seem like a radical departure for an actor who just spent two years playing the Queen of England, but that’s always been part of the plan. “If I’d have done this before I’d played Queen Elizabeth, it would have made relative sense,” says Foy, who’s made a habit of leaping between period pieces (Upstairs Downstairs, Wolf Hall, Breathe) and genre projects (Season Of The Witch, Vampire Academy, Unsane) across her 10-year career.
Though worlds apart and “aesthetically at different ends of the spectrum” (not counting the Queen’s Sex Pistols makeover), tattooed hacker Lisbeth and Her Royal Highness share more in common than you might think. “There’s a similarity in what people would call a lack of feeling,” Foy nods, her charcoal black hair short, but swept neatly to the side. “People outside say they can’t show emotion. But they have the entire universe going on inside them. I realised that when I was playing Lisbeth. I thought I was taking on a role where I could be explosive and crazy. But then I realised, ‘No, I’m playing someone who’s emotionally immature. Somebody who is terrified of the world, and lives inside.’ Which is similar to Elizabeth.”
Describing the way she got involved as a “sort of a stumble-y process”, Foy was gearing up to shoot Damien Chazelle’s First Man (see p56) when discussions started in earnest. Acting royalty thanks to the success of The Crown, the Golden Globe nominee initially took some convincing. “You just go, ‘Why would anyone want to take that on?’ Because of how much the books are loved and how much the movies and performances are loved,” admits Foy, who didn’t revisit Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara’s acclaimed takes on the character before playing Salander, but remembers being “wowed” by both. “Then when you meet the people who are going to make it, and you read the script, you just nosedive into it.”
The “people” in question were producer Elizabeth Cantillon and co-writer/director Fede Alvarez
– the latter white hot off the success of silent(ish) suspenser Don’t Breathe (whisper it: a film which beat A Quiet Place to the punch). Speaking to TF less than a week after screening the film to a test audience for the first time (“It was a great reaction,” Alvarez says, with relief), the Uruguayan filmmaker was a fan of the films first, particularly David Fincher’s 2011 remake, which starred Mara as Salander and Daniel Craig as crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist. But coming off an original hit, why bring back a character who’s
‘We wanted to know more about her past.
What’s the thing that breaks Lisbeth salander? that means going to a more personal level’
now been rebooted as many times as Spider-Man quite so soon? Sitting down to write the script with Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent) and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, Alvarez recognised there was an opportunity to explore aspects of Lisbeth never before seen on screen, even five films in.
“We wanted to know more about her past. And for someone who’s such a strong character, I was more interested in her weakness. What is the thing that breaks Lisbeth Salander?” Alvarez asks, running both hands through his unkempt hair. “In all the other stories she’s always tough, always composed, always in control. I wanted a bigger challenge that she couldn’t just shake off. And that means going to a more personal layer.”
Remaining faithful to the “arcs and characters” from David Lagercrantz’s novel – the fourth in the Millennium series and first not to be penned by creator Stieg Larsson, who died of a heart attack in 2004 – that ‘personal layer’ arrives in the guise of a ghost from Lisbeth’s past. In classic Millennium series style, the tale takes in an elaborate web of intrigue involving NSA agents (Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield), savant children with dangerous secrets buried in their brains (Gotham’s Christopher Convery), peroxide blonde assassins (The Square’s Claes Bang) and, of course, Salander’s ally, occasional lover and investigative journo Blomkvist (Borg Vs. McEnroe’s Sverrir Gudnason). But at the centre of the web sits Lisbeth’s most dangerous adversary yet – her estranged sister Camilla.
Like much of the film-watching world, Alvarez first saw Sylvia Hoeks as knife-licking, emotionally unstable replicant Luv in Blade Runner 2049, and knew instantly he’d found his spider.
“I was looking for someone to be very powerful, who could also be a great antagonist character to Claire,” Alvarez explains. Possessing ethereal poise, bleached eyebrows and clad entirely in crimson, Camilla is Lisbeth’s aesthetic opposite, and the same is true today, with Hoeks dressed in luminous red.
Go beyond these surface differences, however, and the similarities become more apparent. “They have a lot in common that they would rather ignore than see,” says Hoeks, whose preparation entailed a YouTube rabbit hole of documentaries about multiple personality disorders, Stockholm syndrome and child psychology. “Camilla loves her sister very much, and has always looked up to her. But she had a very painful past. Camilla just had to come back in Lisbeth’s life.”
Foy too was drawn in by the sibling relationship at the heart of the story. “As much as [Fede] wants his films to thrill, excite and scare an audience, he also wants to investigate something
about our psychology. He’s a very clever man,” laughs Foy who, like Hoeks, is herself a sister. “In the way he was talking about Lisbeth and her sister he touched on something that I felt about her too – that in order for [Lisbeth] to go forward, she has to face herself.”
Shot in Stockholm and Berlin from January to April 2018, the film is already in the final stages of post-production by the time TF catches up with Alvarez in early August. This accelerated schedule was only made possible by the fact Alvarez went to extreme lengths to capture as much of the film on location and in-camera as possible. “We literally risked our lives to be in settings that no one has been to before. Even getting a camera crew up there was quite insane,” he chuckles.
But it was Foy who had it hardest of all. “Claire needed to be prepared for the physicality of the role,” Alvarez recalls. “And she was… to an extent. No one is truly ready to be in freezing temperatures 12 hours a day, for more than a month. But I think that’s great, because you see what the actors are going through is real, and their emotions are just not fake.”
Authenticity was also at the forefront of Foy’s mind in bringing Salander to the screen, both in terms of Salander’s tough-to-nail Swedish accent, and the unlikely style icon’s latest look – Spider’s Web dialling down Noomi and Rooney’s punk chic. “The accent is tricky because Swedish is relatively chipper,” says Foy, who recognised that “Lisbeth is not that person”. Luckily, though, she’s a woman of few words. “She’s not going to have a monologue. She is someone who says what she means and means what she says, and that’s it.” Foy was also keen to keep her appearance as grounded as possible, which meant fewer piercings, no nine-inch mohawks and not a shaved eyebrow in sight.
“It all had to be part of the same thing, which is it being – I hate saying it – organic,” says Foy while dramatically rolling her eyes. “At one point there were some fishnets on my arms, but whenever we tried something like that everyone would say, ‘It’s a lie. It just feels fake.’ As much as I’d love to wear loads of eyeliner, it’s not going to work. You have to be honest.”
Honesty has rarely been a part of the relationship between Salander and Blomkvist. Though the Millennium trilogy gave the two characters equal weight, Blomqvist takes a back seat in Spider’s Web as the Salander family dispute comes to the forefront. But Alvarez still did his homework in casting a worthy successor to Daniel Craig and Michael Nyqvist.
“You don’t want to go, ‘Let’s get someone bigger.’ I think that’s ridiculous. That’s George Clooney playing Batman,” Alvarez laughs. “My idea was different. ‘Let’s find a new person Hollywood hasn’t seen much of.’” Catching a screening of
Borg Vs. McEnroe, Alvarez knew he’d found his relatively unknown, uncaped crusader in Gudnason. “I really wanted someone who was a strange choice and counterintuitive. Even slightly younger than what you expect from Blomkvist.”
Just 39 at the time of filming (though looking at least five years younger than that in the flesh), did the age difference change the way he approached the part? “Not really. It hasn’t been a big focus,” Gudnason shrugs. A man of Salanderlike thoughtful economy, Gudnason saw in Blomkvist a righteousness and drive for truth that he related to as an actor. “At the start of the story, he is on a downhill. He’s drinking a little too much, being pushed out of his own magazine by outside forces. Journalism is changing. It’s all about clickbait, and he’s an old-school journalist who wants
to dig deeper,” says Gudnason, a friend of Nyqvist’s before the John Wick star’s death late last year. “So he’s in a bad place when we start. Then Lisbeth shows up asking for help. He hasn’t seen her for three years. That reignites him. So together, they’re going to face their biggest challenge so far.”
That’s no small claim for the woman who hurts “men who hate women”. The provocative title of Larsson’s first novel (changed to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in English-speaking territories) has always been more than a moniker, it’s a truth. And it’s a title that feels even more relevant in 2018, barely 12 months on from the sexual abuse allegations that saw the film industry shaken to its core. With Lisbeth’s entire mission in life revolving around justice for women abused or killed by errant men who are unfortunate enough to wind up in her crosshairs, it’s hard to think of a character better suited for the screen at this precise moment in time.
But far from a film made in reaction to the Weinstein scandal, The Girl In The Spider’s Web was already deep into development in October 2017. For this reason, while Alvarez recognises the connections, he’s keen to keep the two separate. “There is an aspect of that, but the last thing I want is to feel like, ‘Well, this is happening now. Let’s make a movie about it.’ It’d be like trying to exploit a social issue,” claims Alvarez. “That said, Lisbeth existed way before this particular moment. There’s a character that’s been talking about those things and ideas, and is a very strong feminist icon. In that respect, it’s always relevant.”
Admitting that she “went through a phase of not thinking very highly of men”, Foy couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the character she was about to embody on screen and the women bringing abusive men to justice in the real world, albeit with their voice and their courage rather than a taser and world-class hacking skills. “The opening scene of the film features a man who violently beats up two prostitutes, but because of his position of power, he’s given the benefit of the doubt. All he has to do is pay a bit of a fine. She’s just like, ‘No, that’s not acceptable.’ It’s not that she wants to beat him up and scar him for life; she’s just like, ‘We are being failed over and over again,’” says Foy, pausing for a beat. “Hopefully, now these conversations are happening, it will happen less and less. Which is something Lisbeth would applaud.”
The Girl in The Spider’S Web opens on 21 november.
‘there’s a similarity between Lisbeth and the Queen. People say they can’t show emotion, but they have the entire universe going on inside them’
DRAGON LADY Claire Foy steps into the leather boots of avenging hacker Lisbeth Salander.
GOOD AND EVIL Sverrir Gudnason as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Salander’s on/off lover (above); Claes Bang as the hacker’s hunter Jan Holster (right).
ON THE RUN Director Fede Alvarez shoots a scene with Foy.
WEB BROWSERS Alvarez talks Cameron Britton, who playes Plague, through a scene (above); Salander delivers her unique style of justice (bottom).