Total Film - - Halloween - WORDS JOR­DAN FAR­LEY

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).

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