Casting of new Lisbeth helps Spider’s Web director start fresh
Story doesn’t depend on audience seeing previous Dragon Tattoo films
When making The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, director Fede Alvarez knew once he had made the decision not to use any of the actors who starred in either the American or Swedish films based on the book series created by Stieg Larsson, he was facing a daunting challenge.
He had to find an actor who could play the tight emotional control of Lisbeth Salander while getting across everything she’s feeling to the audience. He found that in Claire Foy. “Lisbeth is a very minimalist person. She’s not someone who shares her feelings or has any conversations that are exposition,” Alvarez says. “You just have to figure it out by looking into her eyes.
“That is a rare gift that very few actors have. Claire Foy has it. She can be standing there looking at you angry and you will know exactly how scared she is. How excited she might be. Those feelings can only be expressed through her eyes.”
Foy has been showing her emotions over the past decade through a host of roles since appearing in the British version of Being Human. Since then, she has starred in Little Dorrit, The Promise, Upstairs Downstairs and The Crown. Along with Spider’s Web, she currently can be seen playing Janet Armstrong in First Man.
Alvarez met with Foy before filming started to talk about the themes of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which include very personal moments for Lisbeth. The hacker finds herself in a showdown with her sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who has taken over the family’s crime business.
There’s not much time for family reunions as Lisbeth is hired by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), an American programmer who fears for his life because of the software he created that can hack any nuclear arsenal on the planet.
The director always talks with his actors to make sure they have the same vision for the role as he does. It’s something the Uruguayan filmmaker has done with his past features Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe.
The decision not to use Rooney Mara or Noomi Rapace to play Lisbeth was made easier because The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based on the book by David Lagercrantz, who took over the book series after Larsson’s death.
Alvarez took the change as a signal to look at Spider’s Web as a whole new film rather than as a sequel or reboot.
“When you tell a story that really doesn’t depend on you having seen the other stories to understand this one, it is a stand-alone story. It doesn’t overwrite anything that happens in other movies or contradict anything,” Alvarez says. “It’s just a good entry point for the audience.
“As a filmmaker, I just see it as a film. A filmmaker should never see their work as being connected to something else. My starting point is just the idea of making a good film.”
He does concede making a movie based on a book is both good and bad. That the characters are well known to audience members who have read the books shows they have been tested and the audience has embraced them. It does hurt when there were preconceived notions based on elements in the books that had to be changed in adapting the work to the big screen.
Alvarez’s interest in making movies started when he was a seven-year-old living in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was his 2009 short film Ataque de Panico, which debuted on YouTube, that sparked interest in him as a director, and he was signed to helm Evil Dead.
His passion for filmmaking grew with each film he made with his VHS camera, but he thought making a living as a director was not possible.
“If you grow up in Los Angeles and go to film school it’s realistic that one day you will make a film. It’s still hard because so many people want to make movies,” Alvarez says. “Add the Uruguay element to that and it makes it even more difficult. It had never happened that someone from over there had started making movies in Hollywood.”
Instead of letting that stop him, Alvarez realized without the potential for a career as a filmmaker looming over him, he was able to make films driven purely by his passion for the art form. He kept having fun making movies until his work got spotted and eventually led to his being caught up in The Spider’s Web.
Fede Alvarez, who grew up in Uruguay, says he never thought he would make a living as a director.