Hollywood takes on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

image captionRooney Mara stars as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The director and stars of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo talk about remaking the film for Hollywood.

When Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was first published in 2005 it was a runaway best-seller.

Telling a story of murder, corruption and family secrets, the late author's Millennium Trilogy has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide and spawned a series of Swedish films made in 2009.

Although a hit in Larsson's native country taking 110m Swedish krona (£10.3m, $16m) within three months of release, it had a muted reception in the US and UK, taking just $10m (£6.4m) and £1.5m respectively.

Now the book has had a Hollywood makeover with a $100m (£64m) budget and Oscar-nominated director David Fincher and Schindler's List scribe Steve Zaillian at the helm.

image captionDaniel Craig stars as journalist Mikael Blomkvist

Fincher says although he had seen the Swedish production, he tried to put it out of his head.

"We didn't want it to be boring and we didn't want to do the same thing or be redundant," he says.

"I thought it was wonderfully done, but when I read the book it was a different story I saw in my head to the film that I saw."

Startling transformation

With James Bond star Daniel Craig cast as reporter Mikael Blomkvist, tasked to investigate a 40-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of teenager Harriet, the search was on for the actress to play unlikely heroine Lisbeth Salander.

Many stars were rumoured to be vying for the role, including Harry Potter star Emma Watson, Carey Mulligan and Scarlett Johannson - whom Fincher said was "too sexy" for the role.

The director cast the relatively unknown Rooney Mara, who had a small role in his hit film The Social Network.

The actress confesses she felt the pressure of taking on a part that was so well-known from the books and the Swedish film.

"So many people have an idea of who this character is in their head but I had to let that go and not think about it and portray the character I saw," she says.

image captionFincher set the film in Sweden to remain as close as possible to Stieg Larsson's book

Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Martin Vanger, the brother of the missing girl Harriet, had a very confident approach to the challenge: "I've done Hamlet so that was not a problem," he says.

For the actors, one of main draws to work on the film was Fincher himself.

"I would've said yes even if he came with a piece of toilet paper for a script," Skarsgard says.

Mara also admits there is "probably not a lot I wouldn't do for David".

Indeed, the actress underwent a startling transformation for the role - she chopped and shaved off her long hair, pierced her eyebrow and nipple (the latter because it was too difficult to fake) and spent hours in make-up every day having seven fake tattoos applied.

And although Mara says she was "happy and excited" to make the changes, there was one that was a little harder to accept - bleaching her eyebrows.

"That was the thing that changed my face and made me the most unrecognisable so that was a little jarring," she says.

Fincher also gave Craig a challenge: to fatten up for the role. In good shape after his last stint as Bond, the director felt the physique was not quite right for a journalist.

Consequently, the star found his new food friend was Gummy Bears.

"The hotel fridge always had them and they'd be replaced every day - I don't know how that happened," he jokes.

Fincher wanted to ensure his film stayed as true to Larsson's book as possible, which meant filming in Sweden and keeping the characters Swedish instead of a US transplant.

Consequently, all the actors speak English with Swedish accents - all except Craig, who maintains his usual British tone.

"I know Swedes who speak English impeccably with no accent," the actor explains.

"David and I were saying it's completely reasonable [Blomkvist] speaks English with no accent. The debate is does it stick out, but I didn't feel it did because we had lots of accents in the movie, not just Scandinavian."

Fincher, who is known for his no-holds-barred hits Seven and Fight Club, had no qualms about tackling the brutal scenes Larsson depicted in his book.

image captionFincher was Oscar-nominated for The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The director didn't want to compromise the content to secure a more family friendly rating - it carries a certificate 18 in the UK and is R-rated in the US.

Craig suggests it's a brave choice for the film's studio to make: "Although I'm sure Sony would like to make a lot of money out of this film, by making it R-rated they're saying it's just for an adult market - so they realise they're probably going to have a drop in takings."

'Feel-bad movie'

Skarsgard adds: "There's nothing as lazy as the studio system.

"They're so afraid to try something new, they do what they know works which means they narrow down not only the topics and styles of films they make, but also the audience.

"If you look back the last 15 years there's not many films with a $100m budget that has not been PG13.

"But it is possible to get grown-ups to go to the cinema if the films are good. Hopefully this film will show the way and give a little more courage to the studios," he says.

Fans of the Swedish version of the film may argue there was no need for a Hollywood remake.

Fincher's responds: "Don't go see it if you already know it. I just don't think there's one version of anything."

image captionFincher had no qualms about tackling the gritty scenes depicted in the book

"There was obviously a lot of concern on the part of the 90-some Swedish crew that this was going to be 'here come the Americans to co-opt our cultural phenomenon'.

"But I think a good 20 days into shooting they saw we were serious about doing something of quality and worthy of the original text."

Fincher's film is undoubtedly the "feel bad movie" of Christmas, but Skarsgard still urges people to see it.

"Your Christmas will seem so much nicer," he says. "Even if your Christmas is terrible, it will look great compared to this."

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is on general release on 26 December.

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