Lisbeth Salander, the cult figure and title character of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium book series, boldly returns to the screen in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Thrice portrayed by Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish screen adaptations and once by Rooney Mara in David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fede Alvarez’s fresh take on the vigilante anti-heroine stars The Crown’s Claire Foy.
In a piece of delicious casting, Foy exchanges her stuffy royal robes for Salander’s skinny black punk aesthetic and signature dragon tattoo.
“I think the job of a director is to find that contradictory choice that makes you go, ‘What? Really?’ And then, hopefully, show them something unexpected,” says Alvarez when STACK joins him in the edit bay at Sony Studios in Los Angeles, where he is making the final tweaks to The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
“Claire is fantastic and emotes in a way that not a lot of actors are able to do. She has very few lines so it’s all about getting things done and showing her emotion through her actions,” says Alvarez,who directed 2016’s breakout thriller Don’t Breathe.
Lisbeth Salander’s computer hacker and private investigator figure has previously played second fiddle to the dominant character of journalist Mikael Blomkvist – portrayed by Daniel Craig in Fincher’s version – but today she finally takes centre stage.
“I didn’t want to just take some other director’s cast and make them my own. I think Rooney was very good but I wanted to cast my own version of her and who I imagine her to be when I read the book,” he says of this first-time adaptation of the fourth book in the series – written by David Lagercrantz as a continuation of Larsson’s original trilogy.
Any lingering impressions of Foy as Queen Elizabeth II or, indeed, as Neil Armstrong’s wife in First Man, are instantly banished the second she appears on screen.
“The Queen and Lisbeth Salander have a lot more in common than one might think,” offers Alvarez. “The Queen doesn’t express a lot of things because she isn’t allowed to, while Lisbeth doesn’t because she doesn’t want to. Her true self is too precious to be shared with human beings.
“For a character like Lisbeth Salander, it was crucial that she can tell so much with so little. I needed someone that when I put the lens in her eyes, without her saying anything, I know how she feels, and not every actor can do that. Only the best can.
“Claire has a lot of her in real life with so much passion, fire and anger. We had many fights on the movie just discussing themes. But, as a person in everyday life, she couldn’t be more different than Lisbeth.”
Published in 2015, the film adaptation of The Girl in the Spider’s Web becomes even more relevant in a post#MeToo world.
“The script was done and we were inpre-production when the first big event, the Harvey Weinstein thing started. And then that combined with suddenly all the hacking. Ten years ago, a hacker in a movie was just typing away; just a silly concept, but not anymore,” he says pointing to scenes in The Girl in the Spider’s Web where the NSA is hacked.
“A lot of this stuff was happening for real as we were writing it and continues to happen.
“Obviously I can’t take credit for the character of Lisbeth, because she already exists on the page. But the public’s attention is now focused on these themes, so it’s definitely interesting to make a movie so relevant.”
Featuring Sylvia Hoeks as Lisbeth’s sister, Brit comic actor Stephen Merchant also co-stars as a former government employee – another example of Alvarez’s against-type casting.
“I’m a big fan of his comedy because he does it from such a real place; often uncomfortably real. He brought all the right elements to playing this awkward computer engineer, a little bit nerdy and super smart; a lot of things that define him as well,” he says.
First cutting his teeth with a fresh spin on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead in 2013, Alvarez argues that his films are all about the same thing: “They’re about guilt, shame and family – always a combination of the three elements. This story is no different.”