David Fincher is (in)famous for his exacting directorial methods on set; stories abound about him putting his actors through multiple takes and working his crew hard to ensure that they get every shot absolutely right. Away from the camera, though, he seems laid back and comfortable, even up for cracking a joke or two (or three or four). While making the rounds for his latest film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which opens in theaters tomorrow), Fincher passed through New York and appeared at a press conference for the Sweden-set thriller, adapted from Stieg Larsson's best-selling book of the same time. He was joined by the movie's stars -- Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as the titular hacker, Lisbeth Salander -- and two supporting players, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård. Despite the movie's dark subject matter, all five were in fine spirits, cracking wise about everything from the movie's depiction of Sweden to a difficult stunt that literally left Craig gasping for air.
David Fincher on Casting the Movie
"The casting process began with Daniel and you build your universe sort of like a basketball team. You have to anchor it. So we started with Daniel. I knew him socially and on the screen as a different kind of person. I knew him to be self-effacing and playful and witty. I knew I needed that for Mikael. I also wanted a very masculine kind of center to the film. The androgynous side of the movie would be carried by Rooney. I was looking for sort of a Robert Mitchum center. When we had Daniel, we started to look at the elements that we needed to complement him. These two are polar opposites in the way they push against each other.
"So I started looking at the things about Lisbeth that I wanted to see. And I didn't see them initially in anyone that we were looking at. Rooney was right under our noses in that I had already spent a few days with her on The Social Network. We brought her back time and time again -- not because we didn't see what we were looking for -- but because none of the qualities from the character she played in that movie applied to Lisbeth, so every time she would come in and we would work together I'd give her a new hurdle. And finally at the end of it, after two and a half months, the quality she had that seemed to be most Lisbeth-ian was that she simply wouldn't give up. She was just indomitable. There were times I was personally embarrassed to say 'I need you to come back one more time,' and she just said 'Okay. What's the new wrinkle?' I would give it to her and she would come in and do that.
"Casting isn't a sushi menu -- you get this, you get this. It's a feel thing. We put her on a plane by herself to go to Stockholm for five weeks to learn to ride a motorcycle and find an apartment on her own, we knew we had the right person. The thing that was first and foremost for me in making this movie was that I hadn't seen these two kinds of characters working together before. I liked the vessel of the thriller, but I was more interested in the people."
Rooney Mara On Being Cast as Lisbeth Salander
"David had told the casting director to let me know before I went down the long road of auditioning that if I were to get the part, I'd have to become a smoker and be by myself for a year. I'd also have to be butt-naked and do these horrible rape scenes and ride a motorcycle. I couldn't pick one thing that was the hardest, it was all challenging. The motorcycle was definitely the thing I was least excited about doing. It just seemed very dangerous to me. Going into the casting process, I didn't really think much about what other people imagined the character to be. I read all the books and I had a clear picture of who this girl was, and luckily David's idea was pretty similar."
Daniel Craig and Mara On Their Characters' Odd Friendship
Craig: "I think it has a lot to do with honesty and trust. They shouldn't have a relationship -- they shouldn't really even meet in life. They come from completely different social classes and whatever. But I think Salander has trouble trusting anybody and he's one of the few people in her life that's straight with her. She's broken the law and hacked into his life and he comes in and says 'Forget that, I'd like to work with you.' I think that appeals to her."
Mara: "I also think he's one of the first people in her life to ever appreciate her for the way she is. He's one of the first people to treat her with courtesy and respect."
Steven Zaillian On Adapting the Book to the Screen
"I had read the book, but I hadn't seen the film and when I decided to take it on, I avoided seeing the film. I was interested in adapting the book, not doing a remake of the film. To this day, I don't know what the similarities and differences are between the two movies. I approach writing a script the same way whether I'm going to direct it or not. I can't help but see the movie in my head if I'm writing it, I can't write it if I don't. So in a way, I've already directed it myself. When I find out that somebody like David is going to do it, my reaction is really 'Okay, I can relax.' Because I know it's going to turn out well. I like working with directors with a strong point of view. He's also a director that doesn't improvise scenes -- he shoots the script in a very precise and stylish way. This book is really a standalone story; we didn't want to get too deep into Lisbeth's backstory. We just wanted enough so that you could get a feeling for her background. I think Larsson is a great storyteller and he's also a cinematic writer. I think that's one of the reasons there have been two movies made from the book and the basic success of the book -- people can really see it when they read it."
Mara and Craig On Fincher's Exacting Directing Methods
Mara: "You don't really think about it after a while. And, you know, it's very exaggerated and dramatized. Our average take count was much less than rumored. Unless, it's an insert shot, then it can get frustrating.
Craig: "That's the hard stuff, moving a photograph or opening something. Sometimes you get worse and worse with each take and then it changes. But when someone throws a lot of money at you to make something like this, you want to get it right. So there are lots of other things to get frustrated about."
Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer and Fincher On the Depiction of Sweden in the Film
Skarsgård: "This film isn't a portrayal of Sweden, I hope..."
Fincher: "Well, apart from the rapists and killers."
Skarsgård: "That's right! We do that every morning."
Fincher: "It doesn't get enough attention because they get away with it."
Skarsgård: "And it's paid for by Social Security. [Laughs] But the movie has a very Swedish atmosphere to it, down to each nail in the sets. It's a little creepy, because this is a Hollywood film about us."
Plummer: "There wasn't quite the ironic humor in the book that we all tried to put in the film. It's very good, because it's very Swedish -- that terrible, black kind of ironic sense of humor is very Swedish."
Fincher On the Opening Credits Sequence
"I think title sequences are an opportunity to set the stage and get people thinking in different terms than whatever it is they understand the movie to be. Oftentimes movies are marketed with the idea of what will get people into the theater. So a title sequence can help reorient their thinking. I liked the idea of this sort of primordial tar or ooze of the subconscious. I liked the idea that it was her nightmare. We used the Led Zeppelin track, "Immigrant Song." Led Zeppelin are very protective of their music, as they should be. They have an amazing catalogue. I think they wanted to make sure we respected it. It was our intention all along to communicate the idea that we didn't run it into the ground, we didn't want to use it as a TV spot. It was actually very easy once we discussed it with them."
Fincher and Craig On a Stunt Gone Wrong
Fincher: "The first night that we got to the scene where Mikael is tortured, the stunt coordinator came and said that Daniel has to hold this little metal thing in his hands so if he does lose consciousness he can let us know. Because he was going to be acting like he was suffocating, which is not very different from actually suffocating. So he had this little metal thing in his hand and was hoisted up and we were rolling and watching the monitor and as I'm watching the monitor, I hear this 'ting, ting, ting.' So we rushed in and he had passed out! So we wrapped. And on the production report, we noted, 'Let Daniel go 15 minutes early due to unconsciousness.'"
Craig: "Just another day working with David Fincher! [Laughs] For me the most important thing with this character was to make him as believable as possible. There's another person I play who would deal with these situations in a different way, but I tried not to think like that. When Mikael gets shot at, he runs away screaming like anyone else would."
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