- “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” director Fede Alvarez talked to Business Insider about why he decided to take over the franchise after David Fincher walked away following “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
- He explained why he recast the role of Lisbeth Salander with Claire Foy. It was previously played by Rooney Mara.
- Alvarez, who previously made the “Evil Dead” remake and the box office hit “Don’t Breathe,” also touched on why he thinks he’s a failure if everyone likes his movies.
On paper, it seems almost like career suicide to take over a franchise that was once overseen by an auteur like David Fincher. But in a short time, Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez has proven he’s never looked to play it safe.
You only have to go back to his feature debut to see that. In 2013, he remade one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, Sam Rami’s “Evil Dead,” and didn’t get kicked out of town for doing it.
Now following his 2016 hit horror, “Don’t Breathe,” he returns to the pressure of taking on a well-known property. With Fincher walking away from making a sequel to his 2011 thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — the first American adaptation of the popular Millennium book series from the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson — Sony has enlisted Alvarez to give the franchise a reboot. “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (opening in theaters Friday) skips to the fourth book in the franchise and replaces Fincher’s moody dark thriller vibe for an action suspense story and a new lead. Claire Foy, known best for her Emmy-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II on Netflix’s “The Crown,” takes over playing the franchise star Lisbeth Salander from Rooney Mara, who played the role in Fincher’s movie.
In “Spider’s Web” Foy still plays Salander as a computer-hacking renegade who avenges abused women, but unlike “Dragon Tattoo,” she’s now the center of the story with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig in the Fincher movie, though he didn’t come back for this one either) in the background. And this time, the stakes are higher, as Salander must retrieve a program that can access the world’s nuclear codes before her evil twin sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), gets it.
Business Insider talked to Alvarez about making a soft reboot for a franchise that barely got off the ground, why he never met with Rooney Mara to see if she wanted to continue playing the Salander role, and the reason he’ll feel like a failure if everyone likes the movie.
Jason Guerrasio: What fascinated you about the project when it came to you?
Fede Alvarez: It was the character of Lisbeth Salander above all things. Obviously, it’s a very special character. It’s one that when I saw it for the first time, probably the first Swedish movie, you fall in love right away. She confronts you with all your prejudice in a way because when you see her you never expect to really encounter the character you will eventually in the story. It’s someone that’s as three dimensional as they get. That’s one part and I think the other part is it wasn’t the second book or third book, it wasn’t a continuation of the last American movie. It was the fourth book by a different author (David Lagercrantz took over the series following the death of Larsson) and it’s been eight years since the last movie. It was the right moment to say I can just do whatever I want to do with it and I can make it my own film.
Guerrasio: So when they came to you they said they wanted to focus on the fourth book? That’s how it was pitched to you?
Alvarez: Yeah. If they’d said they wanted to make the second book, I would have said no. No way. I would never have even tried to continue Fincher’s story with my eye because we make different movies. I make pulpier movies. If someone wants a very dark classic thriller then they should go and rewatch his movie.
Guerrasio: In regards to Lisbeth, what were you walking into? Was Rooney still going to be involved?
Alvarez: Sony deferred to me, in a way. If I remember correctly, if they brought back Rooney they would basically bring back the whole cast. If you bring one you bring back the whole universe. And casting is a big part of the director’s job and I never make a movie where I don’t write it. I write all my films. So with that approach I also have to cast the movie. I cannot take someone else’s cast. It would be wrong for me to just use actors that are someone else’s vision of the characters. In some franchises it’s totally necessary but for this I didn’t believe it was.
Guerrasio: That all being said, Rooney commented in the past that she was still interested in playing the character, did you talk to her and get a sense if you two could work together?
Alvarez: No. I never had that conversation. I think she would not have done it without Fincher. That’s my feeling.
Guerrasio: Tell me how you came to casting Claire as your Lisbeth.
Alvarez: Normally the process is to start auditioning people. Have them come in for readings. At least that’s how I do it. To really open it up to anybody. Even looking at the young actors who just landed in Hollywood. And I think we did some of that in the beginning of this. But then I saw Claire in “The Crown” and I felt right away that this is the actor to play this role.
Guerrasio: That’s interesting, even her playing the Queen of England, all prim and proper, you could see that she could play Lisbeth Slander?
Alvarez: Yeah. Because a director should not look at the superficial. You don’t look at the clothes or how they speak or move. You look beyond that, you have to. And what I saw is this is someone that is really trying to keep feelings to her own and trying to be secretive of how she really feels because as the Queen she’s not allowed often to express how she really feels. I felt the person to play Lisbeth Slander, a character that doesn’t open up and doesn’t share feelings, you need an actor who has a technique and has a craft that is so good that you’re able to have a window into her soul.
Guerrasio: I will be honest, the casting of Mikael was very strange for me. I would assume you would want a known actor for that part. Can you explain why you went with lesser-known Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason for the role?
Alvarez: In the first movies, both the American and Swedish, although Lisbeth Salander is the most interesting character in them she’s not the lead, the lead is Mikael Blomkvist. He’s your way in, he’s the character you love and know and understand everything. Lisbeth is a muse, is someone that he’s following. But those movies are not about her. So for such a feminist icon as Lisbeth I felt like we cannot do that to her again, this has to be her movie. She has to be in the front. Do we need Mikael in the movie? Yes. You can’t adapt a Millennium book without him, but I wanted to make sure he would not overshadow her. And that’s when you write off any big star. The star would not just take that screen attention but the star will usually demand more screen time and perhaps even ask to change the story so he’s more present in the movie. And that’s not what I wanted. I wanted Mikael Blomkvist to be what many female co-leads have been for too long, the damsel in distress. I wanted him to be that. He’s the one stuck with the kid in the end while she goes out and saves the world. [laughs]
Guerrasio: A conscious decision, but did you have to sell that to Sony?
Alvarez: Not really. No. I’ve been lucky that all the movies I’ve made I managed to make them with total independence and creative freedom. I just work with studios and producers that trust me and my decisions and support what I do. I don’t go to those other Hollywood movies that you are just hired to do your part and it’s more studio control. I don’t do that. I’ve never done those and I’m going to keep trying to avoid those.
Guerrasio: This is not the first soft reboot you’ve done. You also directed the 2013 “Evil Dead.” Did you take anything from that experience and put it into making “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”?
Alvarez: With “Evil Dead,” people loved it or hated it and that’s something I do with my movies. I never try to please the whole theater. If I do I think I’ve failed, that I played it too safe. I always expect some portion of the theater to walk out pissed. Either feeling offended or the movie did something that rubbed them the wrong way. I always look for that. What I learned from that was if I’m faithful to the spirit of the material then eventually it would be okay. The perception of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” at the moment because of the comparisons, you always start on the wrong foot. That’s what it was for “Evil Dead.” You start on the wrong foot because of people’s expectations. I feel if my heart is in the right place people will eventually appreciate it.
Guerrasio: Did the aura of Fincher hang over you at all while making this? Meaning, you didn’t write something a certain way or shoot something a certain way because you felt Fincher would do it that way.
Alvarez: No. Now, he is an executive producer on this film, but I have never met him or had any conversation with him. That’s unfortunate, because I’m a big fan of his work. But no. Directors tend to have a singular vision of how things should be, at least I am. I feel there’s only one way to do it and I try to capture that. So there’s really no time to think like that. I knew that the tone would be so different and the style and plot that I didn’t have to worry about that. So even if a shot is similar accidentally, or even on purpose a shot looks like a Fincher shot, hey, that’s a good problem to have. [laughs] He’s a master of the craft. But in the context of the movie, it’s not a Fincher movie.