With director David Fincher‘s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo set to open tomorrow night, over the weekend, Sony held a press junket in New York City and I got to participate in a press conference with director David Fincher, Rooney Mara, and Daniel Craig. As most of you know, Dragon Tattoo is the first in Stieg Larson’s Millennium trilogy and it centers on a disgraced journalist (Craig) who’s hired to investigate the mysterious 40-year-old disappearance of a young woman. Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant young hacker who teams up with Craig.
During the forty minute press conference, Craig and Mara talked about what they did to get ready for the film and how they made the characters their own, how Fincher got permission to use Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” the relationship between Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist (Craig’s character), the casting process, collaborating with Fincher, how they’ll probably shoot the sequels back to back, the amount of takes Fincher likes to do, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the press conference.
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get he interview: you can either click here to listen to the audio or the complete transcript is below. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens tomorrow night at theaters everywhere.
Note: Spoilers are discussed during the interview.
Question: Rooney, I understand that you were given a list of things that you had to do or be prepared to do in order to get this role before you auditioned. I would love it if you could talk about that. Daniel, did you get a list of things you had to do in order to prepare for this?
Rooney Mara: The list was just…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 that I would have to become a smoker and have to go off and be among myself for a year. I would have to be butt naked, do these horrible rape scenes, ride a motorcycle, and what else was on the list?
David Fincher: Skateboard?
Mara: No. That wasn’t on the list.
Fincher: Was that later? I don’t remember.
Mara: That came later. It was just stuff like that.
And starve yourself?
Mara: No. He didn’t say that. [laughs] David was constantly trying to feed me on the set.
Daniel Craig: And me as well, but much more successfully.
One of the most subversive things about this film is the smoking. There are so many cigarettes in this film. I’m curious, what was the imperative to have these characters smoke all of the time and to feature cigarettes?
Craig: People used to.
Fincher: Yeah. We took some of the smoking and some of the coffee out because in the book…there was a time during pre-production where we ingest, but it had a moment where it maybe took hold. We were literally going to begin every scene with a cup of coffee and a cigarette burning just in homage to Stieg [Larsson].
Mara: And there is a lot of smoking in the books. There is much more than in the movie.
Fincher: But is that the most subversive thing about it? [laughter]
You hardly ever see that in mainstream films anymore. They are trying to pressure studios into diminishing it.
Fincher: And understandably. But maybe that is part of our hard R? [laughter]
This is a question for both Rooney and Daniel. This is obviously a book that millions and millions of people have read. People have this vision of what these characters are. What did you guys want to do in order to make these characters you own and not what people have imagined them to be?
Mara: To be honest, I didn’t really think much about what other people imagined it to be. I used what I imagined it to be. I had read all three books and I had a really clear picture of who this girl was. Luckily, David’s idea was pretty similar. I didn’t really think much about what other people thought of her.
Craig: Exactly. In this industry, the less you think about what other people are thinking about, the better and more original you can be. You can’t go into a project thinking. “How will these people like it? How will those people like it?” You want to be single minded about it. You can’t please everybody.
It is not often that we have a bisexual character in a mainstream movie.
Craig: Thank you. [laughter]
Rooney, how did you explore that sexuality? David and Rooney, how do you feel about having a bisexual character in a mainstream movie?
Mara: Growing up in New York and L.A., it didn’t seem that crazy to have a bisexual character. I didn’t really…she is incredibly comfortable with her sexuality and I went into it the same. It didn’t really faze me. I didn’t really think about it too much.
Fincher: We start with the source material. We start with the book and that is what the book described. I didn’t feel there was any need to put a frame around it. We wanted to make sure…one of the most important things was how you meat out the moment in her personification where she gets to be happy. One of the things we were very particular about was when she meets Miriam Wu in the bar. We wanted that to be a moment of happiness. There are two times that you see her smile in the entire movie and one of them is when is she gets the attention of Elodie [Yung] and Elodie comes over to kind of say, “Why are you here alone?” I thought that was important. I also think that Salander’s sexuality is less of a ambidextrous thing than it is something that she has to act on. I think the tragedy is that friction is not a problem for her; intimacy is a problem for her. I know that, to me, was the important thing to show.
David, the opening sequence, which was really stunning, featured a covered of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. It is notoriously difficult to get Led Zeppelin’s music in a movie and I was wondering if you could tell us the story on that. Rooney, you mentioned in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that you were not ready to see this movie yet. I was wondering if you and Daniel have seen the movie yet. What was your initial reaction and was there anything that surprised you about the film?
Fincher: Led Zeppelin is very protective, as they should be. They have an amazing catalogue. I think they wanted to make sure that we respected it and it was our intention all along to communicate the idea that we didn’t want to run it into the ground. We didn’t want to use it in every television spot. We wanted to pick specific places like the teaser and the title sequence to do it. I think that they were…it was actually pretty easy. We needed to make sure that they understood that it was going to be a cover. We weren’t going to be licensing the actual performance. We wanted to do it with a woman’s voice. So it kind of went down like clockwork.
Craig: I saw it. I got in contact with David and I said, in one of the rare occasions in my career, “That was the movie that we set out to make.” That is kind of the best thing that I can say about it. I was very, very pleased.
Mara: I haven’t seen it yet.
Mr. Fincher, earlier when you were talking about the film’s hard R you gave a little jovial laugh. But the film does have an R rating and it is being released at the same time as Shame, which has an NC-17 rating This film features non consensual sodomy and torture-murder, and Shame features Michael Fassbender’s fully consensual but naked penis. Does that kind of rating – the fact that your film is an R and that film is an NC-17 – reflect the MPAA as a broken system or does it reflect the public’s tolerance for misogyny and murder?
Fincher: I think it is all of that. I don’t know. I haven’t seen Shame. I think there is…I couldn’t comment on that. I haven’t seen the film. I would love to.
But do you feel that your film is deserving of an R rating?
Fincher: Absolutely. It is deserving of an R rating.
Do you think that it is deserving of an NC-17 rating perhaps?
Fincher: No, I don’t.
Mara: In terms of the H&M, I think it is more of Salander. I wouldn’t call her a fashion icon, but I guess the H&M look doesn’t have to do with me personally. I couldn’t pick one thing that was the hardest. It was all challenging. The motorcycle was definitely the thing that I was the least excited about doing.
Mara: It just seemed very dangerous to me.
Fincher: It is dangerous.
Were you going that fast?
Craig: Yes. [laughter]
Mara: Someone was.
Fincher: We so desperately wanted to do a scene with him on the back of the motorcycle.
Mara: Daniel wouldn’t get on the back.
Fincher: We couldn’t get insurance for that if Rooney was going to drive.
The film has some great truisms. One of my favorites is “The dead are rewarded.” Do you have any favorites from the film?
Fincher: No. I don’t think the bad are always rewarded. I don’t know if there were many truisms in it. I feel that there were things that were specific things that sort of illuminated points of the view of different characters. But we are not trying to make something that is quotable on mugs.
Mr. Fincher, why do you use familiar actors in your films? Is there a necessity for this?
Fincher: Do you mean familiar to me or familiar to you?
Familiar to you because there are some actors that are in various films that you have done over the years.
Fincher: I like people. I like people that like to work the way that I like to work. There are people who share a…if we have an unspoken understanding and a way of communicating that is easy or if we have been through it before and we know. Sometimes people freak out when you shoot 40 takes of something. They start looking at you like, “What did I do wrong?”, and its like “No. It’s not wrong. It’s just that we are going to try something different.” So that could be one of the reasons. Also, I like certain people’s energies and I feel like those are things that you want to….”This person could work really well in this situation.” Hopefully, you are not going to the well for the same thing every time. It’s certainly not in Rooney’s case.
I want to ask Daniel and Rooney about the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael, which is obviously a big part for the people that love the books and the original movies. It is kind of odd because there is a big age difference first of all but it also seems that because she doesn’t like intimacy she wouldn’t fall for him even though she seems to. Can you talk about your take on the relationship, why it happens, and how it revolves the way that it does?
Craig: I think it has a lot to do with honesty and trust. I think that is what was so great in the books. They shouldn’t have a relationship and they shouldn’t even meet in life. They come from different social classes and whatever. I think that Salander has never really gotten to trust anyone or there are few people in her life that are straight with her and he is. He comes in and she has broken the law and has hacked into his life. He walks in and says, “Forget that. I think you’re great and I would like to work with you and I’ll walk away.” I think that this appeals to her.
Mara: I agree. It is that and also I think that he is one of the first people in her life to ever just appreciate her for the way she is. He is one of the first people to ever treat her with any sort of decency or respect.
Mr. Fincher, your title sequences are almost always a highlight of the film. It is always interesting to see how you introduce a film from Fight Club and the trip through the brain to Panic Room and the shots of New York with the bold titles. How did you come up with the approach that you wanted to take with the title sequence? For Ms. Mara, there are elements in Lisbeth’s character that, for me at least, felt like a vigilante comic book hero. Do you sort of see that in her character as well?
Fincher: I want to address the vigilante comic book – I hope not. I think title sequences are an opportunity to sort of set the stage or to get people thinking in different terms than maybe whatever they understand the movie to be going in. Often times when movies are marketed they are marketed towards the idea of “What is the consensus that everybody has that will get them into the 7 o’clock show?” So often times a title sequence can help to sort of reorient their thinking. I liked the idea of this sort of primordial sort of tar and ooze of the subconscious. I liked the idea that it was sort of her nightmare.
When you were casting this, what qualities were you looking for in an actress specifically to play your vision of the character and Mikael? Rooney, having read the book and knowing that it is what it is, what did you feel that you could bring to it that maybe you hadn’t thought you could before? Similarly, how was it like for you Mr. Craig?
Fincher: The casting process began with Daniel. Obviously, you build your universe. It is like building a basketball team. You start with kind of the anchor. You have to anchor it and we started with Daniel. I was thinking that I knew him socially and I knew him on the screen as a different kind of person. I knew him to be self effacing and to be playful and witty. I knew that I needed that for Mikael as well that I wanted a very masculine kind of center to the film. The androgynous side of the movie would be carried by Rooney. That was her job. I was looking for a sort of Robert Mitchum center. Then when we had Daniel and that was fairly complete we started to look at what are the elements that sort of…because they are sort of unable to be close to one another. They sort of 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 and Rooney was right under our noses. I had already spent 4 or 5 days with her on The Social Network. But when you cast somebody you cast them not only for…I look for an inherent kind of quality. You are going to be shooting 14 hour days and you are going to be tired. You are going to not necessarily be able to conjure armor or a façade every single moment.
You want the actor to have…I liken it to a quality that you kind of can’t beat out of them with a tire iron. There is that thing that maybe you don’t…you are looking for an innate quality that they have. Rooney was somebody that we brought back time and time again not because we didn’t see what we were looking for, but because initially when…the problems she was solving for me at the beginning of The Social Network were that she was intensely feminine, very mature, warm, verbal, and she was trying to build a bridge desperately to Jesse [Eisenberg] in those 5 ½ minutes that she is on screen., and none of those qualities applied to Lisbeth. In fact, they were the antithesis. So every time she would come in and we would work together I would say, “Okay. Now here is a new hurdle and you have to jump this.” So finally after 2 ½ months the quality that was undeniable, and the thing that seemed to be the most Lisbithian, was that she was just not giving up. She was indomitable. There were times where I was personally embarrassed to say, “I need you to come back one more time.” There was never a moment where she was like “Ugh!” I know that I would have. She said, “Okay. What time do I have to be there and what do you need from me this time? What is the new wrinkle?” I would give it to her and she would come in and do that. It’s all of those things. It is not a sushi menu, you know? You just don’t say, “Okay. We get this and we get this.” It is a feel thing. At the end of it, when we put her on the plane to go to Stockholm by herself for 5 weeks to learn how to ride a motorcycle and find an apartment, we knew we had the right people.
Mr. Fincher, you seem generally interested in mysteries and police procedures…
Fincher: Not really. I think you could say that if I was financing my own films.
Fincher: The mystery of this movie wasn’t that interesting to me. You know, Nazis, serial killers, and the evil that people do in their basements with power tools wasn’t the thing that…the thing that was first and foremost was this. I hadn’t seen this partnership before. I hadn’t seen these two people working before to do anything. So I liked the thriller and I liked the vessel of that, but I was really more interested in the people front and center.
I think that answers my question. My concern was, or if it was a concern of yours, that the answers of the mystery exist already in the novels and in the other films. I was wondering if was ever a concern of yours that half of the audience might be coming in knowing where you were going with it. But it sounds like you were interested in something else.
Fincher: I’m glad that I could answer that.
Mr. Fincher, in the book, the first time we meet Lisbeth it is from the point of view of Dragan Armansky and he puts a lot of emphasis of her being strange but also attractive to him. You kind of see her from the point of view of a man and you may disagree with me on this but I think that the book often sees her from the point of view from a man…
Exactly. There is a way to recreate that male gaze in a movie obviously, but I think that this movie actively works against that. I was wondering if that is something that you thought about or if that was just a result of having the actual physical presence of the character?
Fincher: Well, story is omission because you have to be able to work in parallel. I was very taken with the way that Larsson sort of built these two stories in parallel and then brought them together and then eventually they crossed over. That is nothing new. That happens in Colombo. There is an aspect of this that is very “five act structure” and very much a Queen-Martin structure. But you need it to…in her introduction she obviously gets introduced through cross-cutting between what Frode and Armansky are saying about her, and then she comes in. So it was already sort of stacked in this third party omission gaze. So I don’t know the male gaze thing. I’m probably guilty of it.
This is a fairly recent film for a lot of people to have seen. Usually, remakes come a couple of years later. Was there any trepidation about that at all and that people might say, “Eh, I just saw this movie.”
Fincher: Actually, there was no…those were the Nakatomi Towers that got blown up in Fight Club. Do you live in Culver City?
No. Wilmington, Delaware is the town.
Fincher: In the book it is but we weren’t allowed to say that for legal reasons.
Craig: It doesn’t worry me. I think that the source material is good enough. I think that everyone wins in this situation. I think that we have 65 million readers of the book and we have lots of people that have seen the Swedish version of the movie. We may get millions of other people to see this movie and everybody is going to back and read the book and watch the Swedish version. It is a win-win.
Rooney and Daniel, can you talk about the process of collaborating with Mr. Fincher? Did you guys get together in rehearsal to work out your characters? How free were you to interpret your roles? As a side question to Ms. Mara, how easy was it for you to leave Lisbeth when the film was over?
Mara: We did do a lot of rehearsal. David and I read through the script a few times with just us together. Then all of us sat around together and went through the scenes with Steve Zaillian and Stellan [Skarsgård. We started off shooting in Stockholm with just doing exteriors. So it sort of felt like we had 3 months to really rehearse before we went back to L.A. and shot the sort of meat of the movie. So there was quite a lot of rehearsal.
Craig: Yeah. The more preparation you do and have the better chances you have on the day. Steve Zaillian wrote great words. So it is there to say. All you are doing in rehearsal is trying to tweak it and make more sense of it and to make sure that everything ties up and you know where you are when you get to it because we didn’t shoot one thing in sequence. We shot the end of the movie first and then whatever you always do. Then that day on the set we do a lot of takes and you try to make it better.
Ms. Mara, how easy was it trying to leave Lisbeth?
Mara: I think it was harder to leave the whole experience behind you. You work at a 100 mph for over a year on something and you wake up one day and you have nothing to do. It is harder to come off of a experience where you are incredibly focused and hard working. It is harder to come off of that.
Daniel, I was wondering about the intimate scenes that you had with Roomey. Were those difficult?
Craig: No. Elaborate? No. That would be weird. [laughter] No, of course not. They are not difficult. Intimate scenes on a movie set are just dry bizarre things. There are people standing around and I don’t make those kinds of movies. Not for a long time anyway. [laughter]
Mr. Fincher, can you talk about what you decided to include and not include from the original work about the Right-wing Economic Alliance historically in Sweden? Especially as it was reported that it was the Right-wing that actually drove Steig Larsson to his early death similarly in ironic ways to attacks against your female protagonist Lisbeth?
Fincher: There is a lot of mythology that comes with Steig Larsson obviously because of his untimely demise. I was certainly aware of his magazine and of his work. I had read a lot of stuff in The New York Times and in different magazines about the Steig Larsson story. But I think that the actual sort of political leanings of the material are probably not the reasons why the book was optioned or the reason why everybody waiting for a plane at LaGuardia are reading this book. It has less to do with everyone’s fear of the ultra-right in Scandinavia. So no I didn’t…like I said, my interest was that it had a ballistic envelope and it had aerodynamics to it. Obviously, 60 million people thought it was a ripping yarn. I thought that part was a ripping yarn. But the thing that interested me most was these two people.
I was kind of surprised to hear this morning that Mr. Zaillian signed on to only adapt the first book. I was wondering if that was the deal for all of you up there or if any of you are on for the whole franchise? For Mr. Fincher, given the compression of the last two books, if you direct the whole series would you consider shooting them at the same time?
Craig: I would love to stay on board.
Fincher: Classically movie studios don’t make deals with directors even if there is a hope that there are going to be three because they want to make sure that you behave. [laughs]. But yes, the second two books are very much one story and it doesn’t seem prudent to me to go to Sweden for a year. Come back for a year. Put out the second one. Go to Sweden for a year. Come back for a year. I don’t think Rooney wants to be doing this four years from now. So I think that would be crazy especially given the sense that it’s really one story that’s kind of bifurcated in the middle.
Daniel, I recently saw Infamous again and I hope you do some more singing in future films. It was really good.
Craig: That is very debatable. [laughs]
Rooney, you worked a little bit with David before. How was it like getting familiar with the process that David mentioned before with the 40 takes? When you get around to take 47 are you getting frustrated or challenged? How does that all work for you?
Mara: You don’t really think about it after awhile. It is very exaggerated and dramatized. I think our average take count was much less than that.
Craig: 35. [laughter]
Mara: No. Maybe for him.
Craig: You don’t count. You really don’t count.
Mara: Unless if it is an insert shot, you don’t really think about it. Then that can be quite frustrating.
An insert shot?
Craig: The hard stuff like moving a photograph or moving something.
Fincher: Luckily you didn’t have to do much of that.
Craig: No. Luckily there is very little of that in this movie. [laughter]
Craig: No. Sometimes you get worse and worse and then it kind of changes.
Mara: Usually you get worse and worse in the middle.
Craig: But, as David said, someone throws a lot of money at you to get to do something like this. You are there to do it right. Things get frustrating in a work day and there are lots of other things to get frustrated about, but then there are a lot of triumphs at the end of the day. You can’t get down about it.
Rooney, I understand that you have an organization that you founded called Uweza. I would like to know how that came about and how it is doing?
Mara: Yes, it is called with Uweza. I started a charity five or six years ago called Faces of Kibera and we just recently merged with Uweza. We don’t have these huge crazy goals. We just have a bunch of small little things that make a big difference in a few kids lives. We have a soccer league, after school tutoring, we sponsor kids, and we just started a journalism program. So it is just little things like that and it is doing really well. Thank you.
Mr. Fincher, one of the brilliant aspects about your films are the scores. They are essentially almost like a leading character in your movies. When you are directing these sequences, do you have part o the score with you to set the mood? The same question goes for the actors. Are you listening to the score to set the mood for yourselves?
Fincher: We did play Enya so that we could get into the right mood. [laughter] No, actually on this movie for the first time because Trent [Reznor] and I had discussed it pretty extensively and he had the script and he was bored and he is industrious he would send me…I would be in a van on the way to the location and I would get these MP3s in my email and it would be 18 minutes of driving up to the manors and we would be driving up to the driveway and we would go, “Wow. If it was snowing this would be amazing.” So I did have a lot of music that I was sort of listening to. But we didn’t shoot the scenes to that music. We put that stuff…it was added in the way you normally would, although I did have access to many minutes of music before we started scoring the film, which was different because I had never done that before.
Daniel, that contraption you were in in the basement. You looked uniquely uncomfortable.
Craig: I took it home. [laughter]
Were there any mishaps with that and how many takes did that take?
Craig: How many takes did we shoot that?
Fincher: The first night that we got to hoisting him the stunt coordinator came in and said, “Daniel has to hold this little metal thing in his hand so that if he does lose consciousness…because he is going to be acting like he is suffocating, which is not very different from actually suffocating.” So it would be hard to see. So he would have this little metal thing in his hand and he was hoisted up and we were rolling.
Mara: How come you didn’t do that for me?
Craig: There was a code word.
Fincher: Yeah, the code word was “Hmmmph!” [laughter] So he had this thing in his hand and as I am watching the monitor I hear “Ting! Ting! Ting!” We rushed in and he had passed out. So we wrapped then. [laughter] On the production report was “Let Daniel go 15 minutes early due to unconsciousness.” [laughter]
What is your take on that, Daniel?
Craig: Just another day working with David Fincher. [laughs]
Craig: The most important thing about this character for me was to make him as real and as believable as possible. Obviously, there is another person that I play that would deal with it in a different way. It wasn’t like I was ever thinking about that. I wanted to put the reality into this. He gets shot and runs away screaming like anybody else would. That was really the key and it was dead easy. Just to be sort of by the by, but that is what I love about this character and the relationship he has with Salander. He doesn’t have to prove that he is a man. He is a guy and he doesn’t have to go around beating his chest and he is very happy to fall into this relationship where she is literally wearing the trousers.
Fincher: Leather trousers.
Mr. Fincher, I was wondering how crucial it was to keep the story set in Sweden when you were making this and to not move it to Seattle or someplace else? For the actors, can you talk about the different reporting techniques? I loved that there was old school reporting with knocking on doors and talking to people and then all of the online stuff.
Fincher: It was never presented to me as “Try to figure out a way to transport this to the United States.” [Producer] Mike De Luca, [Sony Pictures Co-Chairman] Amy Pascal, and [producer] Scott Rudin, to a certain extent, were extremely supportive of going to Sweden and shooting Sweden for Sweden. I mean, if you have a 40 something reporter and his 20 something hacker girlfriend and you transport that to upstate Connecticut it is just a different thing. It ends up being a different story. So it seemed to me that it needed to take place in Sweden. It felt very much…when you are in Stockholm and you drive out of this cosmopolitan city that is unpockmarked from the Second World War and you get 15 minutes from out of downtown and you are suddenly in these rolling farm lands that look like Pennsylvania or something. It is a very interesting – from downtown to nowhere in nothing flat. It is an interesting kind of terrain. So it never occurred to me that we would change that. Although there were talks about if it would be cheaper to shoot in Canada, but they there short lived.
Craig: My character is not as computer literate as Salander. He has to sort of go out and bang on people’s doors and sort of it do it in the ways that he knows. It gets him out of the house, which is good.
Fincher: But it was also an important thing to see. He is a post-it note guy and he color codes things. He writes stuff down and he moves it around. She takes pictures of stuff and makes him a power point presentation. There is a lot of data that the audience has to slog through. So we needed to find ways to differentiate the two of them.
Craig: it was very much part of the rehearsal process and the conversations we had about “Okay. At this point we are supposed to be looking at this.” David did, but we all got involved with mapping it out so that we could sort of rim the changes each time. It is a testament to his skill as a director that it all remains interesting.
Rooney, how much of the Lisbeth costume would you keep on you or with you while you would go off set while still filming? Would you keep the piercings in or keep the hair as it was?
Craig: She would put on a pink dress at the end of the day and get really girly. [laughter]
Fincher: It was just the leather thong, right? [laughter]
Did you see people looking at you differently if you kept things there?
Mara: The hair was stuck to my head so there wasn’t much I could about that. The eyebrows remained bleach and the piercings that I got that were real obviously stayed in. Obviously, I wasn’t wearing my wardrobe at home at night. I expected people to treat me much differently, but it really didn’t happen. The biggest change that I noticed was that when you look slightly off in that way people sort of pay less attention to you and their expectations of you are lowered. I didn’t mind that and actually enjoyed that.
Look for more interviews for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the coming days.