‘Tomb Raider’ Screenwriter Geneva Robertson-Dworet on Rethinking Lara Croft & ‘Captain Marvel’

     March 19, 2018

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From director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and inspired by the 2013 reboot of the video game, the action-adventure flick Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), the fiercely independent 21-year-old daughter of a father (Dominic West) who vanished seven years prior, leaving her with the desire to forge her own path instead of taking the reins of his global empire. Faced with the very real possibility of learning what happened to him, she sets out on a search for the fabled tomb on a mythical island off the coast of Japan, which was his last-known destination, with the hope that she’ll find answers.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, screenwriter Geneva Robertson-Dworet, who worked on the film with Alastair Siddons, talked about the perspective she wanted to give Lara Croft, what she most enjoyed about working with and watching Alicia Vikander bring this character to life, and the tonal shifts to the story. She also talked about the difference in working for Marvel, as a writer on Captain Marvel, why her six months on that project was a dream experience, the approach to the film, what she’s most excited about with that character, and how exciting it is to have all-female voices involved in crafting it.

Collider: I had a lot of fun with this! Alicia Vikander is a great Lara Croft, and I really enjoyed Walton Goggins as the villain.

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Image via Warner Bros.

GENEVA ROBERTSON-DWORET: I love Walton! When he came on board, I could not have been more excited. My husband wrote for Walton Goggins on Vice Principals, and it was great that we both got to write for Walton, in the same year. I think he did such an incredible job, as an actor. I could not have been more pumped!

As a woman, what perspective did you want to give Lara Croft?

ROBERTSON-DWORET: I loved the old movies. Angelina Jolie nailed it and created such an iconic version of the character. To me, she felt so perfect that I couldn’t totally relate to her, but maybe that’s just naturally who Angelina Jolie is. I wanted to create someone who ultimately kicks ass, but doesn’t start there, at all, and who starts as a very relatable, normal person with the problems that I had when I was her age and trying to pay rent and thought that I could take on the world. Lara quickly finds out that she’s in way over her head, when she starts her adventure. As soon as she gets into Hong Kong, she gets in trouble with the kids. She needs to rise to the occasion and ultimately take on whatever is thrown at her, but it was important to me to show the journey of what you go through, internally and externally, to get to the place where can be someone who can handle whatever life throws at you, the way Lara does. That’s what I was interested in. I wanted to create that, as an inspirational character. I wanted to see that journey.

Alicia Vikander makes all of that really believable. What did you enjoy about watching her bring this character to life?

ROBERTSON-DWORET: I want to give more credit than that to Alicia, as a collaborator. It wasn’t like I wrote something and she brought it to life. She had major creative input on making sure we maintained the vision of the character that she wanted to have on screen, too. It was a very collaborative process, and she was great. I think she had some really interesting instincts, in terms of making it feel like it does. My very early drafts were more action-comedy in tone, like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones, where it was really quippy. They actually cut out a huge number of the jokes because they felt like it wasn’t what a real person would say, in this situation. The heightened tone that Indiana Jones has, which I love, was not the grounded version of Tomb Raider that Roar [Uthaug], our director, and Alicia, our leading lady, had in mind. So, there was a lot of work done to retro-fit it to Alicia’s vision, and she nailed that realistic version because it was always in her head. We reworked the script to be more according to her vision and more grounded.

Were they any major shifts to the story, in the screenwriting process?

ROBERTSON-DWORET: The main one was that tonal shift, with Roar and Alicia wanting it to be more grounded. My early drafts were very Marvel in tone, emphasizing the fun of it. Those early drafts became my sample that got me hired at Marvel. Alicia and Roar, based on his background as a Norwegian filmmaker and the movies he’s make there, wanted it to be more dramatic, serious and grounded. That was the major shift. Therefore, the dialogue got largely rewritten because when you change the tone, you rewrite the dialogue. Partially, that was by me, but I also want to give credit to the other writer on the project, Alastair Siddons, who took over when I hopped off. He wrote a huge amount of the dialogue, so I want to be fair to my fellow writer and give him credit for most of the dialogue, which actually was his.

How is working with Marvel, as a writer on Captain Marvel, different than writing a Tomb Raider movie?

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Image via Warner Bros.

ROBERTSON-DWORET: Marvel is a dream experience. It’s a very structured environment. You’re in this amazing collaborative environment, where you go in and meet with the team in person, a lot. Kevin Feige is there, multiple times a week, meeting with you and talking you through his vision of it, within how this story fits into the universe and what you want to do with the character. It was a total blast! That was a really interesting process because Brie [Larson] had already been signed on. With Tomb Raider, there was this major tonal shift that occurred, over the course of the writing, where it got much more serious, but it had been an action comedy. With Marvel, we had all of the pieces ahead of time. Brie was already signed on, when I came on and did my six months on the project. It was very clear, what they wanted to do, tonally, when I came in. It was just about refining that and making sure that the director’s vision was making it on the page.

What was it that most excited you about Captain Marvel? Was it the character, was it the story being told, or was it just getting to do a Marvel movie?

ROBERTSON-DWORET: Oh, man, I love that character! We really were bringing so much of what was already in the comics onto the screen, it felt like, in terms of the amazing character who’s so funny and sassy and talks back, and she’s fearless. I love that Carol Danvers is so funny. She has a blast when she kicks ass. Those comics are amazing! It’s an amazing world and sandbox to play in. You’re working with incredible creative people, every day. I had a total dream experience.

As a woman in a predominantly male industry, when did you feel like your voice was actually being heard and listened to, and did you ever feel like that was something you had to fight for?

ROBERTSON-DWORET: Yes! That is such an interesting question. I think that’s where we’re still making steps. With [Tomb Raider], I’m incredibly grateful to Cassidy Lange, who was the Vice President at MGM and the producer overseeing the project on the MGM side. She really fought for my ideas, and I’m incredibly grateful to her. I think there’s, thank god, a greater awareness in the industry that we need more female voices, not just on the creative side, but also on the producer and executive side. People out in the world who don’t work in this industry assume that you just get a female director, and then everything is great. If the female director has to answer to male executives, when you’re talking about a $100 million or $200 million movie, who are running the show, they’re going to be telling you what to do, and if it’s not that, it’s at least going to be very collaborative. You need female decision-makers on the executive side, as well, because they’re the ones vetoing what the female director or female writer might be saying. I’m incredibly grateful that on Captain Marvel, we had a female executive on the project, we had a female director (co-director Anna Boden), and we had me, a female writer. On that project, they only had female writers, from start to finish. Meg LeFauve and Nicole Perlman cracked the story, as the first writers in, and then I came in. It’s been all-female voices, throughout, which I think is so exciting.

Tomb Raider is now playing in theaters.

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