How to Knock Out Daniel Craig, and 8 Other Revelations From the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Team
The formidable creative team behind the new adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo reconvened today in New York, where director David Fincher, screenwriter Steven Zaillian, and stars Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård talked things over with a few dozen members of the press. Movieline was there to capture a range of revealing back stories, true confessions and amusing -- if slightly harrowing -- anecdotes from the shoot. Read on for the full report.
1. Sure, this was a hit film less than three years ago. So what?
"It doesn't worry me, no," said Craig, asked about any apprehensions that the English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best-seller follows so soon after the hit Swedish adaptation from early 2009. "I think that the source material is good enough, and I think that everybody wins in this situation. I think we have 65 million readers of the book; we have, obviously, the Swedish/Danish version of the movie. But may get, as well, everybody who sees this movie to go back and read the book or watch the Swedish version. It's a win-win."
2. Zaillian still hasn't seen the earlier adaptation...
"I had read the book," he said. "I hadn't seen the film 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. So to this day, I don't really know what the similarities and the differences are between the two movies. I just thought it was a great book."
3. ...and Mara still hasn't seen the new one.
Although, for the record, Plummer acknowledged having watched Fincher's film twice, and Craig was so happy with it that he phoned the director with his compliments.
"I saw it," Craig said, "and I got in touch with David, and I said it was one of the rare occasions of my career where that was the movie that we set out to make. That's all I can say really -- that's it. I was very, very pleased."
A beat ensued before Mara -- who by far has the film's most difficult scenes -- raised her microphone and confessed: "I haven't seen it yet."
4. The brilliant title sequence, explained.
I alluded to Dragon Tattoo's opening credits a few days ago -- an inky, fluid, black-on-black fusion of sex, knowledge, anguish and technology set to Trent Reznor and Karen O's cover of the Led Zeppelin classic "Immigrant Song" -- and probably could have listened to Fincher talk about it all day.
"I think title sequences are an opportunity to set the stage," he said, "or to get people thinking in different terms, maybe, than whatever it is the movie to be going in. Often times, when movies are marketed, it's more with an idea toward, 'What's the consensus that everybody has that will get them into the 7 o'clock show. So often times a title sequence can help reorient their thinking. And I liked the idea of this sort of primordial tar or ooze of the subconscious, and I liked the idea that it was her nightmare."
5. Incidentally, licensing Led Zeppelin isn't as hard as you've heard.
The legendary band -- songwriters Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, really -- rarely allow their music to be used in films and TV. Yet there is "Immigrant Song" wailing and thrashing over the intro. What gave?
"I think they wanted to make sure that we respected it," Fincher explained. "And it was our intention all along to communicate that we didn't want to run it into the ground. We didn't want to use it in a television spot. We wanted to pick specific spots -- the teaser and the title sequence -- to do it. It was actually pretty easy. We wanted to make sure they understood it was going to be a cover. We weren't going to license the actual performance. We wanted to do it with a woman's voice. So it kind of went down [easily]."
6. About all that smoking...
Asking about the roughly 4,000 cigarettes smoked in Dragon Tattoo, I drew a vague reproach from Mara: "Did you read the book?" she replied. Hoping privately that something as subversive as unapologetic, compulsive chain-smoking in a contemporary Hollywood movie -- in the days when studios are endlessly under siege by the anti-tobacco lobby -- didn't come down to something as obvious as "Stieg said so," I responded I had not read the book.
"We took a lot of the cigarettes and coffee out," Fincher said." Actually, there was a time in preproduction where -- in jest -- we were literally going to begin every scene with a cup of coffee and a cigarette burning in homage to Stieg."
"There's a lot of smoking in the book," Mara added. "Much more than in the movie."
"But that's the most subversive thing about it?" Fincher asked me, seemingly baffled. Basically I said that for Hollywood, yes -- Dragon Tattoo plays like a conscious act of resistance to the cigarette culture cops lobbying Hollywood to cut back smoking in movies.
"Understandably," Fincher said, shrugging. "Maybe that's part of our hard-R."
7. Unsexing the Blomqvist
Asked why he decided to downplay the journalist hero's sluttier side (as detailed in Larsson's novel), Zaillian emphasized practicality. "I'm always looking to take stuff out when a book is 600 pages long, and that was something that didn't seem necessary to me," he said. "I started to feel like he was Warren Beatty in Shampoo or something, and that wasn't the story we were trying to tell."
8. No one is officially attached to the trilogy's next two adaptations -- yet.
Zaillian acknowledged that he'd read both The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest to divine any key future details that need call outs in Dragon Tattoo. Nevertheless, he hasn't written nor been commissioned to write the sequels -- if they even occur. Which, in all likelihood, they will, but hey.
"It remains to be seen if two and three are going to be made," Zaillian said. "I did not commit to writing the other ones when I agreed to do this one. It was just one film."
One journalist followed up on this with Fincher, Craig and Mara, inquiring further as to their possible participation and whether or not they would shoot the latter pair of adaptations in tandem.
"I'd love to," Craig replied.
"Same," Mara added.
"Classically," Fincher said, "movie studios don't make deals with directors for [more films] even if there's a hope that there's going to be three, because they want to make sure that you behave. 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..."
Here Mara shook her head, coaxing a laugh from both Fincher and the audience.
"Yeah," Fincher continued. "I don't think Rooney wants to be doing this four years from now. So no; I think that would be crazy, especially given the sense that it's really one story that's kind of bifurcated in the middle."
9. They knocked out the leading man.
Discussing the film's climactic showdown between Blomkvist and the killer -- which required Craig to be bound, strung from the ceiling and suffocated -- the star and the director confirmed that the situation was both as unpleasant and dangerous as it looked.
"The first night that we got that hoisting," Fincher said, "the stunt coordinator came in and said [Craig] should hold this little metal thing in his hand so that if he does lose consciousness... Because he's going to be acting like he's suffocating, which is not very different from actually suffocating. So it was going to be hard to kind of see. So he would have this little metal thing in his hand, and he was hoisted up, and we were rolling and--"
"How come you didn't do that for me?" Mara asked.
"There was a code word!" Craig said.
"Yeah, the code word was, 'Unnhhh!,'" Fincher said, referring to the Lisbeth's gag in the film's rape scene. "That much is true. So he had it, and we were watching the monitor, and as I'm watching the monitor, I hear, 'Ting, ting, ting. And we rush in and he had passed out. So we, uh, wrapped then. And on the production report was, 'Let Daniel go 15 minutes early due to unconsciousness.'"
Craig smiled: "Just another day working with David Fincher."
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo opens nationwide Dec. 20.
[Top photo of Daniel Craig, Roney Mara, David Fincher, Stellan Skarsgard, and Steven Zailiian at the Stockholm premiere of Dragon Tattoo: AFP/Getty Images]
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