David Fincher has granted a host of interviews in the run-up to the debut of his film, but the most insightful we’ve seen is the one he gave Charles McGrath of The New York Times recently.
McGrath, who had already written a long piece for the New York Times in 2010 on “The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson,” reports that Fincher remains worried about how viewers will react to the deviations he made from Larsson’s plot, including more focus on Salander and her relationship with Blomkvist, rendering the bad guys even badder, and changing the ending. Or as Fincher put it, “My re-imaginings, compressions and reductions.”
How protective Larsson fans could be about the books became apparent to him while he was trying to cast the part of Salander. Of that experience, Fincher told McGrath that, “She’s one of those characters, like Jesus Christ, Dracula and Batman, that everyone has his own ideas about who should play them. All of a sudden I’m getting phone calls from people I respect saying, ‘You can’t possibly cast X, Y or Z.’
“I wanted to say, ‘Are you really calling me to influence the casting of a movie?’ I was naïve about it, to be honest. It wasn’t like there were 5,000 girls in black leggings and Goth skull makeup lining up outside on the street. But a lot of the press and the bloggers made it seem like the search for the next Scarlett O’Hara.”
What he held out for, McGrath reports, was someone who didn’t come trailing a lot of movie history and who could convey a sense of Lisbeth as a damaged child. Someone who was as much an outsider in same ways than Salander was. “I kept feeling that I was looking for someone who was in some ways still 13 years old, holding a jar of kerosene in one hand and a lighter in the other,” Fincher told him.
Fincher came to the project reluctantly, he said, having already been there, done that when it came to movies about killers (“Seven” and “Zodiac “). After reading the book there were even more reservations. “I was appalled, for all the right reasons,” he said, referring to the story’s darkness and especially to a brutal scene of anal rape that he wasn’t sure was filmable in today’s climate.
What tipped the balance was the opportunity to overturn the conventional Hollywood wisdom that says franchise movies, like the Harry Potter films and the James Bond series, have to be rated PG-13. The studio and the producer urged him to “go deep,” Mr. Fincher said — to make an unflinching, R-rated movie. “I don’t need another serial-killer movie but I liked the chance to make a franchise movie for adults.”
When it came to making the movie Fincher was his famously stubborn and obsessive self. “When people come to me and say, ‘Why can’t you compromise?’ I’m like: ‘What are you talking about? The fact that we’re having this conversation means that we’ve compromised.’”
A common thread in all Mr. Fincher’s movies, “Benjamin Button” excepted, is people who are obsessed with something — solving a crime, tricking an uptight older brother into loosening up, creating a culture of bare-knuckled fighting, starting a social media Web site — and Mr. Fincher agreed that the description probably applies to himself as well. He said that he preferred to make a distinction between obsession and professionalism, but added, “My idea of professionalism is probably a lot of people’s idea of obsessive.”