Recreating the ‘Dragon’ Lady

Describing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as one of the edgiest and most stylish films of the year, New York Post reporter Sara Stewart gives readers a breakdown of how Fincher transformed the girl-next-door look of actress Rooney Mara into the dark, anti-hero Lisbeth Salander as described in the book. Here are some excerpts.

Getting Into Character

Larsson wrote, “Salander looked as though she had just emerged from a weeklong orgy with a gang of hard rockers. She had a wide mouth, a small nose and high cheekbones that gave her an almost Asian look.”

Fincher not only brought in makeup artists and hairstylists, Stewart reports, but to be sure that she could look like she’d “just emerged from a weeklong orgy” Mara told Vogue that Fincher said, “Go out and get really, really drunk and come in the next morning so we can take pictures of you.” Mara says she complied. “Threw up all night!” she told the fashion mag.

[Interestingly, and as we noted in The Tattooed Girl, Noomi Rapace, who played Salander in all three of the Swedish films, didn’t get into character by being sick but ended the shooting that way. Rapace revealed that the experience had been so intense that at the celebratory end-of-filming party she kept running to the bathroom. “It was like my body throwing Lisbeth out of me.”]

The Hair

In the book, Larsson described Salander as “a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black.” In what the New York Post’s Stewart calls “the most surprising — and exacting — detail of Mara’s transformation was the use of a merkin (or pubic wig) which reflected the novel’s statement that Salander is a natural redhead. ‘Well, you know, in the book she’s meant to have strawberry-blonde hair originally and she dyes it,’ Mara told Metro New York, ‘so we had a special merkin made that was, you know, strawberry-blonde so that it would fit.’” 

The Tattoo

In the book Lisbeth Salander is described as having “a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle .  .  . she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade.”

Citing that description, Stewart reports that “makeup artist Torsten Witte was charged with keeping Mara inked up. He worked with NYC-based Temptu Pro to create the ink transfers that made each tattoo look realistic. The production used as many as 100 transfers to so that the tats always looked fresh. The design for the titular dragon came from one of Fincher’s friends, Witte told W magazine, as the director was concerned that it might come out looking too Asian or cartoony.”

The Nudity

Nothing was faked in that department. Says Stewart in the Post: “Mara told Allure that she had no choice but to be OK with being naked on screen. ‘Nudity is such a huge part of the character in the book, so I never thought twice about it. There was no time for hesitation. I didn’t have time to second-guess anything or be scared; I just showed up and was comfortable.’”

The “She Looks No Older Than Fourteen” Face

Writes Larsson: “She did not in fact have an eating disorder . . . she had simply been born thin, with slender bones that made her look girlish and fine-limbed with small hands, narrow wrists and childlike breasts. She was 24, but she sometimes looked fourteen. Her extreme slenderness would have made a career in modeling impossible, but with the right makeup her face could have put her on any billboard in the world.”

In her conversation with Vogue, notes Stewart, Mara pointed out that Fincher’s version of Salander is more faithful to this description than the Swedish movie’s. “One of the things that makes our version that much more heartbreaking is that even though I am playing a 24-year-old, I look much younger. I look like a child,” Mara has said. Daniel Craig, her co-start, said of Mara’s look: ‘’When she puts the hoodie on and the leather jacket, she looks like a 14-year-old boy, she looks sexless. Which is perfect. The other side of it is that when she doesn’t have that on, she’s really sexy. That combination is absolutely true to the book.”

The Look

Giving the final touches to Mara’s transformation into the book’s Goth avenging angel costume designer Trish Summerville was called on to create a mostly-black wardrobe for Salander that reflected her desire to both telegraph hostility to the world, and allow her to, as the designer put it in the Hollywood Reporter, “disappear into the shadows.” Much time was spent making sure her T-shirts, pants, skirts and leather jacket were authentically beat-up: “edged-out, lived-in and dirty,” Summerville told Sara Steward of the Post. “She’s slouchy and she’s kind of hiding in her clothing.”

But here’s a crude Fincher/Summerville touch that was never in the book: in one scene Salander wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “F – – k You, You F – – king F – – k.”

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