Any day now, director David Fincher will change a young actress' life by giving her the starring role in the latest hyper-anticipated movie franchise: the English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's blockbuster crime thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
The Daily Beast has learned exclusively that the role of brilliant hacker Lisbeth Salander has been narrowed down to four virtually unknown actresses: Australians Sophie Lowe, starring in the forthcoming thriller Blame, and Sarah Snook, ( Sleeping Beauty), American Rooney Mara, who co-stars in Fincher's upcoming Facebook film The Social Network, and French actress Lea Seydoux, who appeared in Inglourious Basterds and Robin Hood.
Fans say the only thing that could keep them from seeing these films is a poorly chosen cast.
Not one of the early contenders seems to have made the cut. Not Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Emily Browning, nor even Fincher's favorite, the pixie South African rapper Yo-Landi Vi$$er. They have all been passed over for various reasons: too old. Too tall. Too famous. Or just not interested. (That would be Vi$$er.) Meanwhile, the appetite among fans for even the most mundane detail on this production seems to grow more voracious the closer Fincher gets to filming. On Monday, Daniel Craig officially took the film's lead role as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist after months of speculation that had everyone from Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp to George Clooney linked to the part. But the scrutiny has been most intense over the franchise's complicated, sexy title figure, the plum role of Blomkvist's co-detective—the punk Salander, the dark angel with the tortured past.
It's a real nail-biter for a small clutch of Hollywood agents, each of them wondering who will hit the movie-making lottery. "This is the biggest role for an actress in the last five or six years," one agent noted. "If the movie works and the actress is good, it's a role they could be [Oscar] nominated for. And it's a big global footprint to get other jobs. It's a game changer."
Fincher doesn't have long to mull over the decision. He's expected to make his choice within two weeks. Pre-production on the film begins next month with filming set to start in Sweden in late September or early October, as soon as Craig finishes shooting the long-delayed Jon Favreau action adventure Cowboys & Aliens. Which explains why things have picked up speed in the last week with the screen tests, Craig's casting, and the Dec. 21, 2011, release-date announcement.
Fincher screen-tested the four actresses last Thursday, after putting out the word that no one over 24 years old or taller than 5-foot-5 would be seriously considered. (In the books, Larsson describes Lisbeth as a 24-year old who sometimes looks 14.) And he preferred unknowns. Not long after that, Portman, 29, and Mulligan, who stands 5-foot-7, told reporters they weren't in the running for the part. Meanwhile, the Oscar-nominated Page, who is 23 and 5-foot-1, was told to keep working on her Swedish accent, despite the fact that Fincher's "unknown" mandate seemed to nix her chances. Browning, who is 21 and meets the physical requirements, is still talking to filmmakers but not among the top contenders.
The stakes are incredibly high considering the mammoth, DaVinci Code-caliber following inspired by Larsson's posthumously published novels, known as the Millennium trilogy. Fans say the only thing that could keep them from seeing these films is a poorly chosen cast. The series— The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest—has sold 40 million copies since 2005, thanks to phenomenal word-of-mouth. Americans have devoured the novels since the first one hit the U.S. in 2008.
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• Fans Flock to Dragon Tattoo TownThe well-reviewed Swedish film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, released first in 2009 and this year in the U.S., was the highest grossing Swedish film ever made and has already earned more than $100 million worldwide. It swept this year's Guldebagge Awards—the Swedish Oscars—earning best film, fan favorite and Noomi Rapace, who played Salander, a best actress award. With the full force of the Hollywood machine behind a Columbia Pictures adaptation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo could make a Twilight-level impact on audiences.
"We're doing the book," Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman told The Wrap last week. "That's why we hired David Fincher. We're going to really do this, in all their glory. Otherwise why do it? They're very R-rated movies. It's the shock of what's really going on underneath the surface of society. If you don't actually make good on that, you haven't told the story."
Fans felt the Swedish adaptations of the three movies (led by Tattoo's Danish director Niels Arden Oplev) were sufficiently faithful to the books. Some even hoped Rapace would reprise her role for the Hollywood remakes. In a March poll by Music Box Films, the U.S. distributor of the Swedish movies, 68 percent of respondents voted for Rapace to play Salander again. Ellen Page came in a distant second. "Noomi Rapace IS Lisbeth Salander," Maryland fan Mary-Lynn Ragot told The Daily Beast.
Reactions to the news that Daniel Craig will play Mikael Blomkvist have been mixed. “When I was reading the books, he's the guy who came to mind to play Mikael,” one fan wrote on the official Stieg Larsson Facebook page. But others can't get past his Bond image. “His face is a face of a boxer, of some village version of James Bond, of many things, but not of an intellectual, journalist, charming workaholic Mikael Blomkvist,” another wrote.
For Salander, they–like Fincher–want an unknown actress who fits the physical description of Larsson’s character, that is, “a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows … born thin, with slender bones that made her look girlish.”
"Lisbeth Salander is autistic or has Asperger's," Ragot points out. "She's so private and lonely. It would be ridiculous to feel like you knew that person from the tabloids."
In terms of plot and storytelling, American fans want the movies to take place in Sweden—which they will—with a script as faithful to the books as possible. And they don't want Fincher to shy away from Larsson's strong themes and storylines—specifically, the graphic rape scene and Salander's reaction to it.
“In the Swedish film they took it to the edge but didn’t go too far, and the American version should be pretty darn close to that,” says Scott Leslie, a fan from Virginia. “That’s a key scene in the book, and if they don’t get it right it’ll be problematic.”
So far, the studio, Fincher, and his producers are keeping the lid on the script. Actresses who screen-tested for the role were given select pages for the audition. And no one with the production is talking. (Reps for Fincher, producer Scott Rudin, and Pascal all declined to be interviewed for this story.)
"It's Fincher," said one Hollywood insider. "He's going to do his own thing. And what that means I have no idea."
Gina Piccalo spent a decade at the Los Angeles Times covering Hollywood. She's now a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and her work has appeared in Elle, More and Emmy. She can be found at ginapiccalo.com.
A former editor of Men's Journal, Claire Martin has written for Outside, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times magazine.