When word came Monday that American actress Rooney Mara would play Lisbeth Salander in the English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the reaction from Larsson fans was all over the map. "YES! I was hoping she'd get it," one commenter wrote on the official Larsson Facebook page. "This must be a joke! A bad, bad joke," another chimed in. Many concluded that Mara would never measure up to their beloved Noomi Rapace (the actress who originated the role in the Swedish-language version of the film). A fourth faction also emerged—those who wanted to know, "Rooney Who?"
This last question is a very good sign.
Fincher appears to be gaining fans’ trust with his casting acumen.
In the months leading up to the Mara announcement, most Larsson fundamentalists were in favor of either re-casting Rapace or signing a no-name actress. Even Rapace herself (who had said she wasn't interested in reprising the role) was pulling for an unknown to get the part. "I hope they won't take, you know, a big celebrity ... because sometimes the fame makes it difficult to believe in [the character], especially Lisbeth, who is very complicated and dark and so on," Rapace told The Hollywood Reporter in a May interview. "So I hope they take someone who is a little less known."
Mara, 24 years old, played the female lead in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street—a film many Dragon Tattoo fans, predominantly of an older demographic, won't have seen. She also has a supporting role in the upcoming Facebook film The Social Network (by Dragon Tattoo director David Fincher). But otherwise, she's the fresh face fans ordered up when they took to the Internet to express their opinions. Which they did in droves.
Speculation about casting for the film ignited fans' imaginations with increased intensity two weeks ago, when British actor Daniel Craig signed on to play the role of journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Salander’s sometime lover and co-investigator of crimes. The Craig news was met with some skepticism. “I hate to think of ‘James Bond’ as Michael [sic],” one fan wrote on the Larsson Facebook page. “God alone knows how he will play the complexities of blomqvist [sic] when he only has one facial expression,” another complained. But mostly, as with any discussion of Dragon Tattoo, it was met with speculation about Lisbeth.
Lisbeth mania was on full display earlier this month when it was announced that Robin Wright would play the fortysomething magazine publisher Erika Berger. Some fans completely misunderstood the message.
"Good choice. Wright has this masculine edge to her, with some deep eyeliner, cut off tee, she should fit in as Lesbeth," a commenter wrote on Deadline Hollywood’s website.
The Lesbeth wordplay alludes to the sexual versatility of the character—described by Larsson as a 24-year-old woman who could pass for a teenage boy. As another commenter quickly pointed out, it would hardly be the role for 44-year-old Wright: "Wright is Berger, not Salander. Pay attention.” Then the writer added, “This shit is hot."
Craig and Wright were important insofar as they signaled that Fincher was on his way to signing the right actress. Beyond Rapace or an unknown, who that was ranged from Ellen Page to Kristen Stewart to Winona Ryder. Some fans even called for Lady Gaga and Russian spy Anna Chapman to send in audition tapes.
There has been a sense among devotees that the approach to casting should mirror Larsson’s own anti-establishment leanings, and that the two Swedish-language films released in the U.S. this year—the final one, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, comes out in October—had succeeded in doing that. Larsson’s pre- Dragon Tattoo writing career reflected what his former colleagues have described as a socialist militant belief system, and the themes in his Millennium trilogy aren’t typical of mainstream thrillers. “He wrote a lot about anti-corruption and anti-big business,” Seattle fan Danny Hernandez told The Daily Beast. “That’s what he preaches, and I would hope they’d go anti-establishment in the movies.”
If Craig is considered too mainstream by some, Wright and Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard, who is in talks to play mysterious businessman Martin Vanger, fit better into fans' anti-establishment game plan and so far have been embraced more widely. (Their roles are also smaller, and seen as less critical to the movie’s success.)
Skarsgard, a veteran character actor and Stockholm resident, is known to fans ( The Hunt for Red October, Breaking the Waves, Good Will Hunting), but he’s not overexposed. And not to be underestimated is the importance of his nationality. “You have to have some Swedes in this film... and he is perfect,” was one fan’s reaction to the possibility of Skarsgard.
Wright, who has had a sporadic career—with her best-known roles being 1987’s The Princess Bride and 1994’s Forrest Gump—has her own outsider appeal. “Robin Wright is beautiful, projects intelligence, and is ACTUALLY THE RIGHT AGE FOR THE PART!!” a Deadline Hollywood commenter wrote. In a poll on People.com, 74 percent of fans expressed their approval of Wright as Berger.
The Wright casting also invited a considerable amount of tea-leaf reading about the screenplays: How big will the Erika Berger role be in the Hollywood remake? The Swedish film’s treatment of the Blomkvist-Berger romance was so minimal that actress Lena Endre had what amounted to a bit part. Fincher may be planning to amp up the Berger-Blomkvist thread or give Berger more of a presence in the sequels—either of which would be a more faithful representation of the Larsson books, and as such, happy-making for groupies. “Robin Wright could potentially be excellent as Erika if the writers decide to keep her character prominent in the story,” British fan Andrew Benton told the The Daily Beast.
Until recently, online chatter was almost exclusively antagonistic toward the entire idea of the English-language movie. “Just leave it alone... support the Swedish films, the filmmaker, cast & crew that have already captured the books so well!” was a typical rant. But Fincher appears to be gaining fans’ trust with his casting acumen, and there’s a sense that the tide is turning in favor of the Hollywood film.
“Not so A-list that they're in the news every minute, but well-respected character actors,” is how Maryland fan Mary-Lynn Ragot approvingly described Fincher’s supporting cast. And positive comments are trickling in on Internet message boards, along the lines of: “I’m not typically a supporter of remakes, but I’m starting to drool over this lineup.”
At least one fan has complete faith in Mara. "Rooney Mara all the way," a Deadline Hollywood reader commented. "She has the skills, the allure, and strength to pull off the role and make it her own." Then he added, "Or just as powerful as the original actress."
A former editor of Men's Journal, Claire Martin has written for Outside, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times magazine.