Lisbeth Salander, misanthropic Watson to Mikael Blomkvist’s investigative journalist Sherlock Holmes in Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is by nature a rule-breaker. Look no further than her day job as a hacker; a means of assaulting the society that scarred her. To get Lisbeth to jump off the page, it required an actress with both an adolescent punkish attitude as well as a glacial resilience. Furthermore, like Noomi Rapace who originated the part in the original Swedish trilogy, the role required a starlet whose image wouldn’t cloud moviegoers’ perception of the character’s unorthodoxy (reasons why such Salander candidates as Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson were passed over for Sony’s Stateside remake). Director David Fincher’s expectations were smashed by Rooney Mara, the straight-laced girl he cast to reject Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Through a half-dozen screen tests Mara proved her worth to Fincher and eventually bowled over Sony’s reticence. Mara certainly has gotten the town’s attention, landing a role in Terrence Malick’s upcoming Lawless as well as best actress Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for the role.
Did you know someone like Lisbeth Salander growing up?
No, I don’t think anyone does. That’s what’s great about her: She’s unlike anyone you’ve seen or read about before.
When you started auditioning for David Fincher, did you have the Swedish accent under control?
He asked for the actresses to do a Swedish accent for the audition. It’s a really hard dialect to figure out and there aren’t a lot of people who specialize in it here in Los Angeles. There’s no such thing as a Swedish accent. Everyone sounds completely different. Some sound British or American. People from the North sound different from the people in the south. When I was auditioning the accent wasn’t as perfected as it sounds in the movie.
Any idea what it was that made David Fincher decide you were the one to play Lisbeth?
I don’t know. Initially he didn’t want to see me. I had just finished Social Network and I was something completely different in that. I am all the things in that movie that Salander was not. So it was hard for him to wrap his head around the notion that I could be this other girl. I think when he saw me the first time [for Lisbeth], it dawned on him that I could be. I’m not sure what it is he saw in me that made him know that I could be the girl. I think he was trying to find someone who at their core had a lot in common with this girl.
Did you audition in full Lisbeth regalia? Did you get piercings, crop your hair?
Ya know, that would have been quite devastating to have done that and not have landed the part. I had one fake piercing I would wear to the auditions. I tried to dress and do my hair and makeup as much as I could like the character, but it’s hard to do that. During the screen tests, Trish Summerville, the costume designer, brought clothes for us.
With Lisbeth having been established thoroughly in the books and by actress Noomi Rapace, what artistic license did you take with the character?
It’s hard to look back and list those things now, because it’s something you do constantly. We really wanted to stay as true to the book as possible. In the book, she walks around in little jean mini-skirts, Doc Martens and gets a boob job in the sequel. We certainly changed her wardrobe. The bleached eyebrows is one thing we did, it’s the best thing we did for her look.
In preparing for the role, you researched Asperger’s Syndrome.
I did, I went to a school, The Help Group in Sherman Oaks, CA – it’s a school for kids with autism or Asperger’s. Characters in the books are constantly commenting on how Lisbeth has Asperger’s but it’s never confirmed, it’s just what people think.
Lisbeth is perceived by many readers as a crusader against misogyny. But isn’t there an irony in her character? That by design, she’s a misogynist’s vision?
I don’t think she’s a crusader of anything. I know a lot of people see her as a symbol for feminism and I know that Stieg Larsson was a feminist. Salander lives by her own set of rules. She lives by a strict moral code, but I don’t think she does anything in the name of a group or cause.
Academy members are often known for being conservative in their cinema tastes. What is it about Lisbeth’s character that makes her sympathetic?
It’s hard not to be sympathetic toward Lisbeth. She’s had such a horrible life being systemically abused by people. I think everyone can relate to that at some point in their life: People in a position of power, abusing that power over others. She also doesn’t hold a lot of sympathy for herself which makes her more sympathetic. She never thinks of herself as a victim.