Interview: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' Director Fede Alvarez on Casting New Lisbeth and Reinventing the Series

Interview: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' Director Fede Alvarez on Casting New Lisbeth and Reinventing the Series

It’s been eight years since Lisbeth Salander last surfaced on the big screen as part of a big English-language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now she’s back in The Girl in the Spider’s Web (in theaters November 9; tickets now on sale) – this time portrayed by The Crown actress Claire Foy – in a more explosive story that centers on Salander and the complicated history she has with her own family. Spider’s Web is technically the fourth book in the series and the first from author David Lagercrantz, who took over penning the series following the death of original author Stieg Larsson. This time, it is Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead, Don't Breathe) behind the camera, and in an exclusive interview with Fandango, he spoke about separating this film from the previous ones and why he wanted to give audiences something they never expected.

"For me it was a joy to get to meet Lisbeth Salander," director Fede Alavrez told Fandango. "That's what you do when you make these movies. You get to meet the real flesh version of that character and just spend time with her and go on an adventure with her. And I mean really go on an adventure with her, because I can say I was on a cliff in the middle of the snow in the mountains with Lisbeth Salander while she was going through one of her most difficult experiences, and I was right next to her, right? On my trip, in my imagination, I was there. I was physically there. That's why I do this. That's why I do any film, and that's why I wanted to do this one too - to go on an adventure with her and hopefully that'll mean I'll take the audience on the same adventure when they see it in theaters."

Below, we talk with Alvarrez about why this specific story was the right one to tell as Lisbeth's next adventure, as well as how some unconventional casting decisions lead to one of fall's most anticipated thrillers.

Fandango: Technically, this is the second Dragon Tattoo movie, but why skip ahead to the fourth book? What was it about that story that made it the right fit for the next cinematic chapter of Lisbeth Salander?

Fede Alvarez: I think book two and three were a direct continuation of the first story, right? A lot of the things that happened with those books and the stories... you need to have seen the first one to kind of understand what's going on there. You wouldn't understand a lot of the events of the second book if you haven't read the first one, [and it's the] same with the movie. I think what was cool about this one is that it's kind of a fresh start, in a way.

You don't really need to have seen or read the books to enjoy the story - to really understand what's going on - and we honor all the past stories of the characters, but you can see the way they look at each others. At a glance, you understand that those two have a history - particularly Blomkvist and Lisbeth - but then, story-wise, it's not that you need to have seen something to understand why [something is] happening and this felt like a good clean start in a way for the new audiences. But at the same time, it's giving the audiences - the ones that are fans of the movies and the books - a great continuation to a story they've seen before.

 

Fandango: What were you personally attracted to as a filmmaker with this story, and what was something unique that you wanted to bring to it?

Fede Alvarez: I always look to do things that I can put myself into. Meaning, I write all my movies, I wrote this one, I wrote Evil Dead, I wrote Don't Breathe, and that is a way for me to not just be the guy that shoots it, but to put my voice in it - to talk about the themes and ideas I'm interested in. So, when you go to do a bigger studio movie like this coming from Don't Breathe, not a lot of them have the room for you, at least for me with the tones and things I'm interested in, to talk about. It felt like the world of Millennium and the world of Dragon Tattoo was going to be the perfect sandbox for me to come in and play.

And so, it was partly that the tone of those books felt like it was in the world of my movies, and at the same time, it's obviously the character of Lisbeth Salander, who I'm just fascinated by. She's probably the most interesting character in literature in the last decade.

 

Fandango: Was the search for the new Lisbeth an exhausting one, and when did you know Claire Foy was the right choice?

Fede Alvarez: It was exhausting, yes, because you see a lot of people. It was... the role that any young actor wants to find - wants to play. It's a great role for anybody. So I think it was a long period of time just auditioning people, but that's usually how we start. As soon as I saw Claire in The Crown, though, I was like "That's it, this is our Lisbeth," and I met with her in New York to chat about the movie, and we talked mostly about the character and the scenes that we're going to be talking about in the movie and about family and guilt, and about secrets and shame. About all the things that the movie talks about. And that's when we clicked, really. It was like, "okay, let's make this movie together."

 

Fandango: It's interesting that you were watching The Crown and that's what convinced you she might be right for this. Those are two completely different roles.

Fede Alvarez: Well, yeah, but that's the thing. I think the director has to always make a little bit of a counterintuitive choice, right? When you cast the person that anybody could cast and anybody would know is the right person, you're not really doing your job. You're just doing something that anybody could do, and that's not great. You have to try to see the thing that not everybody sees. That usually is a skill that a director must have. I don't know if I have it, but it definitely is a skill that directors I admire have. And it's always counterintuitive, because otherwise, it means you saw that actor playing the same role before. I think it's more interesting, for me at least, when it's a bit more counterintuitive, and you just go against the grain a little bit. It just adds more room for surprise in the audience.

Fandango: Lisbeth's family plays a big role in this film. How much does her story change now that we're learning more about where she came from?

Fede Alvarez: Well, the challenge was obviously to stay true to canon and not change anything drastically from the books. So we took all the elements that obviously were in the novel, we took that and more, to try and find Lisbeth's Kryptonite. For a character like her, she's so tough and so fearless, and characters like that usually make me feel like I just want to find the thing that breaks this person. What is the thing that really gets to them and... because part of the fun of watching characters like Lisbeth is that you never get to them. Even if you think you do, you don't.

When the villain thinks he's going to win, and has them on their knees, they already have a plan and they win. So they're kind of unbreakable and my passion, really, particularly with heroes and with main characters, is to really break them into submission and find out who they truly are. All my movies are usually end up kind of in the same place. Which is, for me, trying to break that character open. Because I don't like superheroes. I don't like perfect characters. I don't like people that are in movies, particularly, that are bigger than life and better than anybody else that have great morals and I think those characters can be oppressive for the audience sometimes because you'll never be like that.

I always prefer to really show the truth about characters, which is that none of them are perfect. They all make mistakes. They all commit big sins, and I think, at least with myself, I just connect with those characters more. So that's definitely what we tried to do with this story was mostly about that. Let's try to get to know her - to really get really deep into her mind and her soul.

 

Fandango: You also have a new Blomkvist in this movie. What was it about Sverrir Gudnason that made him right for the part?

Fede Alvarez: He was very different from the actors that played that role. To just have cast someone that was kind of the same as the last one but different, or kind of the same as Michael Nyqvist, the Swedish actor who played in the Swedish movies, then it just feels like you're watching a different version of what you saw before, and that was never my intention. The only way to make a new version of the character... a new take on the character... he had to really be radically different.

So one of the things I wanted was to get someone younger. I mean, he was the same age as Daniel Craig was when he played it, but he just looks younger. He has kind of a fresher vibe also, because you don't know him and I think for me that's important as well, to try to not cast anybody that you've seen before too much. That makes you believe the story a bit more because you haven't seen these people before too many times.

 

Fandango: Would that be similar for Lakeith Stanfield? I feel like this is a role that we've never seen him in either. How did you wind up with him in the film?

Fede Alvarez: I got an audition from him, and I loved his take right away because it was completely different to what I had in mind. His take on the role was just completely different, so that off the bat was like "Great, this is what I want." And I actually started watching Atlanta recently and I was like "Oh god, it's nothing to do with the Lakeith I know." He, I know, is obviously close to the character. It's just because that's what he'd been playing while we were working together.

So it was... it's interesting how, again, most of these people, if you've seen them in something, you've seen them playing something radically different. They have nothing to do with what they did in the movie, and I think that's a lot of fun to me.

 

Fandango: What are you most excited for audiences to take away from this film?

Fede Alvarez: Honestly, for me, it's always about giving them a great time. That's the main thing. I make movies that, hopefully, are crowd pleasers. That's what I try for every time - to really entertain the audience in the time they spend at the theater - and more than anything, it'll hopefully make them watch a movie they felt they never saw before.

Which, I think, this is what this is. It has elements of things that feel familiar but they combine in a way that I think they rarely get combined, especially not recently. There hasn't been a movie that combines the elements of this one the way we did. So... it's the ingredients that, in a way, you have tasted before, but combined they make for this special dish you've never had and that's really what I'm looking forward to... you know, for the audience to have - to try this new thing, this different kind of movie, that has a lot of elements that feels familiar but combined in a way that they've never experienced before.

 

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