Christopher Plummer, who plays Henrik Vanger in the film, credits Fincher’s laser-precision focus, even if the number of takes swells. “The endless takes are not endless like some directors who use take after take because they simply don’t know what they want,” Plummer says. “In his case he knows exactly what he wants and changes each take so it’s absolutely different. He always has the camera totally ready so you don’t hang about waiting.”
In the case of Stellan Skarsgard, a native of Sweden (you can read our separate interview with him here), he was startled by Fincher’s attention to detail regarding his homeland. “David’s a very thorough man, so he knew more about Sweden it than I did,” Skarsgard remarks. “It’s fantastic to watch, but it’s a little creepy. This is a Hollywood film about us,” he grins, before adding, “and I’m not sure I’m happy about it.”
Screenwriter Steve Zallian, who adapted the Stieg Larsson source material, was a complete Fincher neophyte when he got the job. “When we started working together on the script I was kind of surprised at what a great collaborator he was,” he raves. “I thought he might be like other directors of his stature who kind of take charge, you know, ‘Do what I want,’ and not talk about it. He was very careful to express himself in terms of what he was looking for but he wasn’t going to try to tell me how to do it. [He wanted] to let me find the solution. I think that the way a director works with a writer is the way the director works with an actor. You know the director doesn’t give an actor a line reading, they describe to the actor what they’re’ looking for and let the actor find it.”
Editing that material down might be a chore, given that Larsson’s prose can be dense, even if the time frame of the second book is roughly a week. “The first hundred pages of the book is all back story on the Wennerstrom case. There’s a huge section in the middle involving Cecilia going to jail; there’s quite a lot in the book that I felt could come out quite easily.” But Zallian did get a feel for the locale, enough that he didn’t even need to visit. “Stieg Larrson described the setting and the feel of Sweden so well that I didn’t feel I had to go there,” says Zallian. “I’m really interested in the characters, the plot ... and the emotional content. That’s what I focus on, I don’t really care what the streets look like.” He adds, “But I did have a chance to go, when they were shooting I went for a couple of weeks and I felt that we got it right. I’m glad I didn’t go and say 'Oh my god why didn’t I go sooner?' ”
His attitude was to not be so precious with the source material. “When the writer of the book has a map of the family tree, you really have to do some pruning,” he laughs. “I always felt the Agatha Christie part was what you’d have to prune to get this to two and a half hours. Cecilia has one little moment, Anita has one moment. I think the locked door mystery is the ruse. So that, for me, was what was most comfortably jettisoned. My big concern going in, talking with Steve, [was] asking, what basket are you putting your eggs in? And he said, it has to be about the characters front and center, the characters Blomkvist came in contact with, the characters Lisbeth come in contact with.“
The dichotomy he wished to explore between Blomkvist and Salander gave him an almost instant way in to the characters. “Dramatizing the difference between Salander and Blomkvist is that she’s much more facile with technology,” he says. “She doesn’t have to write anything down with her photographic memory. But he organizes everyone with photos. I love the fact she just unplugs her laptop and she kind of throws everything into her backpack. And he’s much more fussy, he starts with a post-it note and goes from there.”
Where Fincher seems to thrive the most, however, is in breaking down these think tanks and showcasing just how people work alongside each other; you need to look no further than his tale about Mark Zuckerberg. “The thing about ‘The Social Network’ was, it wasn’t what they were building, I couldn’t care less,” he shrugs. “What I was interested in was the facility in which these sheltered people interfaced with this gigantic world that you only see like a fish tank, and all these abstract representations, and what you’re really seeing is people in a dorm room going YEEAH!”
“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is now playing.