By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 3, 2011 at 1:53AM
Even if some of the awards heat has fallen off "The Social Network," with "The King's Speech" taking over the front-runner spot, David Fincher's got to be feeling pretty good about himself of late. After a few years that saw him make the brilliant "Zodiac," which was mostly ignored by audiences, and finally finish "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," released to lukewarm reviews even from his biggest fans, 2010 saw Fincher put out a film that resonated with both critics and audiences for the first time since "Seven." What's more, he's the new favorite at Sony, who has given him a hefty budget to kick off what they hope will be a huge franchise for them, with the adaptation of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
The film, which stars Daniel Craig as investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, and "The Social Network" breakout actress Rooney Mara as sociopathic computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, has been filming for some time, and has a while to go, but The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Fincher during the shoot for the cover story for their new print issue, and it's turned up a number of interesting quotes, covering Fincher's early career, current favorite "The Social Network" and the Larsson adaptation. Below are the ten that raised the most eyebrows for us:
1. Fincher keeps a rifle on his desk in his private studio complex, "as a reminder of the consequences."
2. Working at Industrial Light & Magic straight out of high school was an eye-opening experience, and reinforced Fincher's skepticism of authority: "I thought, 'This is a bunch of guys in Wrangler jeans and plaid shirts who are scratching their asses and trying to figure this thing out. It was horrifying and liberating at the same time. I realized I had fallen for this idea, because George Lucas has blessed these people with a place to blather around, that they were somehow uber-qualified. Really, it was just a bunch of people trying to figure something out."
3. While he's still reluctant to talk about directorial debut "Alien³," he admits he'd do things differently now: "You don't want to see people cut off their noses to spite their face. But I probably did on my first movie because I foolishly thought being this squeaky wheel was the only way to be heard."
4. Despite that, his reputation as a hot-head is somewhat exaggerated, according to Bill Mechanic, who was head of 20th Century Fox when Fincher made "Fight Club:" "There were lots of issues with the studio, back and forth as always with David. So I asked him to breakfast a few weeks before shooting, and by the end of breakfast we'd agreed on procedures and he stayed 100% true to his word. There wasn't anything at all contentious in the process. It was one of the best I've ever had."
5. "The Social Network" was originally envisioned as writer Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, but Fincher took the job with Sorkin's blessing, on the condition that it could happen as quickly as possible: "I was given it on a Friday, I read it on a Saturday and on Monday I was in a room with [Sony Pictures co-chairman] Amy Pascal," he recalls. After making sure Sorkin was willing to step aside, "I said, 'I want to make the movie, but I don't want to make it next spring. We have to be as close to ground zero with this phenomenon as we can. We have to be in Cambridge in the fall.' "
6. The film's now-iconic poster took some fighting to get through, and even then Fincher didn't quite get his way: "We had the one-sheet and we had to get that through," Fincher notes. "[Key art designer] Neil Kellerhouse came to us with one that had the tagline, 'Punk prophet genius billionaire thief.' It was fantastic, but for about four months it was, 'You can't do that! We're not going to get involved in a lawsuit!' I wanted 'Punk prophet genius billionaire Judas.' "
7. It looks like Fincher's trying to push the boundaries with the marketing materials for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" again, even if his mocked-up concept is certain never to be seen in cinema foyers: "It shows actor Daniel Craig half-hidden behind co-star Rooney Mara, who's looking directly into the camera. Her hair is spiky, her face pierced with rings, her body covered in tattoos. It's black and white and beautiful, but there's no way in hell any studio will ever let Fincher use it, as he knows. Because Mara is naked from the waist up."
8. Fincher originally turned down "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," exhausted by the lengthy process on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:" "I had just been through five years pushing a rock. I sort of felt, 'F---, I can't see anybody wanting to make a movie of this scale about a tattooed, bisexual hacker in Stockholm.' I can't go tap-dancing again. I was skeptical because the book is huge and there are so many characters. But what put it over the top was [Sony chairman] Michael Lynton and Amy's insistence that they loved the idea of a franchise for adults. If you can't do a piece like this as a franchise, there's no chance of ever doing one."
9. Things haven't been entirely rosy on "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," with "Social Network" DP Jeff Cronenweth coming in after production began, to replace an unnamed lenser whom Fincher "had trouble with." (A little digging reveals the original DP to be Swede Fredrick Backar, who lensed Adam Berg's award-winning short film "Carousel," and would have made his feature debut on the Fincher project.)
10. Nevertheless, Fincher is delighted with Mara, who beat out hundreds of better known actresses for the role; the actress has thrown herself into the character -- a good thing too, as Steve Zaillian's screenplay allegedly focuses more on Salander than the Swedish film did: "We got her an apartment in Stockholm and she kind of disappeared. She learned how to ride a motorcycle and got all of her piercings and tattoos. Also, I asked her to learn how to skateboard because you need to stand like a 13-year-old boy. I said, 'I don't want you to stand like a girl.' "
Head over to The Hollywood Reporter for more from Fincher. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" hits theaters on December 21st, 2011, and everything we've seen and heard so far suggests it'll be a big step up from the Swedish trilogy of films.