The Girl Who Played With Fire – Daniel Alfredson interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
DANIEL Alfredson talks about some of the challenges of directing The Girl Who Played With Fire, the sequel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the second in Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed Millennium series of books.
He also praises the commitment of lead actress Noomi Rapace, including her desire to be buried alive, and discusses the forthcoming American remakes starring Daniel Craig and Mara Rooney…
Q. When it came to directing The Girl Who Played With Fire, were you aware of just how big a phenomenon Stieg Larrson’s books had become?
Daniel Alfredson: Actually, we started the project at a very early stage, so we didn’t really know the success of the books when we started out. So, it came as a surprise while working. We also really didn’t know that it would go abroad in such a big manner as it did until we were in the editing process. I’m happy for that at this moment [laughs] because I think I would have been very nervous had I known.
Q. Didn’t it originally started out as a TV series?
Daniel Alfredson: It was actually being financed as a TV series to begin with, and then we had some film money put into the project, so we could make two scripts – a film script and a TV script.
Q. How did you decide which of the films you’d be directing?
Daniel Alfredson: Niels Arden Oplev was the first to be asked. At the start, the producers envisioned having three directors – one for each film. So, Niels Arden was the first, while I was doing another film, but then I was asked to do The Girl Who Played With Fire and as we discussed the story, we found out that book number two and three [The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest] really are the same story. So, I made both of them.
Q. Why do you think the books have become such a phenomenon?
Daniel Alfredson: I think it’s the main character, Lisbeth Salander. It’s her story and you want to see her and reveal her secret. You want to see what happens to her and so on. It’s a simple answer, but that’s the main appeal in my opinion.
Q. How involved were you in casting?
Daniel Alfredson: I knew Niels Arden and we had some discussions while we were casting. So, I knew he was trying out Noomi [Rapace] and Michael [Nyqvist] and some of the other characters who appear in all three. But some of the characters – such as Miriam Wu, who plays Lisbeth’s girlfriend – I did the screen test for because she has a bigger part in my film. We tried to do it as good as we could.
Q. What do you think Noomi Rapace brings to the role of Lisbeth Salander?
Daniel Alfredson: I think she’s very committed to Lisbeth. While we were shooting, she was always very hands on. In The Girl Who Played With Fire, for instance, there is a scene set in the early morning where she is buried by her father, and her hand comes up through the dirt. I told her it was very early, 5am, and that she didn’t have to come to the set because I could find someone else’s hand. But she said: “No, I have to do that myself because it’s Lisbeth’s hand and I’m Lisbeth Salander, so I have to do that as well.” So, she had to crawl into a tunnel to make that shot. But that’s commitment and that’s Noomi.
Q. Obviously, there’s a lot of obviously tough scenes, both in terms of the physicality that’s required and some of the nudity. But did Noomi find the fact she is isolated for so much of the time one of the biggest challenges of this film? She doesn’t talk much…
Daniel Alfredson: She was lonely, yes, and that was a big thing for us when we were doing the script because we had to find out a way for her to act without words. But I don’t think Noomi was afraid of that, she was committed to those parts and she thought it was part of the story – she had to be alone. But she’s such a good actress that she can act without the need for words.
Q. Michael’s character, Blomkvist, is in many ways a bit of an unsung hero, but just as pivotal. I gather you made a lot of changes to him from how he appears in the novel, especially in regard to his womanising. What prompted that decision?
Daniel Alfredson: In the book he has all these romances, so we did actually take those away. But I think it works because we were afraid that it wouldn’t work as well if we had them still there. Also, it was sort of a side-track to the story. I believe the story is about Lisbeth and he is investigating her back story and background. So, to have these side-tracks with him meeting other women wouldn’t have worked. The books are so thick, 600-odd pages, so we had to make some choices and that was one of them.
Q. Was that one of the toughest parts of the job, deciding what to keep, what to lose and what to change?
Daniel Alfredson: In a way it was. It took some time because there’s so much material and you have to make tough choices all the time. But I think we made the right choices in the end. Of course, you can always say that perhaps we should have done this or that differently, but once you have the final script in place you have to remain focused on telling the story how you have written it. We wanted to bring our own identity to it as well. It’s very hard when you’re filming a book because you always have to make choices.
Q. For the character of Ronald, I gather you originally went after Dolph Lundgren?
Daniel Alfredson: How did you hear that [laughs]? It’s really true. We asked him if he would be able to do it, but he wouldn’t or couldn’t and I’m not sure why. So, we tried out some Germans and Americans before eventually finding Micke Spreitz in Stockholm. But it took some time to find him because there aren’t too many good actors who are that size.
Q. Did you always imagine Ronald as a Bond-style villain? You get that Jaws vibe about the character…
Daniel Alfredson: Yes, but he’s like that in the book. I think Stieg Larsson has borrowed a lot of things from Tarantino and from James Bond and whatever. So, he had to be a big guy but I think it works better for the movie.
Q. Does it keep you on your toes more as a director, having to do more with less?
Daniel Alfredson: I think so. I haven’t done many films outside of Scandinavia very often. I’ve filmed in Denmark, every so often, but I think you have to be very good at it. You have to learn to be very clever with your money.
Q. Of the two films, which represented the biggest challenge for you as director?
Daniel Alfredson: I believe the third one, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. The second one, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is sort of a chase in a way, it has a sort of natural flow. But the third one is harder because it’s so dialogue driven and there’s not much action. Lisbeth is still not speaking, she’s in hospital not speaking to anyone, and she’s in prison. She’s alone all the time, so that was really tough… and she’s strapped to a bed. So, that was hard.
Q. Do you think the films work better for people who haven’t read the books?
Daniel Alfredson: We did some screen tests with audiences before we edited the film and I actually tried to find audiences that hadn’t read the books and hadn’t seen the first film, and I would say that The Girl Who Played With Fire seemed to work out best with those who hadn’t read or seen anything about them. The third film, I think, is more complicated. You must have seen The Girl Who Played With Fire because it’s the continued story.
Q. Do you think the books show a darker side to Sweden that people wouldn’t necessarily identify with the country?
Daniel Alfredson: I’ve had that question before… perhaps it does show a darker side. But on the other hand, I think every modern society has a dark side and Sweden is no exception. We have these problems as much as any other country. But I also think Stieg Larsson wrote these books to be entertainment literature in a way. He had a very political idea but couldn’t help turning it into this format. So, we tried to keep the spirit and feeling of Stieg Larsson as much as we could while making them.
Q. What do you think about the buzz surrounding the forthcoming Hollywood remakes? Are you following the cast announcements?
Daniel Alfredson: Not really, but people tend to tell me [laughs]. I’m happy they’ve decided to film for about five weeks in Stockholm, in Sweden. I think that’s great because it will have some scent of Sweden in the American film. They could have made it in America somewhere, so it’s nice they’ve chosen to go where the books are set.
Q. Will you be among the first night crowd when it comes out?
Daniel Alfredson: Hopefully, yes, because I’d like to see it as I’m curious. But we made it first, so we have the original!
Q. It must be quite nice at the Alfredson dinner table at the moment, given that both you and brother Tomas have movies being re-made by Hollywood – yourself with The Girl Who Played With Fire and Thomas with Let The Right One In? Is there a playful sense of competitiveness?
Daniel Alfredson: [Laughs] There could have been, yes, but not really because I think we were lucky enough to have the announcements made at the same time. It’s nice, though, to be in that position.
Q. But how flattering for you as a director that your film is being re-made and for Sweden as a filmmaking country?
Daniel Alfredson: I think for Sweden mostly. We’re such a small country and we don’t have much money to make films… we have to be very clever with the money and have to find ways to do film. So, I think it’s important for Swedish filmmaking that we have international success. It’s important for new things that are coming through.
Q. Would you like to go to Hollywood? Will this open doors for you perhaps?
Daniel Alfredson: I’ve had some American scripts but I’m not really… I would rather come to the UK really. I think I’m very Swedish, so I think it would be easier to come here than go to Hollywood.
Q. Have you had any offers here?
Daniel Alfredson: Yes, but we’ll see. If it’s something that I think I can do well I would love to do it.
Q. In the UK it seems to be getting harder and harder to make films, especially given the recent axing of the UK Film Council. What’s it like in Sweden?
Daniel Alfredson: We have a Swedish Film Institute that can come in with some money to a project, but I think it’s about 25 to 30% at the most. So, it’s tough in Sweden. But on the other hand, we’re very good at doing things with very little money. It’s part of our secret.
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Daniel Alfredson interview
- The Girl Who Played With Fire photo gallery
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo review
- Rooney Mara is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Daniel Craig confirms The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo