Fede Alvarez has unquestionably had an interesting and very successful career in Hollywood so far. His latest effort, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, represents the latest attempt to bring The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo saga to life for American audiences on the big screen. Alvarez was handed the keys to the driver’s seat for this one and he certainly had some big shoes to fill, in addition to some tough decisions to make.
In 2011, David Fincher took a crack at The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, utilizing a cast fronted by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. The movie was a modest hit at the box office and garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Mara. However, the reported $90 million budget made pursuing a sequel somewhat problematic. Not to mention that Craig has kept busy with his outings as Bond and Mara has also been in-demand in the years since.
That presented Sony with an interesting problem; what to do next? So, they brought in Fede Alvarez, who had previously directed two big hits for them in the form of the Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe. Alvarez decided it was best to move forward, not only with a new cast, but with an entirely different approach. The director decided to put the character of Lisbeth Salander out in front, with The Crown breakout Claire Foy in the lead this time around in what more closely resembles a female-led Mission: Impossible or Bond movie than it does a gritty thriller.
While the studio surely has high hopes that this will be just the first in a series of new Dragon Tattoo movies, Fede Alvarez won’t have any trouble keeping busy with or without a sequel to his latest effort. He’s already working on sequels to Don’t Breathe and Evil Dead, as well as the long-awaited Labyrinth 2.
We had the chance to speak with Fede Alvarez in honor of The Girl in the Spider’s Web and we talked about his approach to the movie, why he decided to make this his next project and why his Twitter bio reads, “I make films to piss you off.” He also was kind enough to update us on the status of some of his future projects.
I imagine after Don’t Breathe did so well you probably had some other offers on the table. What is it that attracted you to doing this specifically?
Fede Alvarez: The main element that attracted me to this movie was the character of Lisbeth Salander. You get to meet her somehow. When you make this movie, or any movie, as a director, the main attraction of any idea, like you’re going to the movies, is that you’re going to go and live in that world for a little while. You’re gonna spend a year physically spending time in that universe. And it being the closest thing ever to meeting those characters in reality and get to hang with them. So, it was the character that’s fascinating because nothing gets more three dimensional than Lisbeth Salander, right? Such a complex character with so many contradictions, and I felt like that was someone that I really wanted to play with. Then there’s the fact that I was making this movie for Sony, where I’ve made my other movies. I was gonna be given an unusual amount of freedom for what Hollywood movies are and, in this case, was everything. They really allowed me to write the movie, cast who I wanted and really make films like films should be made. I was happy that I could go to a bigger canvas but without losing my grip on the story and creation of the film.
I was a fan of the Fincher movie but I understand, from a studio perspective, the need to shift a little bit since it had been so long. Were there any discussions in continuing with that same cast when you came on? Or when you came on was it already, “Okay, we’re going to go with a new direction here.”
Fede Alvarez like I was saying, they left it to me. Obviously it would have been up to me to say, “Maybe we should try to keep the same cast.” But then it wasn’t actually going to be up to me to get it, right? I think Daniel Craig was busy doing another Bond. For me, and I’ve said this many times, 50 percent of the work of a director is really cast. If I just go and take Fincher’s cast, which, I’m with you, I was a big fan of that film, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be making this one. It’s just, if you take someone else’s cast it already is not your vision. It becomes really complex to get away with what you want to do. Then people expect a sense of continuation with the style of the other movie. It’s a terrible place to be to try and recreate the style of a director. Even more when it’s one of the best directors working today. For me, to make it a clean slate and have a new cast coming in, it was a way better starting point. It felt more like the right place as a writer/director. To make a film that’s your own.
Claire Foy is having herself a moment. What was it about her that made you go, “This is the person I need?”
Fede Alvarez: You think in very pragmatic terms sometimes when you have to cast. Especially when you’re allowed to cast whoever you want. You really have to ask yourself, “Okay, what do I need out of this actor? What’s the ability does this actor have to have?” The gift they have to have. And I knew from a character place with Salander, when we were gonna be filming, we knew we were going to be making a film that was centered on her. That had never been done before. The other films, they were centered on [Mikael] Blomkvist. He’s the main character. He’s the way in. He’s the character you get to love and know. She is, in the Fincher movie, she has a little bit of a side story at the beginning, when she has the rape and revenge story, and then she becomes his sidekick. The story doesn’t flow through her eyes. And none of the other Swedish movies as well. They’re all from the perspective of the journalist. Here for the first time we’re going to make a movie about her. So, suddenly the whole storytelling was going to be laid on her shoulders. I knew I needed someone that had to be radically different than the actors that played her in the past because now she is the way into the audience. But how do you do that with a character that doesn’t tell you anything? Right? Because Lisbeth Salander doesn’t sit down and start sharing her feelings with you or anybody, and she doesn’t also go into long exposition dumps on her backstory. She just keeps to herself and she’s a person of action. So how do I get the audience to know everything that’s happening in her head when everything she’s doing is trying to hide it from you? That’s when the craft of a good actor comes in. Only the best actors in the world really have that ability. It’s like they can play all of the things we were talking about, but they can be very quiet and not tell you anything. But at the same time they tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on inside. And that’s exactly why the performance on The Crown is so good. Don’t even ask me how she does it because we don’t know. That’s why it’s a gift of those few actors. And I knew that was something that was crucial to get the audience to connect with her. That’s why I was happy when I spoke with her and she was excited about doing it.
Your Twitter bio. You just say “I make films to piss you off.” How would you say that this movie fits into that whole thing?
Fede Alvarez: There’s always parts of my movies that kind of lose half of the audience, right? I do that on purpose really just because I want to connect to an idea. When you commit to something, go for something new, you cannot please everybody. You’re just doing something down the middle. What in this world that we live in right now would please everybody? It’s impossible. It just means that you’re doing a Pixar movie, I guess. Something that plays very nice. The world of my movies, it’d be terrible if they played very nice. When people get tense or they get offended by something, I just refer them to my handle on my Twitter account. It’s kind of like a disclaimer. You didn’t read the terms and conditions. In this one, just the fact that we really embrace her character and we turn the role of the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, into the role of the woman, right? That’s the role that Hollywood has given women for a century. To be there. To assist the lead and to get in trouble and eventually get kidnapped. The fact that we did that to Mikael Blomkvist, who is a beloved character, men that love the character, they were really pissed. When I read the reviews, it was only really reviews that were coming from men who were really upset about that. We took Blomkvist and we turned him into the girl of the movie. We’ve changed everything around. Women in this movie are not interested in men on many levels. Every single character in this movie turns their back to men. And also, Lisbeth, she doesn’t even kiss Blomkvist, right? That is huge for a Hollywood movie and people will notice with time, I don’t think they’re noticing right now, how strange that is. There’s obviously been Hollywood movies that have had some strong female characters at the center, but there’s always the stronger man, or the antagonist is a man, and it’s always the power struggle between man and female. And I really didn’t want to do that. This is really going to be a movie that is about her and her sister and women in there will be given the role that men have been given many, many times. That doesn’t seem to sit well with a lot of people.
You recently asked your fans on Twitter about what you should do next, Evil Dead 2 or Don’t Breathe 2, and Evil Dead 2 was kind of the runaway. So, is that what you’re going to do next? And, if so, Bruce Campbell said he’s not going to come back, would you try to dig him back out?
Fede Alvarez I’ve learned to shut my mouth when it comes to these things. It tends to turn into headlines. Just never want to play with anyone’s expectations. When I tweeted that I was interested in seeing what people prefer. We were having some internal debates about what people would be interested in most. Unfortunately, Evil Dead 2 won. Which, I guess I would have preferred Don’t Breathe 2 to win because it’s one of my own creations. Obviously Evil Dead has the bigger following. So that’s what happened. It doesn’t mean that we won’t make them. And that I make them might not be that I’m directing, but I might be producing. They’re just ideas right now. Nothing to announce officially. We do have a script for Don’t Breathe 2. That’s the only difference. We don’t have a script for Evil Dead 2. But we do have a script for Don’t Breathe 2 that we wrote. Once I’m done with [The Girl in the Spider’s Web] we’re gonna start thinking of ways to bring that story to the screen. Me directing or me producing. It really depends on the time that we’ll have. I’m particularly excited about that because it’s a really different sequel, when it comes to sequels. It’s a very different approach and I’m excited about that.
You mentioned you would be interested in Don’t Breathe 2 because it’s your own creation. You’ve also got Labyrinth 2 brewing. What kind of attracted you to that since that’s sort of stepping into someone else’s world as well?
Fede Alvarez: That was basically because I’m a fan of the original and again, in this case, it’s something that I haven’t done. Where Evil Dead was kind of a remake, but at the same time it was a sequel, because the events that happened before did happen in our Evil Dead. But it was different characters. That was one thing. Whereas [The Girl in the Spider’s Web], that was more of a different chapter in the story, where you bring in a new actor to play an iconic role. In the case of Labyrinth, it’s the only one, which I haven’t done that yet, of a straightforward sequel. But it’s a sequel to a classic and a continuation of that story. And with Jay Basu, my co-writer on Spider’s Web, we had what I thought was this great idea to continue that story and jump so many years later and pick up that story now. We got really excited about that and we started collaborating with the Henson’s, with Jim Henson’s daughter. I never said the script is complete. I never believe the script is actually complete. We do have a first version of it, we have a first version that I think is amazing. I’m sure we’ve gotta write more because that’s the way we do with Jay [Basu]. We’re gonna keep writing until we believe that it’s a perfect script. We’re gonna try to get there because that’s one that has such a beloved fanbase, me included in it, that I would never do anything that’s far from perfect. Or at least I’m gonna try to aim there. It will take some time because that’s not something you rush. It’s been enough years that I think no one should rush that one. We’re gonna try and get it right.”
What’s next for Fede Alvarez isn’t known yet, but he’s clearly not going to just take the easy route in trying to please people. And depending on how this movie does at the box office, he may have yet another sequel on his growing to-do list. Sony Pictures is releasing The Girl in the Spider’s Web this weekend.