The Swedish director talks about bringing a literary sensation to the big screen with The Girl Who Played with Fire.
Taking two parts of a phenomenally successful literary trilogy from page to screen might seem like a daunting prospect for most directors, but Daniel Alfredson has turning popular Swedish fiction into powerful cinema in his blood – his brother Tomas being the man responsible for 2009's Let the Right One In adaptation. With the second instalment in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, out now and the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, following promptly in November, LWLies spoke with Alfredson recently about how the project panned out.
LWLies: When you’re adapting such a successful book, how do you decide what to change, what to leave in, what can be cut?
Alfredson: Well, when I was approached for this project, it wasn’t really a success. It was a sort of Swedish phenomenon to start with and we thought actually we were doing a Scandinavian production for the whole trilogy. On the other hand, when you’re looking at an adaptation of a book, you have to take things away and these books are so enormous, around 650 pages, that you have to make choices. And we tried to stick with the story of Lisbeth and Mikael really, that was the main tack for us. Of course we took some things away but we had to do that to make the film.
Was there a point while making The Girl Who Played With Fire where you realised its popularity and had to change the way you were shooting?
When we were editing the film, we understood that this could be even bigger than we’d thought. We expected Scandinavia and perhaps Germany to be the main markets for us but during the editing process we found it was going so well in southern Europe, places like Italy, Spain and France and realised it was going to go abroad and be dubbed or subtitled. But I’m happy I knew that at such an early stage.
Was there any sense, once the magnitude of the trilogy’s success became clear, of wishing you’d shot scenes differently?
No, not really. Not at all. I thought perhaps we could have used a bit more money but on the other hand, you can’t really think like that, it makes you crazy. It’s better not to.
Something people have remarked on with both films is the great chemistry between your lead actors Michael Blomqvist and Noomi Rapace…
On the other hand, they actually never meet in the second film.
But did their familiarity with the characters make your job easy in a sense?
In a way, you could say it did. But they are very clever actors, both of them. I would say there’s not many similarities between Lisbeth Salander and Noomi Rapace in real life; Noomi’s quite shy and so is Lisbeth but that’s about the only similarity.
You said recently that David Fincher and his team making the US version of the trilogy have a tough job on their hands because they could never cast someone as perfect to play Lisbeth Salander as Noomi Rapace…
Yeah, I think so. At least for me, Noomi is Lisbeth Salander and I can’t really think of another actress playing the role.
Having worked with her, do you think Noomi’s recent trip to Hollywood will pay off in terms of big US movies?
I’ve never been to Hollywood, so I don’t know! But she’s a clever Swedish actress and I think she will manage. There are some Swedes that have been successful – I’m thinking of Stellan Skarsgard and his son Alexander – and I think she’ll manage. She’s a clever person.
Are the novels’ dark content a reflection of the real Sweden?
I would say that Steig Larsson dug into the darkness of Swedish society but I think he did it with the intention of writing entertaining books. I wouldn’t say they’re an image of Sweden but on the other hand, every society has a darkness; you could find a dark side of the UK as well. Sweden is not unique in that sense; we have our dark side and Stieg Larsson used that to make entertaining literature.
Is that why these books and films has connected so effectively with a global audience? Because of how thrilling the stories are?
I think you have a point there but on the other hand, I think it’s the main character Lisbeth Salander. You want to know what happens to her, you want to know her background, you want to know where she came from and her secrets. I know that helped me to read the books because it made me turn the page.
What can we expect from the third film? Is there a resolution to Lisbeth’s journey?
I would say you can expect to see the secrets to Lisbeth and the whole of her background revealed. There will be a clean sheet when the third film ends and these bad guys – some new bad guys too – will be punished in the end.
How do you feel about the possibility of Larsson’s window releasing his unpublished works?
I really don’t know. I know there’s supposed to be a fourth book, maybe even a fifth book but on the other hand, I have heard Stieg Larsson hadn’t finished them when he died and I don’t know who would be able to finish them. I can’t imagine who.
For your family, it’s been a good couple of years, given your success with the Millennium trilogy and your brother’s success with Let the Right One In – would you collaborate with Tomas?
I wouldn’t say so. We tend to help each other in difficult situations, privately and professionally. Sometimes I’ll ask him into the editing room, sometimes I’ll read a script that he has but we have never really talked about working together. I think we can manage!
Finally, what’s next for you, apart from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest?
I’m preparing another film in Sweden, that I’m going to start shooting in four weeks. It’s based on a Swedish novel which I believe has been translated into English but don’t know if it’s been published yet. But it’s very successful in Sweden so, maybe, it’s the next Stieg Larsson.