Who will prove the superior Salander? The original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, who first breathed life into the Goth hacker heroine in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling book trilogy? Or the newcomer, Rooney Mara, who debuts this December 21 in David Fincher’s Hollywood remake of the first novel in Stieg’s thriller trifecta, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Anyone who has witnessed the bad-ass brilliance of Rapace’s Lisbeth knows Mara has a tough act to follow -- especially when Noomi has already taken home the Swedish version of an Oscar for the role.
While the final answer will have to wait until Fincher’s film hits theaters, we thought we’d take a shot at predicting the winner with a preliminary face-off, taking stock of all the Lisbeth Salander essentials: the look, the attitude, the prep, and the true grit.
NR: Noomi nailed it. Larsson fans and film critics alike have agreed, from the jet black “short like a fuse” hair and pixie physique to her black boots. Not surprising considering how much in common Rapace reportedly says she has in common with the character. "When I was 14, I had piercings, I dyed my hair blonde, I looked terrible. I just wanted to get drunk every day."
RM: Mara could easily pass for Noomi’s Salander twin. She has it all: the punk locks, ghostly Goth complexion, the piercings ... though a movie poster for the film suggests she might also exude a sexed-up style that doesn’t necessarily ring true. In its black-and-white frame a menacing Daniel Craig (Fincher’s Blomkvist) protectively wraps his arm around a bare-chested Lisbeth with her pants suggestively unbuttoned and the film’s release date masking her nipples.
NR: Sullenness, check. Calculating distance, check. On target with the novel, Rapace makes Lisbeth an enigma more compelling than the Vanger mystery that drives its plot. She's unforgettable and deadly but also wounded and childlike, less a feminist superhero than a victim who strikes back. Under attack she’s as terrified as she is enraged, plotting revenge while she's helpless. With the subtlest quiver, Rapace conveys the emotions bubbling beneath Lisbeth's stoic surface.
RM: Though we only have the trailer to extrapolate from, it’s easy to blink and believe it’s Rapace rather than Mara beside Craig. Even in the clip’s short span she radiates vulnerability yet strength, and of course, also brims with sullenness. A W Magazine article also notes that in Fincher’s redo, Mara’s Salander will be much more aggressive than the original (and Craig’s Blomkvist more gentlemanly).
NR: Rapace nearly didn't get the role because director Niels Arden Oplev thought her too girlish. To transform her feminine form into Lisbeth's scrappy street-fighter physique, Rapace reportedly adopted a diet devoid of bread, pasta, potatoes, candy, and alcohol, and a rigorous workout routine that included Thai boxing and regular sessions with a Serbian trainer. She also reportedly insisted on doing her own stunts: "I wanted to wake up some kind of aggression in my body. ... I felt the taste of blood in my mouth..."
RM: To become Fincher’s “Goth Pipi Longstocking,” Mara had her hair chopped, eyebrows bleached, and lip, brow, nose, and nipples pierced in one painful day. And word is Fincher didn’t make it easy for her despite how badly she wanted the role -- subjecting her to two months of grueling auditions. Supposedly Fincher even instructed Mara to “go out and get really, really drunk and come in the next morning...’” His purpose? Prove to Sony that she could look strung out. Reportedly Mara did and in her words “threw up all night.” Mara also of course had to trim down and bulk up with a regime of boxing and motorcycle lessons.
The Gritty Past
NR: Before she was the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish actress was known for the stage, art house films, and gritty roles like the movie that caught Oplev’s eye, Daisy Diamond, the cautionary tale of an aspiring actress thrown off track by an unplanned pregnancy.
RM: Her grittiest parts so far (if you consider them gritty)? Mark Zuckerberg’s fed-up girlfriend Erica in The Social Network and Nancy Holbrook in Nightmare on Elm Street. The rest of her well-known flicks, like Youth in Revolt and Friends With Benefits, feature much lighter fare.
Who is the supreme Salander? Though we can’t say for sure before screening Fincher’s remake, odds are it’s a tie. As Rapace herself says of Mara’s turn in Lisbeth’s leather jacket to the Los Angeles Times, "David Fincher is a great filmmaker, and he probably made a good choice..." Perhaps the bigger question is whether or not Fincher, the puppet master pulling Mara's Salander strings, will do Larsson’s story justice.