David Fincher Reveals the Secret of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

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When David Fincher agreed to direct Sony's adaptation of Steig Larsson's wildly popular bestseller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," he had a very tall task ahead of him: Not only had tens of millions of people already imagined their own version of the story, the Swedish film adaptation starring Noomi Rapace was a runaway international blockbuster as well. Luckily, however, he had a secret weapon: He's David Effing Fincher.

Problem solved.

Okay, so that's not quite how Fincher tells it, but in a brand new extensive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the man behind "Se7en" and "The Social Network" explains exactly how he went about making "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" his own -- and how he made a great film in the process.

The main problem for Fincher wasn't competing versions of the story or previous takes on heroes Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomqvist, though; it was actually the tome's massive size that first gave him pause.

"I was sort of shocked by the size of it," Fincher said. Still, it didn't take him and screenwriter Steven Zaillian long to drill down to the essence of the story "The ballistic, ripping-yarn thriller aspect of it is kind of a red herring in a weird way. It is the thing that throws Salander and Blomkvist together, but it is their relationship you keep coming back to. I was just wondering what 350 pages Zaillian would get rid of."

But once they had agreed that the film should be less about the actual plot and more "about a guy and a girl" the real challenge began: finding the right actress to play that iconic girl. And that search eventually brought him to his "Social Network" player Rooney Mara.

"Casting is not just about a person's height and weight. It's not just, does the actor fit the picture, but does she bring a force or presence she can build off of? Does the psychological makeup of the character that you're creating fit with the person whom you're asking to bring it to life?" explains Fincher. "Actors solve problems for you in certain roles. I had cast Rooney in Network because I needed somebody who was feminine, incredibly verbally facile, somebody who was warm who could offset how cold and reptilian Zuckerberg was at the beginning of the movie. None of those things applied to Salander. So I knew Rooney under other auspices.

"It was hard to imagine her in this new role and to get everybody else to imagine it," Fincher admits. "The question was, can she get to be withdrawn, antisocial? So we did it a number of times, and about a month or five weeks into it, I realized, wow, she's been able to do every single thing we've asked of her. I so appreciated the incredibly hard work that went into doing that stuff, even though it must have been intensely discouraging to be continually asked to come back and try again. Finally, it became apparent to me that she was not going away, not giving up. She was going to do what needed to be done, and that was very Salander-ish."

Considering Mara is up for a Golden Globe tonight, it looks like Fincher made the right call.