Tattooed and pierced, dressed in full black and the very type of social recluse who’s as mysterious as her body art, Lisbeth Salander is the quintessential outsider. She’s also sexually ambidextrous, something seldom portrayed in a movie as mainstream as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Bisexuality, for once, is no big deal.
“Thank you,” says the thriller’s director David Fincher, where he’s come together with the cast during press day at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel.
Proud but opposed to taking all the credit for any kudos having to do with downplaying the character’s swinging sexuality, the “Fight Club” director continues: “We started with the source material, and that’s what the book described. One of the things we were very particular about was when she meets Miriam Wu in the bar; we wanted it to be a moment of happiness. There are two times you see (Lisbeth) smile in the entire movie – and one of those is (that scene).”
The eagerly anticipated film, brutally unflinching in Fincher’s wicked hands (remember “Se7en”?), has them waking up to each other naked the next morning. For Rooney Mara, who plays Lisbeth in this American adaptation of the popular Stieg Larsson novel – the first in a trilogy that sold over 65 million copies and became a Swedish film in 2009 – it was no biggie.
“Growing up in New York and L.A., it didn’t seem that crazy to me to have a bisexual character,” says Mara. “She’s incredibly comfortable with her sexuality, and I went into it the same. It didn’t really faze me.”
Plus, Fincher adds, it has more to do with Lisbeth’s emotionally guarded self than who she sleeps with. “Her sexuality is less of an ambidextrous thing than something that she has to act on,” he says. “Intimacy is a problem for her, so that was the important thing to show.”
To understand Lisbeth’s intimacy problems, you have to understand her: She’s raped and tortured, scarred and traumatized, always scrounging for money and, for some obvious reasons, not very trusting. Why she’s on the outside makes complete sense.
Regarding the character and what’s already known from the films and novels, Mara says: “To be honest, I didn’t really think much about what other people imagined it to be. I used what I imagined it to be. I read all three books and I had a really clear picture of who this girl was.”
She’s an information-age Nancy Drew who teams with financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to get to the bottom of a family mystery.
“What I love about this character and the relationship he has with Salander is that he doesn’t have to prove he’s a man,” Craig says. “He’s a guy and he’s very happy to fall in this relationship where she’s literally wearing the trousers.”
Together they investigate what’s been haunting Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), one of Sweden’s wealthiest industrialists, for 40 years: What happened to his niece, Harriet?
“Nazis and serial killers and the evil that people do with power tools weren’t the thing that was (interesting),” Fincher says. “First and foremost was this partnership. I hadn’t seen these two people working together, so I liked the thriller, the vessel of that, but I really was more interested in the people.”
Before auditioning, Mara was told of the harsh extremes that would be required of her: lots of nudity, chain smoking, riding a motorcycle, being brutally raped… and faux sex with Daniel Craig (oh, the horror). She was up for the challenge.
“I couldn’t pick one thing that was the hardest; it was all challenging,” Mara says. “The motorcycle was the thing that I was the least excited about doing. It just seemed very dangerous to me.”
Next up was the butch transformation: her hair was chopped, she was pierced all over and the wardrobe department gave her a grungier look.
“She put a dress on at the end of each day,” Craig jokes.
Filming took place in Stockholm and L.A., and after it wrapped, Mara was able to completely disconnect from the insanity. “It was harder to leave the whole experience behind,” she says. “You work at 100 mph for over a year on something and then wake up one day and have nothing to do.”
Craig was cast first as the film’s anchor, and then everything else – including Mara – was fleshed out. “I wanted a very masculine center,” Fincher says. “The androgynous side of the movie would be carried by Rooney; that was her job.”
Because Fincher and Mara already established a working relationship on Fincher’s “The Social Network,” where Mara plays Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend, he sensed something in her – “an inherent quality” that he always looks for – that could feed the role of Lisbeth.
“In the beginning of ‘Social Network,’ she was intensely feminine, very mature, warm, verbal – and none of those qualities apply to this movie. In fact, it’s the antithesis.”
Of all Lisbeth’s characteristics, one that seems to barely register – because her sexual intentions have less to do with sex and more to do with her psychologically wounded character – is the gender of whom she beds.
Plummer, walking into the room halfway through the interview, overhears the bisexuality talk. “Was that referring to my character?” he says, kidding that the old, eccentric man he plays is a switch-hitter.
Fincher gets in on the joke: “Why isn’t he married?!”
Plummer, Golden Globe-nominated for his role as a person living out the last moments of his life as an openly gay man in this year’s “Beginners” (Mara also scored a nod for “Dragon Tattoo”), thought nothing of Lisbeth’s sexuality.
“(Her bisexuality) didn’t occur to me at all when I was watching it,” Plummer says. “Anything that affords a kind of helping hand and a soothing presence she would be attracted to underneath all that cold unpleasantness.”
But the fact that a bisexual person is even at the center of a major motion picture is a big deal, right? “I’m not an expert,” he continues, “because it really doesn’t occur to me; it’s rather like race, it never occurred to me when I was a child. I do think (LGBT people) are treated with a little bit more sophistication now.
“And sex – please have fun with whatever you wish to do. That’s always been a philosophy of mine.”
Who can argue with that?