Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Director Niels Arden Oplev Knows What Women Want (to be): Lisbeth Salander

Every so often, something bubbles up in the pop culture reservoir and seeps into the global groundwater, transcending every cultural, political, religious and geographical divide to saturate the pop consciousness and instantly become iconic. At one end of the spectrum, there’s “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” and, oh, what the heck, Michael Jackson and “American Idol.” At the other end of things that make life worth living, to quote Woody Allen in Manhattan, “there’s Groucho Marx…Louis Armstrong…Willie Mays…Swedish movies, naturally.” Swedish crime fiction has also earned a spot on that list, thanks to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which continues enthrall readers and moviegoers worldwide. The books have sold over 30 million copies and counting. The combined grosses of the Swedish-language adaptations of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl who Played with Fire,” both released stateside earlier this year, amount to $17.5 million, placing them among the top five indie films of the year.

Now that “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the third and final Swedish adaptation recently hit theaters here (and filming underway on David Fincher’s adaptation of Dragon Tattoo), we set out to distill what it is that’s so infectiously appealing about this series of detective stories about a socially conscious journalist and his secret weapon — a fierce-gothette-hacker-vigilante named Lisbeth Salander (played by breakout Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace). Since the primary source is unavailable — Larsson died in 2004 — we tracked down Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the original "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," who graciously hunkered down with us for over an hour to dissect all things Stieg.

Signature: So what’s your take on Millennium’s addictive ingredient?

Niels Arden Oplev: The key to the whole Larsson success is Lisbeth Salander. You have a rich family on an isolated island and in comes this classic investigating journalist with a flair for women. If you read crime novels, there’s nothing new about that. But then Lisbeth comes in. That’s his stroke of genius. She’s this punkish squatter who looks like she walked out of Berlin/Copenhagen in the 80’s. At the same time she’s the best hacker in Sweden, which is also certainly a cliché, but she gets away with it because she’s a woman with the worst past you could ever imagine. And instead of making her a victim, he makes her a fighter. She’s the violent dark angel of revenge who draws the line in the sand that says, ‘Whatever man dares to cross this line, I will fuck you up bad.’ Women respond to the fact that she’s not a victim.

Everything bad happens to that girl. She’s raped, violated, and anybody who was ever supposed to take care of her betrays her. But she keeps going back for revenge. She took revenge on her stepfather because he beat the crap out of her mother. She has this guy who seems to have absolute power over her and still she finds a way to get him. She’s a female Charles Bronson that takes the law into her own hands. For women to experience wanting these bad guys to die is both frightening and exciting. It illustrates to women that they too are capable of violence.

SIG: How do you know this is what women responded to most?

NAO: When we screened it for the first time, during the scene where Lisbeth gets raped, you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Then when she goes and rapes him back, I swear to God it was like being in the stadium when Denmark scored in the World Cup. I didn’t know that many women could whistle like that. It was a war cry.

SIG: What was it like shooting those rape scenes?

NAO: It was awful. It was very tough. The actors got hurt and bruised. Noomi had nightmares. The crew was filled with discomfort. I felt like a sadistic warlord making them do this stuff. But I knew I had to drive it home. We decided to shoot it as close to the real thing as possible. You get into a lot of uncomfortable situations, like the part where Noomi was tied down to the bed and he pulls down her pants. I was filming it reassuring her saying, ‘everything between your legs will be in shadow, and you won’t be able to see anything on screen.’ But her fellow colleagues and actors could see everything. You have a lot of uncomfortable situations you have to deal with and solve.


SIG: Have you been consulted or contacted by anyone involved with David Fincher’s English-language version of the film.

NAO: No. I know he’s seen my film but I don’t know anything besides that. The only thing that’s annoying to me is that the Sony PR machine is trying to make their Lisbeth Salander the lead Lisbeth Salander. That’s highly unfair because Noomi has captured this part and it should always be all her. That’s her legacy in a way I can’t see anyone competing with. I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar. I know a lot of Academy members have seen the film and liked it because every time I go to LA I meet so many people who have seen my version of it. Even in Hollywood there seems to be a kind of anger about the remake, like, ‘Why would they remake something when they can just go see the original?’ Everybody who loves film will go see the original one. It’s like, what do you want to see, the French version of "La Femme Nikita" or the American one? You can hope that Fincher does a better job.

SIG: Have you settled on your next directing gig?

NAO: I have three projects I’m passionate about. One is based on a book called The Exception [a cerebral psychological thriller by Danish author Christian Jungerson]; the screenwriting team who adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is writing it for Random House Films. I’m also attached to direct The Keep [based on Jennifer Egan’s 2006 literary ghost story], which was just set up at CBS Films. I’m also very excited about another project called "The Last Photograph," which will star Christian Bale — it’s kind of like a modern-day "Apocalypse Now." I hope to start shooting one of them by the spring.

  • Rein

    After reading the trilogie and having seen all three original dvd's I dont want to see another version. I prefer the swedish version allthough I need dutch subtitles to understand 😉

    Why should we have to see an american version......?

  • Sarah

    To be honest, if the Swedish version missed out quite a lot, surely the American version will do so too?

    I am not looking forward to it at all because we live in a society where every movie, book, play, etc... which gain success which isn't in English is then taken over by Hollywood. I think this is a real shame.

  • Mike Hulden

    The Swedish original Millennium Team with Noomi will always be the one and only. Just like Swedes never have

    tried to make a Western movie the Americans won´t be able

    to suddenly capture Stieg Larsson . Sweden´s film industry

    deserves support and not competition !

    Hollywood could have dubbed the film to English ...but don´t.

    By the way Sweden have come out with many more good very movies, so lets hope that people all over the world, now will notice Swedish directors, actors and writers.

  • Gwynod

    I agree with Mike Hulden totally. Hollywood will just butcher the movies to death. No one can possibly replance Noomi. She truly is Lesbeth.

  • Paul Ryan

    I see his point, but this is simply how Hollywood works. There's more money to be made for them in remaking the property than in merely distributing the original - and dubbing barely happens in English speaking theatrical exhibition anymore, and rightly so.

    I suspect fans of the books will end up seeing both versions anyway, and besides, its not as if Hollywood are burning the negatives of the Swedish films to make you see their version, is it?

  • tengam99

    Hollywood has always remade good foreign films and put the ole' Hollywood spit shine on it. It doesn't mean its right, or they'll even do a better job but non the less this is what hollywood does best, these days anyway. Face it, Its going to happen. They did it with Point of No Return, Departed and now The girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher may even do a better job.

  • Jon

    The Swedish films were made to be also shown on Swedish TV. The TV versions of all three films are three hours long. The have been released on DVD in Sweden, Netherlands, and maybe one other country, but so far, none have English subtitles.

    These are the versions I want to see, as they should fill in more of the missing back stories.

  • Paulus

    Is Hollywood so uncreative that they even can't come up with an original story? Always copies of great movies that afterwards are less quality.

    Seen all 3 movies and Noomi captured the role like no one else can.

    Chapeau to Oplev and shame on you Fincher that you took the job!

  • doofus

    Well I am just glad I heard about this so that I can ignore the "remake" when it comes to theaters and just watch the original.

    I'm glad I ignored the remake of "Let the Right One In" and I am glad I saw "Open Your Eyes".

    Screw remakes... could you imagine someone remaking Pulp Fiction or ET how Americans would react but we eat up remakes without thinking twice... well not me...

  • trollhair

    I agree, there should not be a remake on this film. I think the problem in America is there is a certain element of people as in most cultures who do not like to read and have trouble with the subtitles. If that is the case, they don't need to be at the movies but back in the classroom. I regress.

    The trilogy of books were great. I have seen the first two movies and anxiously awaiting for the third to be released in my area. It is now in the larger cities only.

    I am so upset the author had to die on us before finishing more of his stories.

  • John

    I've read all three books twice and seen the first two movies several times and am waiting for the third to be released in my area.

    My first thought was, why would anyone need or attempt to remake such a powerful movie? It was similar to my thoughts when I heard Zack Braff was remaking the Danish film "Open Hearts" staring Mads Mikkelsen and directed by Susanne Bier. Why try to improve on something so wonderful?

    But then I thought, let them try! Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Good luck to them. (But even if they succeed, I personally don't think the world needs two of the same masterpieces.)

  • d stroh

    As a resident of Los Angeles, where film making is everywhere, I am very embarassed that Hollywood would attempt a remake. At least they didn't cast Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie.

  • Alex in L.A.

    Folks, if you follow the movies at all, you come to realize it's all been done before. There are very few "fresh new ideas" out there. Lisbeth is a wonderful take on the woman who kicks butt and takes no prisoners. The idea is to make money and someone thinks they will by "Americanizing" Lisbeth's character. I don't believe it will work. We'll see.

  • Scott in CT, USA

    I've seen all 3 films and the best had to be 'Dragon Tattoo'. It had such a raw, visceral power to it. I think the Noomi did such a great job as Lisbeth that she deserves an Oscar nomination for it.

    • Theresa

      I have read all three books, saw 2 of the 3 movies. Agree with Scott, Noomi deserves an Oscar and I can't see anyone playing the role ...she was superb. Can't wait to see the 3rd. Subtitles in a powerful movie like these was not an issue at all. The acting was so powerful as was the music.

  • Lisa

    i actually stumbled upon the whole series one night while looking for a movie to rent off my ps3, and i wouldnt mind seeing a remake. if it flops we always got the originals right? 🙂

  • Rita NY USA

    I have read all three books and saw two of the three films. As an American I really prefer the Swedish version. I really felt the cast was true to their characters. I don't want to see Hollywood's 'idea' of Lisbeth or Kalle. I think there were important elements excluded in these films...All this being said the books are always better then any film can be!

  • Francesca in CT, USA

    Watching your films was like realizing the books come alive - the casting was wonderful... for me, there can be no others. I have made a note of your forthcoming films. Luckily, I have no problems with subtitles and prefer to hear the voices and intonations in their language.
    Having great respect for the original films, I will not be viewing the remakes.

  • Jo-Ann in Astoria

    Before I saw the first two Swedish version, I was excited about an American version. Now I agree that it's totally unnecessary. The Swedish films really capture the spirit. Acting was superb with great directing. Nuff said.

  • Ehren

    I loved the first two movies and thought Lisbeth was portrayed perfectly. Hollywood will not get it right and will botch up the whole thing.

  • Noomi's performance was so very powerful and engaging. None of Hollywood's glam gals could pull of Noomi's brilliant role as Lisbeth.

    • I also read a lot of crime fiction and I LOVE Wallander! The books of corsue and also the Swedish series (not the BBC one with K Branagh) when the Stieg Larsson books (and then films) started getting all the press I wondered, what about Wallander? He has been there all along and no one made such a big deal about him. I think Larsson appeals to American audiences as a bit more over the top and less subtle; having not read or seen them, that is my take on it. Americans at least don't appreciate subtlety I'm afraid. (speaking as one of the few who does)

  • Susannah

    i dont even know, like, or think that the us versions chick has the balls,,,will she pierce herself like the Swedish actress did,,,prob not. dont make an us version unless u can cast not even then...too late they are. her hair isnt even right. uggg. sad part is ill still see it. lol but no way will i like it more.

  • Keli Pierce

    I absolutely loved the trilogy and I am furious at Mr. Larsson's father and brother (who now own the rights). The series was actually meant to be ten books. From what I understand, most of the writing has been completed on all remaining seven. Mr. Larsson was 'polishing' #4 and # 5 when he passed away. His girlfriend has possession of the rest of the manuscripts but cannot get the Larsson family to give her the required release. Very sad.
    (Very interesting too, that life imitates art - remember Millenium staff had to decide whether or not to publish the murdered Dag's manuscript. We can only hope that somebody steps up and does the right thing - let the world have the rest of the works!.)
    As far as the movies go - the original Swedish are fabulous!
    Noomi Rapace is brilliant! Without a doubt she deserves an Oscar!
    Do yourself a favor and watch the original sub-titled versions.
    The dubbing for "TGWPWF" is terrible. Most voices (especially Berger) don't fit at all. And some of the vocal acting sounds like a high school play.
    Some of the 'translations' are absurd. For example: in a meeting at Millenium, the subtitled Dag Svenson says "It was Mia who got me started." - the dubbed version says "It was Mia who put the bug in my ear." Apparently, it seems that to dub into English means to use Americanized lingo. Truly diminishes the work.
    I am interested to see how the Hollywood version turns out. I feel quite sorry for the young woman cast as Lisbeth. She is facing an daunting task: to outdo Noomi Rapace. There is simply no way. It's like trying to outdo Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara - you just shouldn't even try.

  • kayla

    I agree with leaving the trilogies alone, IN SWEDISH. The dubbed versions I just saw remind me of Anime scripts n dialogue; taking much away from Noomi's and Mikael's performances. Their acting brought an intensity necessary to the tale, to the screen. The dubbed versions truly diminish the impact, disappointing me.
    Many Americans will see these Hollywood dubbed films and be cheated's a shame.
    (Jim Sheridan created "Brothers" w/o ruining BRØDRE .... which proves, it CAN be done ... but the dubbed Larssons leave much to be desired)

  • Mark

    90% of the time I prefer the original foreign film over the American remake. That doesn't mean I don't like the American version. I agree, I am a huge Noomi Rapace fan. But I will also look forward to seeing the American version.

    I can enjoy two takes on the same subject matter, just as time can change my perspective on a movie from twenty years ago.

  • I understand how everyone feels about the original books and movies, but I live in America and I must say that we can watch subtitles and see the original.. but who wants too... American movies are made with a other language selection because we represent a mix of cultures and writings..

    That is why they make remakes of movies.. I mean I would love to watch the originals but reading subtitles takes away from the excitement of the action, the repulsive "Rape Scene" that as you all say the actor has played the best part... if anything having Hollywood (which I can't stand) make a remake is going to have new readers and new pursuers of the original movies.

    Just as if they remade movies like "The Matrix" or something outlandish like "Flowers in the Attic" by V. C. Andrews. In Sweden this style of movie would be have a different effect on the watchers compared to what it did in America.

    I am currently watching AMC's "The Walking Dead" now this takes place in American soil. So Americans would be able to feel more comfortable with watching the same streets and areas they know from living here as well as watching mainstream TV. Now if they made a remake of this show in Sweden then they wouldn't have the same effects as it has had on Americans, but that does not mean it would not be a better watch for everyone there because the story is remarkable.

    Either way I am going to go read the books, watch the original movies; then go and see the new Hollywood versions as well. 🙂

  • I LOVE the books and the original movies. I also think it really loses something in English. Subtitles are so easy to get used to and hearing the Swedish is wonderful.
    I can not imagine these films any other way.

  • Lisa

    I think an American remake is a terrible idea. We Americans will hollywoodize the story and NO ONE can be Lisbeth but Noomi. She is a fantastic actress and I believed every moment, emotion and word (although I didn't understand the language) she spoke in these films. They were so well done.

    America, leave this trilogy alone. No little hollywood smoothie will have the depth of character Noomi Rapace brought to Lisbeth. Oh, and I loved the French version of La Femme Nikita.

  • Well, as someone totally obsessed with the books, with Lisbeth Salander and with Noomi Rapace, I cannot imagine going to see the American version of the trilogy. American films are plot driven and lacking in the subtle European focus on character that these films contained. Why would I want to see a blundering, over-the-top, Hollywood version? I can't even stand to listen to the dubbed version of the swedish films--have to hear it in Swedish to get the real feel of the stories!

  • Steve Bank

    I don't want to see the American versions....nothing will top the Swedish versions.

  • Lisa

    This was my first subtitled movie and after the first five minutes, I forgot I was even reading. Unless your illiterate, I don't see a problem here. Noomi IS Lisbeth, no one else will ever be Lisbeth and I won't bother seeing the American version. I can't imagine our version wouldn't dull down the rape and lesbian scenes, in the name of political correctness, anyway. The movie will be flat.

  • GabyBee

    I loved the original one!!! It was non plus ultra. It would be just another one of those Hollywood's disaster movie!!! And no one else could play as great as Noomi!! Screw the remake......

  • sandra kaufman

    I agree with last comment, Hollywood will totally screw it up. I like the idea of the foreign language, it adds to the atmosphere. And no one comes to mind that could do as well as noomi. Hollywood would get someone we all know and that would detract from the story.

  • Lisbeth’s Fan

    WHY?!?!?!?! I simply think original is BEST. No one will ever replace Noomi Rapace. She was STUNNING! She looked exactly as I had pictured Lisbeth to be, and the movie met all the criteria, in my opinion - though they could have found a better looking Mikael fu***** Blomkvist. 🙂 But I loved the original. I hope not enough people go see the Hollywood version - I know I won't.


  • Noomi Fan

    DITTO what "Lisbeth's Fan" said.

  • Sal Scortino

    This swedish version is one of the best pictures I've ever seen and I mean ever. Watch the swedish version with subtitles so you can hear the inflection of the original actors. Dubbed just doesn't do it any justice. By the way for those of you that hate reading subtitles,, this picture will change your mind. It is so well filmed. The subtitles are easy to see and read, and still leave you plenty of time to take in the scene. Also Noomi will steal your heart. She is perfect in this role. I wouldn't want to be the Hollywood actress that has to try and fill her shoes in this role. If your a movie buff like I am, do yourself a favor and see the original swedish version. One hell of a picture!

  • Alli

    I agree, the remake is just for illiterate Americans who would not know a piece of cinematic genius if it slapped them in the face.

  • Victoria Bigelow

    I can't imagine why Hollywood jumped in to film an "American" version...and so soon. How insulting. I have read all three books and seen all three films. I love the Swedish versions. They are excellent in every way. I can't imagine a remake would be anything but subpar at this point.

  • Bob Ross

    I will not see the English-language version of The Millenium Trilogy.

  • Richard Farr

    There is no way in the world Hollywood will rape Rooney Mara in front of U.S audiences. The thought of an American version is just plain stupid because of how tight our rating system is and the inability of domestic actors to play intense roles.

  • The biggest problem that American theaters have with the Swedish movies is the raw realism in which the subject matter is portrayed. The idiots at the MPAA could not rate the rape scenes anything less than MA but would probably give it an X rating. Without an R or lower rating mainstream theaters will not show the movie. The problem is that US movie ratings are not for rating movies that depict horrible but real life scenarios that happen to women around the world everyday, but instead are designed for churning out the crap that fills the screens across the country.
    The US version will probably be designed to tell the story and avoid all the serious parts to get the R rating and get the stories into theaters.

    I loved the Swedish version, and will probably watch the US version, if only to reaffirm my hate for MPAA and the superiority of the 'Original' version.

    • Winklevii

      First off everyone has to remember that Hollywood is nothing more than a big business. That's why you see so many sequels and remakes because they have a built in audience. While the filmmakers may be shooting to make art, Hollywood certainly isn't. See how Universal's Lew Wasserman tried to turn Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' into a "love" story. There there to make cash and loads of it. Great foreign films rarely find a big audience save Pan's Labrynth, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life is Beautiful etc. So when they see a buzz on an original, low buget, little seen film Hollywood says 'hell yeah'. Look at some recent films that have been remade: Open Your Eyes, Infernal Affairs, The soon to be Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Let the Right One In, La Femme Nikita, and yes, Oldboy, it's on the way. They pillaged the J-Horror genre. The Eye, The Ring, The Grudge, Pulse, Dark Water, One Missed Call, etc. So while directors like Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield and the Let the Right One In remake) aren't necessarily trying to one up those original movies they're trying to put their spin on them and get these great stories told to a wider audience. Can't blame them for wanting to make a great script. While Titanic, Avatar, 2012 and the Transformers were spectacles to look at, how great were those scripts.... really?

      Gus Van Sant, a filmmaker whom I respect, was asked about remaking Psycho shot for shot, a movie that clearly didn't need to be remade. He said "why not?". The industry is throwing boatload of money at me that I can use to fund my smaller, indie projects. It's incredible from a historical perspective to walk in Hitch's shoes. Everyone remembers Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche but ook at the rest of the cast he got to work with: Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortenson, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia), and Robert Forester (Jackie Brown). Not to shabby. Also Danny Elfman got to re-record Benard Hermann's amazing score. What composer wouldn't jump at that chance and get paid lots to do it? It's not like Danny needs the money or creative expression what with scoring EVERY Tim Burton film ever made.

      It comes down to this. This is nothing new in Hollywood. Tis will never change. Even one of the the greatest directors of all time, Akira Kurosawa, had 3 of his films remade. The Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo were remade. You all know them as The Magnifcant Seven, Star Wars, and A Fistful of Dollars. Not too shabby.

  • Darla

    I DEFINITELY wouldn't want to be Lisbeth, heck no! but I also don't want to be this movie actress who was chosen to play Lisbeth. Why do these people want to do another movie about the girl with the Dragon Tatto? It just came out and no one can replace Noomi Rapace..NO ONE!!!

  • Mike Hulden

    The net is full of English subtitles also on DVD
    See it here :