Lisbeth Manque: Rating the Runners Up for Rooney Mara's Role of a Lifetime

Photo: Baldur Bragason/© 2011 Columbia TriStar
Photo: Baldur Bragason/© 2011 Columbia TriStar

The competition for the role of Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was as quietly fierce as the character herself. A flash mob of young actresses from around the world jostled for the opportunity to submit to the emotional and physical hazing the director required of all potential Lisbeths, including performing the notorious rape scene in which, as Fincher told W Magazine earlier this year, they were asked "to kick a dildo up [her guardian's] ass."

In this month's Vogue profile of Rooney Mara (whose seething stoicism ultimately helped her win the role), Fincher revealed more about the casualties left in the wake of his relentless crusade for the perfect Lisbeth. First and foremost among them was Scarlett Johansson, a late entry in the slugfest to play Salander, who, Fincher now admits, delivered a knockout audition but lost the role because she was too overtly comfortable in her own sexuality to embody the essential otherness of Larsson's damaged punkette protagonist.

Even though audiences will still have to wait until December 21 to render a verdict on whether Fincher made the right call in choosing Mara, we've decided to take a look at a few of the other leading contenders to consider how they might have conjured the character. Call it Saturday morning quarterbacking. Here's our alternate-reality breakdown of how these actresses might have filled Lisbeth's Doc Martens.

Ellen Page: While the “Juno” star would have a lock on the character’s tough-as-Tevlar exterior, there is something so modern and self-possessed about Page her strength might have undermined Lisbeth’s propensity for self-sabotage and sulking.

Natalie Portman: Portman’s downfall might have been her wispy vulnerability. Yes, she pulled off a feat of menacing self-loathing in” Black Swan.” But Lisbeth’s brand of grit is not a learned trait. One is either born with that gene or not. Portman strikes us as the latter.

Carey Mulligan: Few actresses have packed more emotional charge into a character's silences as Mulligan did in both “Drive” and “An Education.” It would have been fascinating to have seen how she might have applied that gift for not gabbing to Lisbeth’s solitary existence, staring at her computer screen and scowling at the corrupt, abusive men in her life. Perhaps her openhearted innocence might have done her in with Fincher. But she would have been our pick for the role, if only for the air of mystery she brings to all her characters.

Mia Wasikowska: She definitely proved her ability to project strength-in-the-face-of-hardship as the title character in this year’s “Jane Eyre.” And she was as fierce as she was heartbreaking as the art student afraid to tell her parents about her cancer diagnosis in HBO’s “In Treatment.” Her Lisbeth might have been raw and warm and perhaps a tad too relatable for Fincher’s taste. We would have relished the opportunity to watch her spark and spar with Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist.

Emily Browning: After watching her kick and claw her way through “Sucker Punch,” there’s little doubt she easily exceeded the role’s bad-ass requirements. But Lisbeth requires an otherworldliness and emotional depth we have yet to see from her on the big screen.

Katie Jarvis: She brought a sense of righteous rage to her only major role to date opposite Michael Fassbender in Andrea Arnold’s exquisite urban fable, “Fish Tank.” She was a sad and sexual creature, but also one with a contemporary hip-hop edge who might seem utterly out of place in Larsson’s cold, repressed Sweden.