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THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB

About The Film
Readers around the world have made the Millennium series of books one of the new century's greatest success stories in publishing, thanks to the explosive appeal of Stieg Larsson's memorable creation Lisbeth Salander. Over four well-received movie adaptations, Lisbeth's iconic grip on her fans has only deepened, so when David Lagercrantz's acclaimed continuation of the novels, The Girl in the Spider's Web, was released in 2015, the next movie in Sony Pictures' popular franchise practically announced itself.

"The world is ready for a vigilante hero like Lisbeth Salander," says producer Amy Pascal. "She's a hero for the abused and vulnerable, and does it on her own terms. There's simply no one like her. The time is right for this movie and there are many more stories to tell."

At the same time, Sony Pictures was celebrating the box office prowess and creative energy of rising director Fede Alvarez. The producers overseeing the development of the franchise had a deep desire to bring the story into a new direction - one that would stand on its own as an action-adventure while also satisfying the character's longtime fans. In this, they identified Alvarez as a striking new filmmaking talent with right sensibilities for the project, as evidence by Alvarez's 2013 remake of the horror classic Evil Dead and his original 2016 thriller Don't Breathe. With the producers' deep understanding of the material, Alvarez's ambition to keep pushing the boundaries of genre movies, and the studio's desire to continue working with a director who had become part of the studio's family, it only seemed natural to bring Alvarez into the Millennium fold with The Girl in the Spider's Web.

For Alvarez, the chance to bring his skill with unnerving tension, and knack for charged character dynamics, to a story steeped in drama, suspense, and action, was a perfect fit. The feel of The Girl in The Spider's Web, he realized, needed to be its own engrossing hybrid of the visceral and emotional. "The main thing that describes it for me is just that it doesn't look like anything else, and that's what I've always been looking for as a filmmaker when it comes to choosing a project," says the director. "And there was something very particular with this one that just gave me the opportunity to make a film that I knew didn't have to look like anything else. It's a strange combination of an action movie, a powerful character drama, and a Nordic noir thriller. All these elements combine in a particular way and made it very, very different"

At the top of that list of compelling elements, for Alvarez, was of course Lisbeth Salander, who for the first time takes center stage in one of the Millennium stories as the plot's chief protagonist, rather than a featured player. "Lisbeth is the reason why I decided to make this film," says Alvarez. ""She does something that is very relevant for these times, which is, she represents a woman saying: Enough is enough!".

One of the strongest traits of Lisbeth as a character, says Alvarez, is her sense of fight, something he chose to explore fully and viscerally in Spider's Web. "Lisbeth does a great job not wanting to become a victim," he says. "It doesn't matter how much you throw at her, she will come through - she'll put up a great fight, which is what you see in this story better than any of the other ones in the past. You will see an iron will. It doesn't matter how much she gets beat up or thrown back or put on her knees. She will stand up again and keep fighting. And I think that's a feeling that everybody taps into."

Tattooed cyber-mercenary Lisbeth Salander is a role that on the page is an actor's dream job: mercurial, gifted, tough, mysterious, and unconventional in every way, yet fueled by a clear-cut sense of right and wrong. To do bad is to ignite her passion for justice, especially if an evildoer targets the vulnerable. And since Lisbeth is the epitome of the modern superhero, finding the right person to play her was the production's central challenge - no different than finding the right James Bond or Superman. Which is why Alvarez, along with Pascal, Cantillon, and the rest of the producers of Spider's Web, were thrilled that "The Crown" star Claire Foy, one of the most captivating acting talents to hit screens big and small in recent years, relished the opportunity to step into the role.

"This is a Lisbeth Salander story we've never seen on screen before, and a new interpretation of the character by Claire Foy," says producer Elizabeth Cantillon. "Claire is fearless in her outward appearance, but she truly becomes Lisbeth in her internal transformation - she becomes this strong heroine with hidden vulnerabilities."

Alvarez, a fan of "The Crown" and Foy's award-winning portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II, says the British star's rare gift with deep characterization made her perfect for the undercurrents coursing through Lisbeth Salander. "From her first scene of 'The Crown,' I fell in love with the way she was able to tell an emotional story," says Alvarez. "She has an ability to express a sea of repressed emotion with only her eyes."

Foy was already a fan of the Millennium novels and the character of Lisbeth. "I loved the books," she says. "It's about twelve years ago that I read them. At the time, I was a girl in my 20s and reading about a girl in her 20s. I just found it quite eye-opening, really, and especially a story which focuses around a woman, and that she's sort of the most interesting person to follow in the story, as well."

The Lisbeth of The Girl in the Spider's Web is, in Foy's view, someone who's grown since the momentous events of the first three books, but is still in a tenuous state about where she's come from, and where she's going. Says Foy, "She's not a ward of the state anymore. She's entirely independent. She has a lot of money but I think I see her as pretty lost. She's a fighter, and I think that for a long time she had something to fight against, and you sort of find her in this film not really having a purpose. So she sort of makes a lot of bad decisions in order to find one. But she's stronger than she looks. She's the classic don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover person."

This movie, says Foy, engages directly with the part of Lisbeth so affected by past trauma that she finds it hard to form relationships, at the same time it sends her on a mission designed to show off her skills as a vanquisher of bad and defender of the wronged. "It's sort of two parts of Lisbeth's life massively converging and crashing together in spectacularly awful fashion," says Foy. "The side of her that is about social justice and righting wrongs and also being spontaneous, and taking the law into her own hands, collides in a huge way with an unresolved part of her past with her sister, and the love she has for her sister, which she denies and which she never wants to be reminded of. So it's essentially about her running away from her past but then essentially, it's going to come back."

When it comes to that combination of fiery determination and social dysfunction, says Fede Alvarez, casting Foy was, to his mind, ensuring that the audience would get a completely unique Lisbeth. "Claire is the one that makes it work," says Alvarez. "What fascinates me the most about the whole making of movies is knowing Claire as a person, she has nothing to do with Lisbeth, right? They couldn't be more different in some levels. That says how great of an actress she is, because she could turn into that person, and she understood the character, and she could play it in a way that was fascinating to see every day."

For Foy, working with Alvarez was an enlivening and enlightening experience. "Lots of people already know it, but he genuinely is a very special director," says Foy. "He is so musical. He understands filmmaking in a way that is, he's sort of an audience member but also a director at the same time, which I think is very, very rare. He understands that you need to change the rhythm and the pace of the film in order to communicate something about the story, but also to keep the audience interested, and also to let them learn something else about the character. He just plots it all and knows it all in such a kind of musical way."

When it came to casting the rest of the movie - whether characters familiar from past installments or new figures in the Millennium orbit -- Alvarez sought an approach that not only considered the best performer for each role, but that took into account authenticity to the narrative's European origins. Says Alvarez, "My main goal was to really try to find the best actors I could, above fame and who was the most famous actor. And also, we wanted to make it legit, meaning, if we're going to have some of these characters from a lot of different countries in Europe, let's try to get them from there. It was exciting to find a Mikael Blomkvist who was actually Swedish!" (Gudnason is Icelandic-Swedish.)

That would be Sverrir Gudnason, fresh from his breakout role as Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg in "Borg/McEnroe," and now tasked with bringing to life Stieg Larsson's intrepid journalist hero Mikael Blomkvist, sympathetic friend and uneasy ally to Lisbeth Salander. For Gudnason, Blomkvist is "like Lisbeth, a righter of wrongs," and, in the universe of the stories, "probably one of the only persons Lisbeth trusts. Of course, they're very different. But they share the same morals. He's looking for justice."

Gudnason continues, "At the beginning of the story, he's kind of on the downhill. He's drinking too much and getting pushed out of his own magazine by clickbait journalists. And he hasn't seen Lisbeth for about three years. But she steps back into his life asking for help, and that kind of reignites him and makes him come alive again."

Alvarez says Gudnason brings "a different freshness" to the role of Blomkvist, a character the director admires for how he relates to Lisbeth. "He doesn't question Lisbeth at all, which is amazing about how they get along. He just accepts her as she is. It's a very human quality, and when I met [Sverrir] he connected pretty great with the character. With Claire, they had amazing chemistry on camera. It was beautiful to see it happen."

Claire Foy found in Gudnason a genuine partner in finding the truth in any given scene. "He's just there and engaged, and he's a very clever man, anyway," says Foy. "He's just a brilliant actor, amazing."

Gudnason, likewise, has nothing but praise for Foy and her portrayal of Lisbeth. "She's not only a brilliant actress," says Gudnason. "She's so focused and determined, and really gets into the character. She really made Lisbeth Salander her own Lisbeth. But Claire is such a nice person and so easy to work with."

His admiration extends to Fede Alvarez, too, whom Gudnason calls "a brilliant director. He's very incredibly smart and he has a clear vision of what he wants to do. And he gently guides you in that direction. From his earlier films, he's of course bringing a lot of tension to this project, so it was nice a pleasure working with him."

In the course of the story, Lisbeth Salander's past comes back in a significant way in the form of her long-lost sister Camilla. To play this haunting figure from Lisbeth's traumatic background, Alvarez cast Dutch actress and Blade Runner 2049 breakout star Sylvia Hoeks. "I saw her in Blade Runner and it really blew my mind," says Alvarez. "She's so good and so intense and so different, and again, very unpredictable as an actress. I'm always going for what you don't expect, and it was a pleasure to work with her."

Unlike Foy and Gudnason, Hoeks was tasked with embodying a new, never-before-performed character in the Millennium stories, albeit one referenced to in Larsson's original novels before entering the picture fully in The Girl in the Spider's Web. In preparing to play Camilla, Hoeks took advantage of the character's newness to the franchise, and let imagination lead her. "There's a lot of blank spaces to fill in," she says. "That's what I love about a character we don't know that much of. But I understood the world of Lisbeth Salander. And looking at her, what would her sister be like? To have her sister mirror her in a way that is also very different, and reveals something about Lisbeth that the audience has been waiting for. After seeing [Lisbeth] as a badass for so many years, we want to know, who was that girl? How did she turn out to be the way she is, and who would she have been as a little girl? So I think coming into the story as Camilla, reflecting on Lisbeth was for me a very interesting way to create that new character. I love researching. I think it's one of my favorite things about acting, that psychological aspect to it."

Hoeks also responded to the way Alvarez directed her, which started with a clear sense of what he wanted, but always made room for collaboration with the actors. "He was very open to other people's ideas and visions," says Hoeks. "And we improvised a lot. There was a lot of freedom in the scenes. It was a very, very interesting and lovely way of working with a director."

For the role of NSA specialist Ed Needham, a figure drawn into pursuing Lisbeth Salander after she engineers a security breach and makes off with an important code, Alvarez cast Lakeith Stanfield (FX"s "Atlanta," Sorry to Bother You). "We wanted something more exciting and different," says Alvarez, who saw in Needham's fish-out-of-water storyline in Sweden the chance to upend audience expectations even further. "Lakeith had a lot of fun with that. He did an amazing job and it really comes through in the story."

Rounding out the top notch international cast Alvarez assembled are Claes Bang (The Square) as a shadowy figure on Lisbeth's trail; Stephen Merchant ("Hello Ladies," Logan) as computer whiz Frans Balder, who enlists Lisbeth to his desperate cause; Christopher Convery as Balder's son August; Synnøve Macody Lund as Gabriella Grane, the head of Swedish security; and Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) as Erika Berger, the editor of Millennium.

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