THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB
About The Production
For Fede Alvarez, creating the look of The Girl in the Spider's Web took place
before a single art department drawing or location shoot or sketch of an idea
for what Lisbeth might look like: it began as he assembled his creative team,
most of whom have worked with him on Evil Dead or Don't Breathe or both.
Director of Photography Pedro Luque Briozzo, costume designer Carlos Rosario,
and composer Roque Banos have all teamed with Alvarez in the past, with the
four-time Oscar nominee Eve Stewart joining as production designer, and Tatiana
S. Riegel, an Academy Award nominee for her work on I, Tonya, joining as
editor. "The only way to do this job - to work together with other people to
create a single vision - is to get people whose taste and style you know," says
Alvarez. "I tend to let them run free at the beginning - I think it's the best
way to get the best out of them, to hope they will bring their own visions to
it. From there, I can adjust and send them on one particular path, but if you
choose the right people, then as a director, you have less to direct - they're
already on the right path."
"Fede and I have known each other since we were 20. We started in the business
together, when he was an editor and I was a camera assistant," says Luque, who
previously served his friend in the camera department on Evil Dead and then took
the director of photography reins on Don't Breathe. "We see things in the same
way; we like the same kind of movies. He's a genius, but I also really like the
way he works. He pushes us, he asks the right questions, he makes us think. You
do that, and suddenly, everything is better."
Because there's no hero like Lisbeth Salander, Luque says that he and Alvarez
intended to make a film that would make the audience sense and feel that as much
as anything in the story expressed it - to tell, but also to show. "We didn't
settle for the normal - the cinematography should tell you something about the
story and the characters. It's the location, it's the wardrobe, it's the light,
it's the camera work, it's contrast - it would be expressive, even shocking. The
scenes in the snow, every time Claire is on screen - her eyes are so expressive,
she's able to communicate emotions so well."
"There's a constant contradiction in my films, and in my approach with Pedro,"
says Alvarez. "There's a classic saying, 'shoot love scenes like death scenes
and death scenes like love scenes.' Make the violent or negative scenes
beautiful, and vice versa. I want it to be unpredictable, to get that reaction
from the audience. They stay engaged, because they don't get the scene they
thought they were going to get from the look, they get the complete opposite. As
a storyteller, that's what I think we should do - if the audience knows what's
going to happen next or how it's going to look, you've failed."
Of course, it's one thing to surprise the audience, but it's just as true that
when working with a character like Lisbeth Salander, Alvarez would have to
deliver the look, feel, and character that audiences expect. And so, the film
takes place in Stockholm, and Foy adopts a Swedish accent for the film.
Anyone who's been to Stockholm knows it's one of the most beautiful cities in
the world - but Alvarez found beauty in a way that audiences might not expect.
"We worked hard to show you this face of Stockholm that we're interested in.
This is not the Europe of old buildings," says Alvarez. "It's actually more of a
modern city, representing a very cosmopolitan Europe, and you'll feel that in
the movie. Every character seems to be from a different part of the world."
Stewart is best-known for her work in period pieces - an Oscar nominee for her
work in Topsy-Turvy, The King's Speech, Les Miserables, and The Danish Girl,
production designer Eve Stewart relished the chance to work on a film that would
have a very contemporary design. "I do quite a lot of period films, so I was
thrilled - this was a real departure for me," she says. "Also, my kids are grown
now, and they had just seen Don't Breathe, so when they saw Fede's name attached
to this, they told me I had to do it."
Stewart was also intrigued by the chance to work in the thriller genre. "There's
a certain kind of intrigue for me about that Nordic, cold, misty world," says
Stewart. "It always seems much more dark and sinister."
"The gritty side of Stockholm is there, but in very disparate pockets," says
Stewart. "Having been to Stockholm quite a bit, it's quite a lovely city - warm
and pretty. We wanted to accentuate the cold world that Lisbeth finds herself in
as she comes up against the state. So our Sweden has much cooler colors and hard
surfaces that are hard to break through. You feel a bit shut in. The individual
looks a bit smaller agains the wall surfaces."
The Look of Lisbeth
Creating the look of Lisbeth was also a challenge for the filmmakers. For
Alvarez, as the director, this was one of those times when it was important to
give his creative department heads - and Foy - the creative liberty to express
the character as they saw fit. "In my movies, I don't get too caught up in the
look or fashion of the character. You've got to have her tattoos and her
piercings, but on a character level, it's not much more than a
At the same time, he was committed to presenting a Lisbeth that audiences would
recognize, and that meant piercings and tattoos. "For most of us, tattoos show a
level of commitment. You believe in your ideas so much that you'll put it on
your body for the rest of your life. But for me, the most important part of it
is that she's 'the girl with the dragon tattoo' - you've got to have it there!"
"It's tricky. When the books were first written in the early 2000s, it was a
different world. If you had a tattoo, it was a symbol of going against everybody
else - you were making a mark and being different. Back then, Lisbeth looked
like someone who was dangerous, an anarchist. But now, everybody has a tattoo;
it's hard to shock people that way. Since we are setting the film in this day
and age, it was less about making her look cool or kind of edgy, but just making
her unique in her own way."
With this in mind, the look of the character became a collaboration between
makeup and hair designer Heike Merker, Ellen Mirojnick, who was brought in to
work on the look of Lisbeth's costumes, and Foy herself - with the final look
ultimately approved by Alvarez.
"The challenge is to create something fresh - Claire is her own person - but
also iconic - to fit what people expect," says Merker. She began by creating a
"look book" of possible options "We had so many variations at the beginning,"
says Merker. "One version shaved the whole side of her head and tattooed
everything. Ultimately, we ended up having the tattoo on the side of her neck,
another on her ankle, one on her bottom, right hand body and left hand body, two
on her arm, like two sentences, and of course the dragon.
"The big question mark was what the dragon should look like," she continues.
What is the right position? How big should it be? Should it go from one side to
the other or half the body, or should the tail go around her body?" Then there
were technical questions - not least of which, the tattoo would have to be
re-applied every day. Even once some of these questions started getting answers,
there were tweaks - mix-and-matching heads and wings from different designs.
Foy brought her own influence on the design that would prove effective even when
most the dragon was hidden under her clothing. "I was keen for it to go more
towards a Scandinavian dragon design," says Foy. "There was lots of drawing on
my back. I really wanted the wing of the dragon to be my shoulder so that it
could move a bit. And then we came up with the idea of having flames that come
from the dragon's mouth up the back of the neck."
To help Foy create Lisbeth's accent, the filmmakers called on dialect coach
William Conacher, who previously advised Foy on creating her royal accent as
Queen Elizabeth in "The Crown." "Creating an accent is about giving people
triggers that will help them believe the story. For this film, we wanted a light
Swedish accent," he says. "Fede sent me YouTube videos of quite a few people
whose accents he liked, and we decided that was the right level of accent.
To create an accent, Conacher says, "you break it down, identify certain vowel
sounds, or the way people hold their mouth or a physical posture. Usually, it's
five or six different vowel sounds, and identifying all of the words in the
script that contain those vowel sounds."
Foy would learn her accent in just ten days.
Once the filmmakers settled on the accent that Foy would have, Conacher worked
with the other actors to help their accents match Foy's. "We tried to bring them
in line with each other," he says. "Sylvia Hoeks, who is Dutch, reduced the
American accent she's worked so hard to acquire. In this film, she sounds very
much like Claire, and for good reason, with them being sisters; there's a scene
towards the end of the movie where they speak to each other that's very
gratifying for me (this is no longer a spoiler, right?). Sverrir is Icelandic
Swedish, but also sounds quite American, so we've reduced that a bit."
Lisbeth's piercings were the purview of costume designer Carlos Rosario. "The
most important thing for me is the first time I read the script," he says. "At
that moment, you're not attached to any kind of influence from anybody - the
vision of the director, what the actress thinks, what the producers want. It's
just you and the script. And as you read, you find the little words that allow
you to design the costumes. It comes from within; you tap into your intuition to
feel the spirit, the energy, of each of the characters."
Of course, that's just the starting point. "You do have to support Fede's
aesthetic, what the actress wants. You have to let the creative process flow
naturally; it's very organic. I try to put all of these pieces of the puzzle
What made this film unique, Rosario says, is the idea that the design would
build on the films that have come before, but also express Alvarez's unique
aesthetic. "It's dark and gritty, yes, but Fede also wanted her to be more
approachable than the way she's been portrayed before. We wanted her to have
more depth so the audience could relate to her a bit more. We refrained from
going too far into goth and gave her a bit more of a motorcycle vibe. And she
changes clothes a lot in this movie, and each outfit says something about her."
Alvarez asked that Foy choose her piercings, as he wanted to ensure that each of
her piercings had personal meaning. "We gave her every option - we got pretty
much every fake piercing in the world and we put them in her trailer. Claire
started putting them on, and that was it. What we did was to wrap wire around
each of them - different wires, different colors, different leather pieces - so
that each of them would have a story, each of them has a reason and depth."
One of the most striking pieces of makeup is the mask Lisbeth wears as the
audience is re-introduced to the character. "We tried so many," says Merker.
"Should it be black, or red, or white? Whole face, half face, include the
eyebrows? When we hit on making it white and fading it out, it seemed like a
natural choice, like we could imagine Lisbeth applying it herself."
"She wants to scare the absolute living daylights out of this man," says Foy.
"She's rough, and not particularly artistic. So, she does what she thinks is the
scariest possible thing that she can do and makes herself look terrifying in
order to scare him. Her warrior mask is to let him know that she means
Additional Makeup and Costumes
Sylvia Hoeks would also go through a remarkable transformation in costumes, hair
and makeup. "The first time we see her, she's in a very sexy, short dress cut
very low at the back," says Rosario. "That dress needed to be very specific,
because the light in that set was very smoky. I chose fabrics that had the same
color as Sylvia's skin tone."
The film's color palette is black, white, and red - "black for the darkness,
white for the light and the snow, and red for blood dripping on the snow," as
the makeup and hair designer Heike Merker points out - which makes the red dress
a natural choice for Hoeks' character at the end of the film. Rosario designed
the costume so that Hoeks could wear different shoes depending on the action
required - the same style, but different heights.
Rosario also worked closely with Merker to create an overall effect for Camilla.
"Obviously, she was blond, that was in the script. But how blond? Sylvia herself
wanted to be more white-blond, almost albino. She asked us to bleach her
eyebrows and her hair as white as possible. And I thought, 'Why not, a contrast
of black and white between the two sisters.' And it's an interesting look,
especially with her red dress." Merker was also responsible for creating the
character's body scarring.
About the Stunts
Alvarez's goal for the film's stunts was to capture as much as he could
practically, in-camera, and not with visual effects. "We had some quite extreme
things that I don't think movies do anymore," he says. "Most of the time you
have a blue screen behind you. We went to great extents to avoid that - and that
put us in some insane landscapes."
But everything Alvarez asked his actors to do, he was also prepared to do
himself. "I was with her on all of the fights," he says. "On every one of the
action sequences, I operated the camera, right in her face, assisting with every
punch. It was a little dance between the two of us, and that was a lot of fun to
"Fede asked us to do every kind of stunt from A to Z," says Florian Hotz, the
film's stunt coordinator. "The script is clever, it has twists and turns, but as
I was reading it, I was already starting to picture how we'd do certain stunts."
As with the other department heads, Alvarez asked the stunt team to push beyond
the usual. "There was one particularly tricky stunt - two people fall about five
meters, land on a pitched roof, slide five or six meters, fall another three
meters to the ground, and then roll 20 meters down a hill," Hotz recalls. "I
came up with an action design and a shot system with a lot of cuts landing them
at the final position - and then Fede asked if we could do it as a single shot.
"I couldn't say yes right away," Hotz continues. "I told him we'd have to sit
down with the rigs and brainstorm for two days. But that was actually the answer
that Fede was looking for - he knew if we said, 'Yes, no problem,' it would be
something we'd done before. He was interested in things that have not been done
before." The shot became technically complex, requiring weeks of prep, and would
involve several different departments, including camera, art, and special
effects to pull it off - but they did, and it's now a central stunt in the film.
Similarly, a number of car-chase stunts were done in unique ways. "In one stunt,
the challenge was that we were in a narrow location in wintertime, so there were
snow and wet patches," Hotz recalls. "The cars' handling in this environment is
completely different than in a dry location. And we wanted to shoot as much as
we could with the actress and a jump into open traffic. The way we did it is
with a 'top rider' - it's a fully functional car, but the operator is sitting on
top of it with the actor behind the wheel pretending to drive."
Another stunt was one that became possible thanks to new technology. "Usually
Hollywood stunt crashes are made by a stunt driver who's driving as fast as he
can into the crash. Some of the best stunts look fast at movie speed, but
actually are not that fast when you see them with the naked eye. With new
technology, we were able to have a self-driving car speeding at an insane speed
- I think it was 90 miles an hour - and into the crash. You would not have been
able to do it even two years ago."
Alvarez's intention was to use Foy as much as possible in the stunt work.
"Claire hadn't done a lot of stunt work in the past," says Alvarez, "so she
really had to train and be in shape to do what the story demanded."
As a result, the fight choreography that Foy learned was all character-based,
Hotz says. "Lisbeth is clever, and she uses her cleverness and her strong will
to overcome an opponent that might be bigger and stronger or have more knowledge
of martial arts. That's why we designed close, brutal fights - it's closer to
reality for this character."
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