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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 characterization."

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 together."

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 business."

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 do."

"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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