David Fincher tells 'Vogue' why he cast Rooney Mara in 'Dragon Tattoo' instead of Scarlett Johansson

Image Credit: Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott/Vogue

For November’s Vogue, Rooney Mara opened up about her experience working on the sure-to-be career catapulting film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Hand-selected by auteur David Fincher to play anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander in the high-profile American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s ultraviolent series, Mara admitted she had some reservations about taking the role. “My fear with a movie like this is the kind of exposure you get from it,” she said. “I think that can be death to an actor.” Mara, Fincher, Daniel Craig, and Dutch co-star Yorick van Wageningen (who plays sadistic case worker Nils Bjurman) shared behind-the-scenes secrets from filming the wrenching start to Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Which A-list star did Mara best for the role? What did Craig have to say about Fincher and Mara’s relationship? And who spent the entire day crying in a hotel room before a pivotal scene? Read on…

Fincher was an early champion of Mara — whom he called “a weirdo… a great weirdo” — after working with her on The Social Network. The studio wasn’t convinced. The director revealed one top-tier name from those he auditioned: “Look, we saw some amazing people. Scarlett Johansson was great. It was a great audition, I’m telling you. But the thing with Scarlett is, you can’t wait for her to take her clothes off.” Fincher said he fought for Mara like “that last puppy that nobody else [wanted].” He added, “I didn’t want the consensus. I wanted the person that made everybody go, ‘Really?’ I needed that.”

Not that Mara didn’t earn the role through sheer commitment. She followed every one of Fincher’s strange directives from day one. According to the story, “[Mara] mentions a time Fincher said, ‘Go out and get really, really drunk and come in the next morning so we can take pictures of you.’ He wanted to show Sony that she could look strung out. ‘And I did it!’ says Mara. ‘Threw up all night!’” That set the tone for their relationship, which Craig characterized as “f—ing weird!” During one dinner during filming, Fincher tells Mara “with quiet seriousness, ‘You can eat.’… Mara rolls her eyes, and Fincher laughs. ‘You can have lettuce and a grape. A raisin if you must.’ She orders a piece of fish and barely touches it.”

Co-star van Wageningen admitted he struggled to prepare for the film’s make-or-break rape scene. He calls it, “Probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I spent a day crying in my hotel room. I’m sure [Mara] did, too.” He teased, it’s “one of the nastiest things you will ever see on-screen. But it’s very stylish! Typical Fincher.”

Are you excited to see this new Dragon Tattoo, PopWatchers? Can Mara carry a character as strong and strange as Salander? And if she does, will it shadow every role she does for the rest of her career? What about Fincher and Mara’s relationship? Is it appropriately twisted for the source material? What are you most looking forward to about the film?

Read more:
‘Dragon Tattoo’ trailer: Lisbeth takes center stage
New, non-bootleg ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ trailer: Still liking what you see?
‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo': What do you think of the first images of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth?

Comments (56 total) Add your comment
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  • lisa g.

    Is Scarjo losing her mojo?

    • HD

      I’ve never, ever thought she could act and there hasn’t been one performance that has ever showed me anything to the contrary. I’m really excited for this movie (never read the book) and if Scarjo had been cast, I wouldn’t even consider seeing it. Mara made a big impact with her limited screen time in The Social Network, I’m all about giving her a chance. The movie looks pretty incredible from the trailers.

      • lisa g.

        U didn’t like her in the woody Allen movie..can’t recall title. Been a fan of hers since then but she has “fallen off” some. She used to be super hawt!

      • Angela


    • miss k

      I really don’t see Scarlett as a gothic hacker. She’s got a really soft face and, if you read the books, she doesn’t look like Lisbeth. I think Rooney is perfect.

      • jessica

        Didn’t she play a wannabe gothic hacker in The Perfect Score? That’s probably why you don’t see her as a gothic hacker…because she’s tried and couldn’t pull it off.

    • Sam

      She never had any. Terrible actress, completely one-(flat)note, and cannot carry a movie. She is more of a tabloid celebrity than a credible screen actress.

    • Lisa

      Lisbeth Salander, in the book, was not a blonde hottie.

      She was a brunette with a bad upbringing and a bad ass hacker. Rooney Mara looks the part and can do this great character justice

  • Jennifer

    I don’t understand the anecdote about telling her she can eat and not touching the fish…

    • Shannon


      • JerseyJeff

        I think it is very clear.

    • Stacie

      I think he was giving her a hard time about being a skinny actress. I’m sure Fincher believes that women can eat, but he also knows the rigors of Hollywood that requires actresses to be super thin. Not a very funny joke IMO, but I bet he laughed and laughed.

      • Aly

        Actually, if you read the books, Lizbeth is incredibly skinny and emaciated. That’s why Rooney wasn’t eating and Fincher was acknowledging that. I don’t think he was laughing at her.

    • Leila

      Basically it implies their working relationship and how much control David has over Rooney. She’s suppose to look anorexic and he wants her to look it. Therefore he probably dictates to her how to eat.

    • rose

      Lisbeth Salander is shockingly, perhaps disgustingly, thin in the books. Rooney Mara apparently was starving herself to look so thin, and Fincher seems to have been trying to get her to eat something.

  • Melissa in CA

    I think this role needed a lesser known name. I’m still not sure I’ll see the movie though. I don’t think it can live up to the book(s).

  • Quirky

    Casting Scarlett would have been like casting Tom Cruise for Craig’s role. Some stars are just too glamourous to pull off the dirty, gritty roles.

    • Kurt

      Agreed. Fincher’s also right that the movie would suddenly become “The one Where you see Scarlett Johansen topless” and that’s not what this movie should be about. Furthermore, Lisander being thin and waifish was an important part of her self-identity in the books, making her voluptuous takes away some of that. I think he made the right choice.

  • Lia

    I’d be more excited about this if I hadn’t just seen the subtitled version which was awesome. We used to wait a few years before we stole plots, now it’s like 20 minutes.

    • A

      If this movie is “stealing” anything, it’s stealing the plot from the book, which is what the Swedish film did too.

    • rose

      Both the Swedish version and the American version are based on a best-selling book. One filmmaker bought the Swedish language rights to the book, and another bought the English-language rights to the book. It’s not stealing in any respect.

  • Bethany

    I cannot wait to see this. I loved the Swedish versions, but I’m very interested in seeing how Fincher does things.

  • Samm

    I hope he made the right choice. I’ve never really been a fan of Mara or Fincher.

  • JP

    Sorry, but Noomi is the girl with the dragon tattoo, no matter how hollywood tries to americanize it.

    • jj


    • kiesha

      I think so too. She was awesome. I’ll see it to find out if they do it justice.

    • Q

      Get over it.

  • Templar

    I can accept Mara as LS, but will pass on the film because Daniel Craig is all wrong for his role as Blomkvist.

  • Shannon

    I could hardly stomach the grafic scenes in the books (I skimmed) and in a movie, it’s hard to avoid that. I don’t know if I can go see this.

    • Stacie

      Me too. I’ll probably rent it and fast forward through the scene like I did with the Swedish version.

    • Leila

      I can’t watch this movie because the rape scenes, the Swedish version left me horrified and unable to sleep. Too graphic and disturbing.

  • F

    For the last time, people, the Swedish films were NOT VERY GOOD. Not all remakes are automatically a bad idea.

    • Team Fincher

      THANK YOU!! The Swedish films were not that good at all I don’t why everyone keeps slobbering over them. For a suspense film, David Fincher is one of the best he’s going to do an amazing job and get over Noomi people Mara is going to kill it. Every once in a while, the remake does improve over the original.

      • davey

        “Every once in a while, the remake does improve over the original.”
        Really? Name 5! lol

      • Team Fincher

        True Grit, Ocean’s 11, Little Shop Of Horrors, The Italian Job, Cape Fear and your mom.

      • Monty

        The Departed, and one could make a solid argument for Dawn of the Dead.

      • ddd

        I’ll give you eight. There are probably many more. His Girl Friday, The Maltese Falcon, True Grit, The Fly, The Thing (Carpenter’s version), Heat, The Departed, The Man Who Knew Too Much.

  • jessie

    Is it just me, or does the relationship between Rooney and Fincher sound similar to the movie Secretary? There were scenes in that movie where James Spader would control Maggie G in multiple ways, including what she ate.

    • ddd

      Except he’s kidding. Clearly.

      • Leila

        Probably at that moment, but it implies that they have gone through her eating before and that he does have some say in what she eats.

  • Jenn T

    ScarJo is a great actress, IMO, but I don’t see her as Lisbeth. For one thing she just doesn’t have the right body type. Lisbeth is supposed to be super skinny and boyish looking almost. ScarJo is far from boyish.

    • LOL

      ScarJo isn’t as “great” as people seem to think. I like her, but she’s been miscast several times. It’s good that she’s not in this.

  • Dave

    I’m very excited for this, especially since I thought the Swedish adaptations were mediocre at best. I think Rooney Mara was a great choice for the role. And David Fincher is the perfect director for this series.

  • Trixie

    Hahahah Scarlett Johansson would have been SO WRONG in this role. Rooney Mara seems perfect for the role, to me–at least in terms of looks.

    • kate middleton

      Totally agree. It would have been laughable to cast ScarJo as Lisbeth. I am impressed by Rooney’s appearance in the promo photos at least.

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