The girl cast in 'Dragon Tattoo': Can Rooney Mara be the punk pierced Vivien Leigh?

tattoo-rooney-scarlet-windImage Credit: Kevin Winter, Getty Images; Everett CollectionThe moment I heard that David Fincher, the director of the upcoming American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (scheduled release date: December 2011), had settled on his choice for an unknown actress to play Lisbeth Salander, the morosely punked-out cyber-genius/abuse victim/delinquent/ investigator/smashmouth heroine, I eagerly looked up her credits to see if I could remember her in any previous roles. I couldn’t. Her name was certainly promising: Rooney Mara (that’s her, above left) sounds exotic, vaguely foreign, and a little sinister, like Mata Hari with attitude. And she’s striking-looking, with an old-fashioned small-boned, sculptured-ivory elegance, and big blue eyes that seem to take in everything. I had seen most of Mara’s prominent films, like Youth in Revolt and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but when it turned out that I had no recollection of her performances in any of those relatively minor roles, I was glad. I think that Fincher did the right thing, and in fact made a very bold and ingenious move, by choosing a relative unknown. It gave me a tingle of anticipation that I had no idea who she was.

That’s because Lisbeth Salander, even when you do get to know her, has a certain distant, mysterious, and forbidding punk-ghost quality. She never ingratiates, the way that a conventional movie star does. She’s sneaky and remote and a touch sociopathic, slinking in the shadows of her torment — a self-styled cipher-avenger. In a certain sense, the actress who plays her has to vanish emotionally, to dial down her expressiveness to a barely visible simmer, and to make that slight stuntedness itself expressive. A name star like Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson would have had a harder time doing that. (Mara, to be fair, will be a little bit known by the time Dragon Tattoo comes out, since she’s got a major role in Fincher’s upcoming Facebook movie, The Social Network.) By turning his whole casting process into a kind of role-of-the-century Cinderella event, a contemporary version of the search for Scarlett O’Hara (that’s Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, above right — is the resemblance between her and Rooney Mara a coincidence?), Fincher did something extremely shrewd: He captured and built into the movie, before it even started shooting, the momentous quality of Lisbeth as a character. She speaks to readers around the world, and especially to women, because she represents a new-style fusion of victimization and empowerment. She’s Clarice Starling with the agony (and fiery revenge) of her past etched onto her skin.

If Fincher can infect this movie with the kind of intensity he brought to Zodiac, then The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has the chance to be a prestige crossover thriller on the order of The Silence of the Lambs. We’ll know in a little over a year, of course, but whatever the film turns out to be, there’s one prediction that I want to make right now, and it has everything to do with Rooney Mara: No matter how serious Fincher is about making a popular work of thriller art, my hunch is that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is going to be marketed as a fashion revolution (as Vivien Leigh was in Gone With the Wind), with Mara’s image as Lisbeth displayed in media around the globe as a new kind of sullen, razory, waif-rebel icon. Mara herself will have to undergo that transformation, and the before-and-after images of her should be edgy-makeover PR magic. Tattoos, of course, are already as middle-class as can be, and it’s not as if we’ve never seen punked-out girls before, but it’s exactly a movie like this one that can nudge a certain style from the margins of the mainstream into the hot commodified center of it. Get ready to buy a ticket and, if they’re a certain age, to hide your daughters.

So are you excited by David Fincher’s decision to cast an unknown like Rooney Mara? Or would you rather have seen a name actress play Lisbeth — and, if so, who?

Comments (231 total) Add your comment
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  • Cheryl

    Superb selection!!!!!

    • b.mclane


      • Chrysteen

        You only “lose nothing” if you don’t want to WATCH the movie, but would rather read it. I’m not being snarky. It’s a fault of mine, really–this inability to watch a movie with subtitles and miss nothing. I watched the trailer for the original Swedish version and it looked fantastic and I think I’d rather see Noomi Rapace in the role than this Rooney Mara. I’m a reasonably intelligent woman, I read very well, but I tend to miss SO much of the action going on onscreen in my efforts to read the subtitles. Disappointing, actually, since I’m not really interested in seeing the Americanized version of a Swedish trilogy. But then, I read Bree’s comment and felt let down that the Swedish movies fell a bit short in comparision to the mastery of the books. I think I’ll keep an open mind and give Mara a chance. Going with an unknown was probably a good choice. CERTAINLY better than going with Scarlett Johansson. What a monumental disappointment THAT would have been!

      • Sue

        I FULLY agree with b.mclane – Hollywood will probably ruin these superb stories.

    • Bree

      Okay. I LOVED these books and wanted to love the Swedish films but they strayed too much from the books for me to really enjoy them as much as I wanted to. This is a statement coming from a fan of foreign films. I tend to snub American films that remake forgeign originals. But, in this case, I’m very much looking forward to what the American version will be like. The best thing about the Swedish versions was Noomi Rapace. She is awesome and I’m sad she won’t be in the American versions. But aside from that, the Swedish versions could have done a better job.

      • cindy powers

        I totally agree that the Swedish versions left out to much of the detail so very much needed in this story. i hope the American version does a better job and knowing our film industry with nothing being taboo to fiklm we will get more of the graphic content from the books story.

  • KMPearce

    I guess that we will just have to wait and see. I would have preferred Natalie Portman in the role as she has both the acting skill and natural look of Lisabeth Salander. I just hope they don’t screw it up. Thankfully there are the Swedish versions which were excellent, even in subtitles.

    • ashley

      ugh, portman would have been a mistake. Too old, and, frankly, too big of a name. I would have a very hard time seeing lisbeth and not natalie portman doing a swedish accent. i agree she’s a great actress, but casting an unknown wast he best thing they could have done.

      • annamorphos

        Um, they used Natalie Portman as an example of how a famous actress wouldn’t have been a wise choice. Natalie Portman was never in the running for this movie.

    • Jackcc332

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      • Deedee

        I prefer an unknown since I can’t have Keisha Castle-Hughes.

      • Janette

        What in the world is this guy talking about? interracial love really? what does that have to do with this movie at ALL? get rid of his comment not only is it unrelated but its offensive! Maybe i will LIKE IT??? like what?

      • Janette

        What in the world is this guy talking about? interracial love really? what does that have to do with this movie at ALL? get rid of his comment not only is it unrelated but its offensive! Maybe i will LIKE IT??? like what?

    • AngieLam18

      I love Natalie Portman, but I would NOT have seen this movie if she’d been cast in it.

      • wino

        same here. natalie is a good actress but she doesnt have the “balls” to play such a tortured soul. i cringed the entire time she was on screen as a stripper in Closer. she’s lovely, but bad a-s, she’s not.

      • Kira

        Have you seen Natalie Portman rap on her SNL skits online? She is totally completely badass, but I’m happy she wasn’t cast for this role.

      • annamorphos

        Dude! She didn’t even audition for this movie! They used her as an example of why a famous actress wouldn’t have worked for this movie role.

    • Dejie

      I was totally disappointed in the Swedish version which left out all the heart and soul of the book and for once am looking for Hollywood to save the day. The feeling Lisbeth experiences at the end is just as hurtful as the physical pain that had been inflicted upon her. Sweden didn’t give us that or anything leading up to that. Also, where was Blomkvist’s sex life and that culmination of basement horror with his turn at abuse? So important. I want that same feeling I experienced with Harry Potter. The magic of us all seeing the images from our head transported to the big screen. Hollywood, please do it right.

      • Carrie

        I am really concerned that Hollywood will gloss over even more of the abuse from the books. I am afraid they will not be nearly as direct in the Lisbeth rape scenes. I hope that I am wrong!

    • amin

      i thought the same thing as you, but not in a good way. i just read the book like two weeks ago and as i was halfway through it i thought, what actress woud play her, i could not envision any well known actress protraying her as none have the right look. i immediately thought of nathalie portman and as much as i like her the thought was not pleasant, i said to myself i want an unknown actress someone with a slender built (as salander is only 4’11)i hope this girl works out well, i have never seen any of the swedish versions, i should look them up and see how they are.

  • Bubba

    great selection

    • Not really

      Not really…she’s not memorable and judging from past reviews, she also can’t act.
      I’ve seen the trailer for The Social Network and for Nightmare on Elm Street a few times and I still don’t remember seeing her at all. Who IS she?

      • D

        If you dont know who she is, how can you call her a bad choice.

  • E

    i’m very excited that they went with an unknown. none of the name actresses who were floated as potential lisbeths ever seemed like great options to me.

  • DavidJ

    For me the original girl is so indelibly Lisbeth Slander now that this new girl is going to have a really hard time replacing her in my mind.

    In fact this whole thing feels a bit pointless to me. The original movie ALREADY feels a bit like a Fincher movie (especially his cool and methodical Zodiac), so I’m not sure what they can do that’s really going to be different.

    • b322

      I completly agree. The books are amazing and the girl they picked for Lisbeth is exactly who I imagined while reading. Its gonna be hard to have any other compare. Hopefully this girl shaves her pitts tho.. :)

    • Janette


  • Tye-Grr

    I guess Fincher really saw something in her from ‘The Social Network’. I was personally hoping for Portman, but this might work. And now the ambulances wait their turn…

  • 4k4k

    She is probably the best choice Fincher could make for the role. She is mostly unknown and has striking-looking features. Of course there is still the mystery if she will be good or not.

    • Not really

      It’s not that much mystery if you read reviews about her past performances.
      I’m just putting all my faith in David, because he’s worked with her before.

  • Tom W

    Rooney Mara looks PERFECT for the role; people forget that Salander was always being over-looked and underestimated because she appeared way younger than she really was-often being mistaken for a teenager; looking forward to the film–hope it’s as good as the Swedish version…

  • alex

    great move.. it would have been a big mistake to cast someone like portman. portman is a fine actress, but too well known for the part

    • alex

      and portman is too naturally pretty.. i mean this girl is gorgeous too, but i feel like they can punk her up to make her look more like lisbeth

  • Bakes

    Why can’t we learn to leave good enough alone? I’m not concerned with who plays Lisbeth… I’m more troubled by the apparent need to make an “American” version of an excellent movie.

    • alex

      totally agree..the swedish films are amazing.. but it’s happening!

    • K

      I think you mean an american version of the book.

    • Scuttles

      Couldn’t agree more. Often, “Americanizing” is dumbing down and reaching the common denominator of audiences.

      Of course, give it a chance, But from casting this role to making the movie … bad move all around methinks.

      • Me too

        One version does not “cancel out” or erase the other, they both coexist. While many remakes are a waste of time and effort, others do bring some value.

    • Jennifer

      This stuff happens all the time in both moves and TV. I’m not to concerned with the “need” to make an American version. I enjoy covers of songs, I enjoy the US version of the office…and who knows maybe I’ll like this interpretation. There is definately big shoes to fill with Dragon Tatoo, not so much with Fire.

  • carrie

    Was really hoping for Emma Watson. Perfect look,skills and opportunity to break out from “Potter”.

    • Not really

      She does have the right look, but she doesn’t have the time nor would she jump into another franchise so soon after Harry Potter. There’s no way.

      • Hoot

        On top of Emma Watson maybe not having time because of Harry Potter obligations……she’s too young.

    • Me too

      I was really hoping for Emma as well, it could be a real break from her HP character and establish her as a “grown-up” actress. Too young? No, Lisbeth was supposed to appear young. The only question would be if Emma had the ability to show the “inner pain” without looking pouty. I guess she didn’t make that cut …

      • qwerty

        emma is truly gorgeous, especially with her new hair, but she’s too pretty and pixie-like for lisbeth. she needs to look hard and cold and punkish, and i think noomi was excellent casting.

    • Webster

      Nah Emma Watson has too much baggage from the Potter movies. Casting an unknown was the perfect choice.

  • Will

    “I had seen most of Mara’s prominent films, like…A Nightmare on Elm Street, but when it turned out that I had no recollection of her performances in any of those relatively minor roles” …well she did have the lead role in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

  • aleksa

    She looks great for the role.

  • Paul

    Sorry, Owen; this is a disastrous casting choice. Hell, why not cast Snooki in the lead role? The only reason Mara got this is because her blue-blood family (she’s the great-granddaughter of the owners of BOTH the NY Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers) leaned on Sony Pictures and David Fincher to cast this trust fund baby in it. She’s the Hayden Christensen of this trilogy. Nightmare on Elm Street, anyone? It takes a certain level of suck-assness to have Katie Cassidy out-act you in that unneccesary reboot.

    • K

      Too bad you don’t have any evidence to back up your claims of strong arming. As for Nightmare on Elm Street, Johnny Depp’s first film was Nightmare on Elm Street. I wouldn’t be ashamed to have something on my resume that Depp started out on in hollywood. You also seem to know how this trilogy will turn out. Can you see into the future? You say this is a disastrous casting choice and yet give no credable reasons why this a wrong decision. As far as I can tell, you think this is a wrong decision because A) her family is rich. B) She was in Nightmare on Elm Street. C) David Fincher and Sony were forced to put a unknown actress in a gigantic movie franchise. I feel crazy just writing out those reasons. Good Luck to you. Since you can see into the future, how does the Avengers movie turn out?

      • sparkle the gym bag

        avengers will stink..should have had adam lambert play about a bold choice..for real..this casting does smell a bit of her football powers pushing pushing

      • Paul

        Johnny Depp wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth like the Mara sisters were. NOES is one of the worst movies of 2010, and she was front and center of it, actress-wise.

      • b.mclane

        This trilogy should NOT be remade in Hollywood, period!!..these movies are perfection as is. They were just filmed and most are not out even in DVD yet!!!If English is your main language read the subtitles.You loose nothing. Hands sown its the best film making I have seen in a long long time. Every detail is so well thought out…its like remaking GONE WITH THE WIND or ET. ABSOLUTELY A STUPID IDEA.

    • Jay

      If you think Fincher would actually cast someone based on their family, you are insane.

      • Banger

        My guess … Fincher’s doing her.

    • Sam

      I don’t think she was cast because of coming from a wealthy family. David Fincher wanted her to audition because he worked with her, she had been in the running solely on his recommendation. But in the end she won the role fair and square. The filmmakers had enough time to choose the actress for the role, and Mara along with several other actresses auditioned several times for the role.

      It’s better to have an American actress play the role in the US adaptation. I knew she would always land the role because David fincher knows her acting capability and he would not have cast her in this film if he didn’t believe so.

      She would not have been my first choice for the role, but she was the best out of the four actresses in the running.

      Also, while she may be wealthy, she also founded a non-profit charity organization in Africa from her own money before she became famous and she was able to have the giants and other sports teams donate to it. So she is going to do well!

    • Jimbo

      That’s just stupid. Nobody casts a pivotal role in a billion dollar franchise because of who their family is.

      • c

        u really don’t anything about hollywood do you? space too short here but this more the norm than exception

  • Chelsea

    I was holding out for Allison Scagliotti. But alas, Rooney seems an acceptable pick.

    • Josh

      I was hoping the same thing. She would have been perfect.

      • Anna

        Double agreed for Scags! But I think she’s *too* unknown, being on TV and all. And a genre tv show, at that.
        Maybe the Hack//Slash folks will listen to our twitter request? AllisonScag4Cassie. :)

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