“Just the fact that someone put my name and his in the same sentence makes me happy,” says director Fede Alvarez when asked whether there was added pressure following up a film directed by David Fincher. “It doesn’t put me down. It’s the same on Evil Dead, people were like, ‘how do you feel being compared to Sam Raimi?’ Dude, I was 30 coming from Uruguay, I never thought I was going to make it … and you tell me it’s a problem that someone is comparing my work with Sam Raimi? Insane. That’s the best thing ever.”
Growing up in the ‘80s, Alvarez surprisingly claims that his favourite movie of all time is Back to the Future. Surprising because his first two feature films have been very different to Robert Zemeckis’ family favourite. But, there’s a quick caveat. “Oldboy, the Korean version, changed my life. It made me see things from a different perspective. It showed me that the same story, the same facts that you might interpret in one way, it could be completely different for someone else. There’s a way that the movie ends and changes, and how the main character is portrayed that blew my mind.”
According to Alvarez, each of his movies has embraced this aspect, especially Don’t Breathe and his latest film, The Girl in the Spider’s Web. “I don’t want to spoonfeed who is the hero and who’s wrong and who’s right. A lot of movies do that. They tell you right away, you have no choice.
“Lisbeth is not your classic hero,” he continues. “The things she does will challenge you. In particular, when you start seeing the other characters that come in. Who’s the bad guy? Who’s the good guy?”
Alvarez does offer a clue, though, when he acknowledges the running concerns that are in each of his films. “They’re about guilt, they’re about shame and they’re about family. It’s always about someone who has to come to terms with their guilt, usually involving family. When you’re adapting a book, books have many themes and many ideas and chapters will focus on one and different sections will focus on different themes. When you write it, you can decide which one is the main theme you want to talk about. And, you make the whole movie consistent and you make it all around that single idea that you want to express.”
In the case of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the book it is based on was inspired by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. But surprisingly, considering its central character and her mission to punish abusive men, the screenplay was in place before the MeToo movement.
“We were done with the script when the Harvey Weinstein thing started,” admits Alvarez who adapted the David Lagercrantz novel with Jay Basu and Steven Knight.
“The character of Lisbeth, we cannot take the credit for. She exists from way before this particular movement. But the public’s attention focused on it and we’re making a movie that talks a lot about those things. It’s definitely interesting and definitely in a way good that the movie will be talking about relevant things. I think that at least today, people are paying attention to it. They should have been paying attention before, but they’re paying attention now.”
In terms of casting the film, Alvarez acknowledges that Daniel Craig would never have reprised the Mikael Blomkvist role (here payed by Sverrir Gudnason), especially when he’s knocked back playing Bond; and in terms of Lisbeth Salander, “part of me didn’t want to just take some other director’s cast and make them my own. I wanted to cast my own version of her, and what I imagined when I read the book of who she is.”
And his first choice was Claire Foy, currently on the screen in First Man, but best known for playing Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix series The Crown.
“Obviously, they have a lot in common,” Alvarez says about The Crown comparison. “A lot more in common than one might think. The Queen doesn’t express a lot of things because she isn’t allowed to, and Lisbeth doesn’t do it because she doesn’t want to. Her true self is too precious to be shared with human beings. I always love to be a bit more contrary when it comes to casting and if I cast someone that everybody goes, ‘perfect, exactly, that’s what I would do’, that means anybody can do my job and I wouldn’t get paid.
“I think the job of director is to find that contradictory choice’,” he continues. “And then, hopefully, show them something they never expected.”
But first he had to get Foy board… “We had this breakfast in New York,” says Alvarez. “I wanted to talk with her about the role and we really didn’t talk a lot about the other books, the other movies, the other actors who played the role, we just talked about this story and what it’s going to be about. The themes, what story we tell and why is it relevant? Why it has potential to touch you emotionally, to think about certain things differently. We quickly connected and were fascinated by the same ideas. And, by the end of that meeting, she knew she was making the movie. She wanted to say no, by the way. She was like, ‘I’m just going to take the meeting, I’m not doing this’.”
The meeting paid off, and Alvarez got his leading lady. “I needed someone that when I put the lens in her eyes, without saying anything, I know how she feels. Not every actor can do that. It’s only the best that can really do that … through the eyes, the window to the soul; but they can really actually play that and something very subtle. And, for a character like Lisbeth Salander, it was crucial that I cast someone that can tell me so much with so little. And, Claire can definitely do that, because she becomes the character. Claire has a lot of Lisbeth in real life. She has a lot of passion, fire and anger. She’s so passionate … the fights we had on the movie… just discussing themes. Both of us get very passionate about it and she has a fire that is very close to Lisbeth.”
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is in cinemas November 8, 2018