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It's a Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark World

When director Daniel Alfredson read the manuscripts for Stieg Larsson's then-unpublished "Millennium" trilogy, little did he know he would be directing the movie versions of the second and third books a few years later. The books, published after Larsson's death in 2004, have become international bestsellers.

Provocative, gritty, and dark, the first film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," was an international hit and is one of the highest-grossing independent film releases of 2010 in the U.S. The second in the trilogy, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," is now playing in select theaters.

A year after the incidents in the first of the series, ace hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a key suspect in the brutal murder of two journalists on the verge of publishing an exposé on an extensive sex-trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden. Meanwhile, "Millennium" magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) tries to prove Salander's innocence.

Speaking with by phone from Sweden, director Daniel Alfredson talks about taking over the reins and working with lead actors Rapace and Nyqvist.

Back Stage: In taking over the reins from the previous director, Niels Arden Oplev, what did you want to do differently?

Daniel Alfredson:
I think there is a big difference between the novels. I'd say the first is a mystery-drama, the second one is more sort of an action-thriller, and the third is a courtroom drama. They differ a lot, and as the producers and I talked about it, we said, "Let's make the novels as they are written." It was pressurizing to follow the first film, but we also started out filming at a very early stage, so I was really finished shooting when the first film was released. So I had already made the other two at that point.

Back Stage: The films are very dark and controversial. Could you share with us how you talked to the actors about the story, themes, their backstories?

Alfredson: We talked a lot about what the story is. Both second and third books are actually continuous and are a culmination of a very realistic story: the Mikael Blomkvist story and the story of Lisbeth Salander, which is almost surrealistic or superhuman. And when we come to meet her father, he's also surreal. His brother is almost a comic figure in a way, who can't feel any pain. So we discussed it as we had to do it very seriously, we had to do it as it was written, and we couldn't let it be too outrageous. We had to do everything as realistic as possible.

Back Stage:
Was it difficult to be realistic?

Alfredson: I don't think so. In "The Girl Who Played With Fire," we have a lesbian sex scene between bisexual Lisbeth and her girlfriend. The actresses talked about that a lot. Noomi and I agreed to the same idea: We have to do the scene realistically. It has to be for real. We can't just say she's a bisexual; we have to show it and do it as if for real. This was the plan from the beginning, and Noomi was into that from the start.

Back Stage: It's interesting that the films were shot back to back by two directors.

Alfredson: Well, we are in Scandinavia, we are such a small part of the world, and we have to collaborate, otherwise we can't manage to do a production like this. We have to find out a way of doing this. I wouldn't say it's so special here.

Back Stage: Do you like to rehearse, and if so, how?

I'm always very well prepared, and I have a clear view of what I want to do. And I think part of rehearsal is to make the actors aware of my ideas. Of course, you will end up in a discussion on whether this is correct or not, is this the way Lisbeth Salander would do it or not, but I must say we seldom have problems with that. Of course, we rehearsed every day.

Back Stage: How many days or weeks do you rehearse before shooting?

Not before shooting. We have some rehearsals for different scenes or for special takes we had to do; special shots and special things, we made a lot of rehearsals. But we couldn't really do it for the whole production, because that would've been useless because it was a long production of over 100 days of shooting. It wouldn't be a good idea.

Back Stage:
What was it like working with Noomi?

Alfredson: There were particular difficulties with Noomi, in some parts of the film, when she was practically all alone. She has no one; she has no dialogue scenes, really. She's in her apartment, in her car, she's chasing her father, and she's all alone in a way. I believe that was pretty hard for her to just act without speaking—to just do a shot, in this direction, in that direction, just watching a computer screen and so on. She's very devoted to her character. [Spoiler Alert] In the scene where she was digging herself out of the ground, there's a shot of a hand coming up from the ground. I was expecting someone else to do that scene, but it was actually her. She said, "Of course I have to do it. It's my hand; it's supposed to be Lisbeth Salander's hand." So she crawled into this tunnel which we dug, and she dragged her hand up through the dirt. She was so convinced she had to do it. It's Lisbeth; she had to do it.

"The Girl Who Played With Fire" is now playing in select theaters. The third film, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," will be released in October 2010 by Music Box Films.

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