"It was extremely odd and complicated," admits Alfredson, on the phone from Stockholm. Alfredson is the director of the trilogy's final two installments, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' and 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest,' both of which follow the critically-acclaimed 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' which was released earlier this year. What do you do when you're shooting a Scandinavian regional TV series, only to suddenly discover that the production needs to work as a set of internationally-distributed full-length feature films? This is the puzzle that Swedish directors Niels Arden Opleu -- and more recently, Daniel Alfredson -- faced when working on their adaptations of author Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium' trilogy. Before anyone could say 'That's a wrap!', the late author's books became worldwide best sellers, and shooting plans had to change... drastically.
"It was extremely odd and complicated," admits Alfredson, on the phone from Stockholm. Alfredson is the director of the trilogy's final two installments, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' and 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest,' both of which follow the critically-acclaimed 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' which was released earlier this year.
Perhaps a 9-hour TV series is the better way to cover the thousands of pages that make up the gritty thrillers, but the wise casting decisions, dark subject matter and creative profile of Sweden's geography have made the films a success in Europe and have piqued the interest of moviegoers across the pond. Following the lives of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his affiliation with the young computer-hacking mastermind and sexually-mistreated Lisbeth Salander, the story uses their triumphs and tragedies to shine a light on some unlikely Swedish issues: Gender inequality, sexual abuse, and the corruption that comes with power, to name a few.
When asked if Larsson has painted a picture of the real Sweden, Alfredson balks. "I don't think so," he says with a chuckle. "He made entertaining novels, but I think that was the idea. He made an entertaining thriller and drama. I think he had a laugh doing it, he liked to provoke a bit. Make Lisbeth a bisexual sort of character and make Mikael, well... he has a lot of women."
Alfredson adapted the book version of Blomkvist into a different sort of man in 'The Girl Who Played With Fire.' "I like [Blomkvist] as a really good journalist and I wanted him to be sort of a tough guy," he says. "I think if you read the novels very close, you can find out that he is a strong character. On the other hand, in the first novel, he's spent some time in jail and so on. He's trying to do it better now."
But it is Noomi Rapace in the role of Lisbeth that truly drives the trilogy. Both severe and beautiful, whip smart and proficiently violent, the character asks a lot of any actress let alone this relative newcomer, but Rapace approaches it with a simple mastery.
"I thought Noomi was a very good choice for Lisbeth," says Alfredson. "I saw the screen test that Niels conducted and I thought she was fantastic. She was also enormously prepared for these three films. She had such a tough time during the second and third film because she didn't have many scenes with dialogue. She has to be alone all the time -- in a flat, in a car, just watching, or behind a computer and so on. I think that's really impressive to tell the story without any words."
The third film is set for release in the fall, followed by what is sure to be a Hollywood bidding war for the remake rights, but there is a certain mood spawned from the Swedish production that will be difficult to replicate. While not quite a calling card for tourism, the landscape does have its allure, and has already begun a cottage industry for travelers wanting to discover the landmarks in the books.
"It's my home, I know streets from my childhood, I have been here all my life," says Alfredson. "As a Swede, born in Stockholm, you can read these novels and actually walk around and look at all the streets and where Millennium is supposed to be situated. When we were looking for locations, we always started out where it was actually supposed to be in the books."
Lovers of the Larrson books will continue to debate how well the filmmakers have captured the pop culture phenomenon, arguing what could have been left in or cut in the three movies, though the general reception has been positive. Regardless of the unique way in which these films have reached world cinematic audiences, Alfredson sees their benefit.
"We just thought that these would be feature films and a TV series for the Scandinavian countries, and probably Germany. We didn't really know of the enormous success, it happened while we were actually editing these films. It's a good thing for Sweden."
'The Girl Who Played With Fire' opens in theaters on Friday, July 9.