When director David Fincher offered Rooney Mara the part of Lisbeth Salander, he laid out the stark reality of what she would be forced to endure. “I told Rooney, ‘You’re going to be emaciated, you have to be naked, you have to get raped [on screen], get pierced, smoke cigarettes, ride a motorcycle,’” Fincher recalls, in this week’s EW cover story. “‘I need you to really concentrate and tell me this is something you want.’” The actress didn’t even flinch. “There were certainly things I was scared to do, but I never thought I wasn’t up for the challenge,” she says. “The motorcycle was the thing I really didn’t want to do. You know, you’re going to be raped, be naked… But as soon as he was like, ‘You’re going to have to ride a motorcycle,’ I was like, ‘Oh, really?’”
Less than two weeks after Mara got the part, she found herself in a room at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel, surrounded by strangers and about to radically transform her appearance. Hairstylist Danilo Dixon pulled Mara’s lovely brown hair back into a braid, asked if she was ready, and squeezed the scissors. He handed her the foot-long twist in a Ziploc bag (she still has it), then dyed and shaped what remained into Salander’s blue-black butch jag. Mara wasn’t too freaked out until he bleached her eyebrows, which was a tough adjustment. “I needed a moment,” she says. “I just had to process, okay, this is what you look like now.” She recovered quickly, though, and soon headed to Brooklyn to get her eyebrow and ears pierced (she had a nipple pierced in Sweden).
Fincher is obviously comfortable with controversy. Good thing: Fans of the book and the 2009 Swedish film — which stars Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist and earned a respectable $10.1 million in the U.S. — will be watching closely for any perceived missteps. “We’ve got something very simple to deliver on,” says Fincher. “A gigantic f—ing book that people have very rigid preconceived notions of, to the point that they actually take umbrage with a teaser poster.” Ah, the teaser poster. In June, the Internet erupted over the provocative image of a topless Mara staring blankly into the camera while Craig wraps an arm around her in a pose some found protective. Many commenters thought the image made Lisbeth Salander seem uncharacteristically submissive. “I don’t buy that she’s being protected,” says Fincher. “It’s wholly subjective. I don’t think she looks weak. I don’t think she looks like she’s being protected. She may not look like the character that you had in mind or the character you’ve already seen, but she looks very much like the character in our movie.”