Actor Daniel Craig is used to taking on iconic characters. In 2006, he famously shook up the 007 franchise as a new, blond James Bond. And his latest on-screen character, though he has somewhat less swagger and not nearly as much style, is almost as well-known.
In David Fincher's film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Craig plays investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, the leading man in a trio of thrillers by Swedish author Stieg Larsson that has sold 65 million copies worldwide.
"He has a very strong moral code," Craig tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer about Blomkvist. "He's basically trying to fight injustice and goes for this industrialist who he believes to be a crook."
But Blomkvist doesn't check his facts thoroughly, Craig says, and he winds up being sued. That's where the movie begins — with Blomkvist jobless after losing his life savings in the lawsuit.
When he's tasked with solving the 40-year-old murder of a teenage girl on a remote Swedish island, Blomkvist teams up with one of the most original characters to pop off the page in many years — the anti-social, part-goth, part-punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander.
The difference between the suave Bond and the rumpled Blomkvist is huge — but the stories were so captivating that Craig couldn't turn down the role.
"It was one of those situations where everybody was reading [the book]," Craig says. "I was trying to avoid it, like one does occasionally when certain people recommend something."
But eventually, on a vacation, Craig broke down and read Dragon Tattoo — and was struck immediately by the central characters.
"She's been beaten down and abused all her life and still has managed to retain underneath it all sort of this humanity and this sense of injustice," Craig says. "And together they make this great team — and [they] shouldn't really have anything to do with each other."
As for figuring out who Blomkvist was, it seemed important, especially in a thriller as dark and complicated as this one, to think of him as a regular guy.
"He was normal," Craig says. "He's egotistical. ... His hubris sort of got him into trouble. But he's a good person."
Craig says he wanted to make sure that Blomkvist came across as a real person — "so that when put into jeopardy or when put into a sort of an extraordinary situation," the character did what any regular guy would do. "When he gets shot at, he runs away."
"I don't think he'd know what to do with one if he did run to the gun," Craig says. "He wouldn't know which end went bang."
An 'Impossible Task'
Craig is perhaps singularly equipped to play a character familiar to millions — not just from the Larsson books, but from the original Swedish-language films starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. He is, after all, the fifth actor to shoulder the burden of being Bond, James Bond.
"I'd done that already," he says slyly. "I didn't have a real problem with it — I didn't."
He trusted his director to make it work.
"I knew that putting this into the hands of someone like David Fincher was going to result in something special," he says. "And obviously, there's no way we can please all 65 million people. It's an impossible task. ... When you read a novel, your own imagery is the most important. It's what makes reading such a wonderful thing."
So he hopes that when people see this version of the film, it will inspire them to see the Swedish-language version, reread the books — or buy them for the first time.
"In a way, we all win."
He's in the middle of shooting the next Bond film, and the prospect of two more films involving Blomkvist hovers in the future. That's two huge franchises for one actor — and a franchise can be a curse as well as a blessing.
"I struggled long and hard about whether I would do [the Bond films], because I've been working in this business for 20 years and I've been more than successful," Craig says. "I was doing all sorts of interesting things, working with all sorts of interesting directors, and I was very worried that if I did Bond, I would not be able to do that anymore."
"But then, there would be worse things, wouldn't there? So, you know, it's not a bad place to get to in your career."
Luckily, his fears were unfounded.
"Somehow I've managed to keep working at other things," he says. "Not by any huge effort on my part to mix things up. It's just that jobs will come in — and we've had a two- or three-year hiatus now from the last Bond movie."
"And it's given me the chance to go off and do some other wonderful stuff," Craig says. "It's just worked out that way — and this came along, and again, it was one of those Godfather moments. It was an offer I couldn't refuse."
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