The Lisbeth Salander actress: The girl with the impossible task

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Most eye-catching about the names being mentioned for the Lisbeth Salander role in David Fincher’s English-language version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is just how little-known they all are.

The role would seem to require some deep and diverse acting experience; it is, after all, one of the more challenging parts to come along in a big commercial film for some time. At least as envisioned in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and in the Swedish-language originals, Salander is a raven-haired beauty who’s at once fierce and vulnerable, someone who betrays some serious emotional damage but who also can be the tough girl when it counts.
Even some of the top 20-something names out there don’t seem to do the trick. Rumored candidate Natalie Portman, for all of her acting chops, just might be too fey. And it’s hard for us to feel the Ellen Page of it, no matter how much running around dream worlds she’s been doing lately.

You can probably get away with a little less vulnerability if you bring the requisite toughness, and so if you’re going with a known name, the best actress, of all people, might be Jessica Alba or her ilk.

Alas, Fincher seems intent on going with an unknown. He’s considering four actresses who are barely recognizable to American audiences. Would they work? Rooney Mara is the most familiar, and perhaps the most viable. She was impressive enough in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” reboot -- although, at least as articulated in that film, an ethereal presence as much as an angry one. (Of course she worked with Fincher on “Social Network,” so if she has the chops for this, he’d be the first to know.)


Also in the mix is Léa Seydoux, a French national known for French-national roles in “Robin Hood” and “Inglourious Basterds.” It was hard to get much of a sense of her in either, although as a member of the interrogated LaPadite family in “Basterd’s” breathtaking opening scene, she at least showed that she can act convincingly in a tough spot.

The other two contenders, Sarah Snook and Sophie Lowe, are Australian actresses whose movies we haven’t seen, although given the actresses who’ve emerged from that country in recent years (Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, etc.) there are worse wells from which to draw.

Lisbeth Salander is a meaty role for any actress, so Fincher should have his pick. Then again, the A-listers have reason to give it a second thought: You’re signing on for a potential trilogy, which can sap your schedule (and in Sweden, no less). And playing iconic book characters can be a losing game -- fans have their own vivid notions of how the character should appear (just ask Tom Hanks or Audrey Tautou about their experience with “The Da Vinci Code”).

When a part is so tough, someone completely unfamiliar to American audiences could be the best choice -- a blank canvas is better than one partially filled. And it would, at least in the immediate aftermath of release, generate a new star. Let’s just hope it also generates a persuasive role.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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