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 sixth 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."
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Actor Daniel Craig is used to becoming iconic characters. In 2006, he famously shook up the 007 franchise as a new, blond James Bond.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CASINO ROYALE")
DANIEL CRAIG: (as James Bond) Dry martini.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oui, monsieur.
CRAIG: Wait. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shake it over ice, and then add a thin slice of lemon peel.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, sir.
WERTHEIMER: Daniel Craig's latest on-screen character has somewhat less swagger, but is almost as well-known. He plays investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, the leading man in a trio of thrillers by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The books have sold 65 million copies worldwide. In "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Daniel Craig's Blomkvist is tasked with solving the 40-year-old murder of a teenage girl on a remote Swedish island. He teams up with one of the most original characters to pop off the page in many years, the antisocial, part-goth, part-punk computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO")
CRAIG: (as Mikael Blomkvist) Mikael Blomkvist. May I come in? We need to talk.
ROONEY MARA: (as Lisbeth Salander) Hey, hey. Who do you think you are?
CRAIG: Put some clothes on. Get rid of your girlfriend. Can I call you Lisbeth? I want you to help me catch a killer of women.
WERTHEIMER: Daniel Craig joins us from our studio in New York to talk about "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Welcome.
CRAIG: Thank you for having me.
WERTHEIMER: Now, there may be people out there who haven't read the book - probably not, but just in case, could you describe for us this character, Mikael Blomkvist?
CRAIG: Well, he's a journalist. He has a sort of very strong moral code. He's basically trying to fight injustice, and goes for this industrialist who he believes to be a crook, and doesn't check his facts and therefore gets sued and loses his life savings. So he's sort of jobless at the beginning of the movie. And then he gets offered this challenge.
WERTHEIMER: He definitely is no James Bond, OK. He's divorced. He's kind of rumpled looking.
CRAIG: Like everybody else, you mean.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CRAIG: Like me in real life.
WERTHEIMER: Your absolutely elegant portrayal of James Bond, you know, with suits - that I think it's amazing that you're able to move in those suits, they fit you so well. But this guy has...
CRAIG: I don't know what you mean.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WERTHEIMER: He's likely to have - his props are, like, reading glasses. And through a lot of the movie, the big action is staring at a computer screen. I mean, what about this guy reached out to you?
CRAIG: The stories. I read the book, God knows how many years ago now. But, you know, it was one of those situations where everybody was reading it. I was trying to avoid it, like one does occasionally when certain people sort of recommend something, you feel - I was kind a bit anti-it. And, eventually, I sort of went on holiday and there was a book lying around, and I finished it in a couple of days. And I'm sure, like, millions of other people read it, thinking, wow, this would make a good movie. You know, with the lead character, Salander, she's sort of a character that's - she'd 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. And together, they sort of make this great team, and shouldn't really sort of have anything to do with each other.
WERTHEIMER: You know, I have read that you like to try to find your way into a character by looking at, perhaps, the character has a problem. Now, did you do that with Blomkvist?
CRAIG: I would say that was one of the ways I'd do it, yes. But I would look at his problems and his assets and everything and sort of try and sort of - my only - the only thing that I do with any real consistency with characters I play is just try and find the truth in them. And it seemed very important in this film that - to believe, especially with a thriller, that this character, he was normal. He was, you know, he's egotistical. He's - you know, his hubris sort of got him into trouble. But he's a good person, and I wanted to make sure that he came across as real a person as could possibly be, so that when put into jeopardy or when put into a sort an extraordinary situation, he did the right thing. I mean, like, he gets shot at, and he runs away. I mean, he's not...
WERTHEIMER: A regular guy. He doesn't...
CRAIG: A regular guy, yeah.
WERTHEIMER: ...he doesn't necessarily run to the guns.
CRAIG: No. I don't think he'd know what to do with one if he did run for the gun. I mean, he wouldn't know which end went bang.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WERTHEIMER: The notion that this is such a very well-known character, that not only have we all read the book, but we have - many of us have seen the first movies, the Swedish-language movies. Did you have any sort of trepidation about taking on something that everybody had a, you know, huge idea that they already knew who he was?
CRAIG: I've done that already, so...
WERTHEIMER: I guess you have, haven't you?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CRAIG: ...I didn't have a real problem with it. I didn't. I knew that putting this in the hands of someone like David Fincher was going to result in something special. And, obviously, there's no way we can please all 65 million people. It's an impossible task, I mean, especially, as you well know, and I - you know, and when you read a novel or you read a book, your own imagery is the most important. It's what, you know, what makes you - what makes reading such a wonderful thing. But it's - in a way, we all win. You know, hopefully people, they'll watch this movie. People will go back and read the book again or buy the book for the first time, and they'll all go back and watch the Swedish version. You know, everybody gets something.
WERTHEIMER: You've played James Bond, and you're in the middle of shooting the latest in that series now. And this is also a franchise. There are two more books that could be movies. Or there are - there's the possibility that, if they could ever get out of court, they'd have another book. What do you think? I mean, franchises like this where you have to go back and get back into that same guy and do him again, for most actors, if they have one of those, they consider themselves both lucky and unlucky. And now you have two.
CRAIG: I know. How does one describe that? I'm very happy about it. It could be a lot worse. I think that's the best way to look at it. You know, I counted myself very fortunate when I got the Bond thing. I mean, I struggled long and hard about whether I would do the film because, you know, I've been working in this business for 20 years and I've been, you know, more than successful. I've been - I've managed to make a good living out of it. And 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.
WERTHEIMER: You'd just be Bond.
CRAIG: I would just be Bond. 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, and there are lots of benefits that come along with it. So - and somehow, I've managed to sort of keep working at other things - not by any sort of huge effort on my part to sort of mix things up. It's just that jobs will keep coming in. And we've had a two, 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. And it's just worked out that way. And this came along, and it was, again, it was one of those "Godfather" moments. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WERTHEIMER: Daniel Craig, thank you very much for talking to us.
CRAIG: Thank you. It's my pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WERTHEIMER: Daniel Craig stars in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," directed by David Fincher. The movie opens in theaters tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.