Claire Foy teases a whole new look for Lisbeth Salander in 'The Girl in the Spider's Web'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Claire Foy stars in the new Steven Soderbergh psychodrama Unsane. (Photo: Bleecker Street Media/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Lisbeth Salander typically isn’t a difficult person to pick out of a crowd. With her jet-black hair, multiple piercings, and one very prominent dragon tattoo, the central character in Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium series makes an immediate impression on the page and in her cinematic appearances. Nevertheless, audiences might not immediately recognize the hacker extraordinaire when she returns to the big screen this November in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, and not just because there’s a new face in the role. According to Claire Foy, who inherited Salander’s leather wardrobe from predecessors Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, Lisbeth’s sense of personal style has received an upgrade — or, more accurately, a downgrade.

“It’s quite a pared-down look,” the Golden Globe-winning star of The Crown says of Salander’s makeover in the film, directed by Fede Álvarez. “The costume we’ve found for Lisbeth isn’t the same as what any of the other actresses have worn, but it feels very like-minded. Her [thinking] now is, ‘I want to make sure that I’m wearing it — it’s not wearing me.’” In addition to her most familiar tattoo, Salander will show off some new ink in Spider’s Web, designs that were personally chosen by Foy in collaboration with the film’s makeup team. “I love the tattoos, because I got to help decide what I was having and where they were,” she says.

Rooney Mara, left, in David Fincher’s 2011 film, and Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Swedish-language version. (Photo: Baldur Bragason/Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Danmarks Radio/Det Danske Filminstitut/Film i Väst Knut Koivisto/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection)

As Foy explains, the main motivation for Lisbeth’s stylistic evolution is her personal evolution since we originally encountered her in the novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was previously adapted into a 2009 Swedish film and then a 2011 American remake starring Rapace and Mara, respectively. (Rapace reprised the role in two sequels, and while Mara hoped to continue with the franchise, the studio had other ideas.) The fourth book in the series — and the first not written by Larsson, who died in 2004 — The Girl in the Spider’s Web finds Salander having put the events of the previous novels behind her. That is, until she’s once more drawn into a mystery by crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), this one involving a top-secret group of hackers known as the Spider Society.

“In the first three books, you’re getting her life story, and how she frees herself from the shackles of being a ward of the state,” Foy says. “The fourth book is a different story, in a way. It’s the same character, but you’re not joining a Lisbeth who is still dealing with that part of her life. The story we tell, especially in the beginning of the film, is ‘What does she do now? What’s her purpose?’ I’m excited for people to see it; we’re not trying to make it like anything else [in the series], but we’re also not trying to make it wildly different. We’re just trying to be truthful to the story.”

In between stepping down from England’s throne following Season 2 of The Crown (when the show returns, Olivia Coleman will play an older Queen Elizabeth) and tatting up to play Lisbeth, Foy donned a hospital gown for Steven Soderbergh’s psychodrama Unsane, which is now in theaters. The Ocean’s Eleven director shot the entire film on an iPhone, although the actress found that conceit less exotic than the fact that she was able to perform the entire script in sequence, rather than out of order as most movies (and TV episodes for that matter) are filmed. “That was the first time I’ve done that, and it was amazing,” she raves. “I could play the part in real time. And Steven had so much more freedom with where he could put the camera and move it; we could do more in the time we had. That’s why the movie has an energy and pace to it that you don’t normally get.”

Visual proof that Steven Soderbergh directed Unsane entirely on an iPhone. (Photo: Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett Collection)

Acting in real time helped Foy better track the slippery sanity of her character, Sawyer Valentini, a troubled woman who inadvertently commits herself to a mental institution that, to her horror, also employs her ex-stalker (Joshua Leonard). Or does it? Sawyer’s point of view isn’t necessarily the most reliable, and the film toys with whether what we’re watching is real or a symptom of her disturbed mind. As the person playing the part, though, Foy didn’t have the luxury of debating the reality of every moment. “Whatever reality happening at that time was the reality I was in,” she says. “I couldn’t really think ahead or in the past; I had to play every moment as that moment.”

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