Claire Foy has been busy. Earlier this year she headlined Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller, Unsane – which was also known as, “the movie Steven Soderbergh shot with an iPhone.” Then she was asked to provide the emotional center to First Man. Playing Janet Armstrong, this was much more than what the typical “wife of male astronaut” roles usually turn out to be. Neil Armstrong kept his emotions distant, so Foy’s role not only serves Janet’s emotions, but, somehow, Neil’s too.
And now she’s starring in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. It’s the fifth movie to feature Lisbeth Salander, and the first since David Fincher’s The Girls in the Dragon Tattoo way back in 2011, and she’s the third actor to play the role (after Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara). So here’s a franchise that’s laid dormant for seven years and now Foy has been tapped to bring Lisbeth back to fruition, based on David Lagercrantz novel, the first not written by Stieg Larsson. (Also, I just had to ask Foy about her first theatrical role, starring opposite Nicolas Cage in 2011’s Season of the Witch.)
It feels like you’ve had a big year.
Not really. I think the end of last year was very busy, but no, not particularly.
Not really? You’ve got Girl in the Spider’s Web coming out, and Soderbergh’s Unsane, then First Man.
Yeah, but I think that’s the thing, isn’t it? My job is shooting those films and I was done in March of this year. So, I’ve had five months to kind of get out of my system.
All you have to do now is talk to people like me.
And it’s a pleasure, I tell you, it’s a pleasure.
Yeah, I know how much fun it is. And you still have to go to parties and stuff like that.
I haven’t been to a party in ages.
They don’t invite you to the movie premiere parties?
Oh, I know, but most of the time you have to get on a plane and go somewhere else to do another one. You don’t actually get to go to the party. Everyone else who’s watched the film gets to party, and all the people who’ve made it go, “Oh, off we go again.”
To be clear, I’m saying “going to parties” from the viewpoint of that it sounds exhausting.
[Laughs] I mean, there are worse things you could be doing with your life, let’s be honest.
I guess there’s not a lot of empathy in, “Oh, man, these parties. What a tough thing.”
“What a tough life.”
What goes through your head before agreeing to play Lisbeth?
Well, you’re sort of doomed from the beginning, really. Because you’re really competing against two other highly accomplished actresses who’ve done incredible work as the character. Or you’re competing against people’s imagination, because they’ve loved the book so much and therefore they’ve got the character in their head in a particular way. And, either way, that’s not a great starting position when you’re going into something. So I was definitely skeptical in the beginning. But then I met [director] Fede Álvarez, and then I started rereading the books. And as soon as I started rereading the books, I just saw Lisbeth and an idea of Lisbeth and a kind of approach to her and what I loved about her. And I kind of thought I would be foolish to let all that expectation and all that possible judgment stop me from playing a character that I’ve always really loved. And that I felt I could, I don’t know, I could do some good investigating, I suppose.
Is there something you wanted to do differently with the character?
Oh, no, I never approached it like that. I never wanted to do anything different. That’s my point, I think the other people who’ve played her have completely honored the character. Lisbeth is someone to be protected and a character to be cherished and respected. It’s not something for me to come in as an actor and go, “Here’s my interpretation of it.” That’s not the point. The point is that Lisbeth deserves to be seen. She deserves to have her story. And in this movie she’s the center of the story. And I don’t see my Lisbeth as a version of Lisbeth, or anything. I took my inspiration from the books just like I presume Noomi and Rooney did. And so, it’s nothing but Lisbeth. It’s not me trying to make a mark, or anything like that.
Now that three actors have played Lisbeth, could this be like James Bond?
I don’t know. Yeah, but then it would just be a different version of James Bond, wouldn’t it?
Well, she’s obviously a lot different than James Bond.
I think the reason why the novels are successful and I think the reason why the films are successful is because she’s unique. That character drives the action. The story’s not bigger than Lisbeth. Lisbeth is why people love those novels, the complexity of that character. Daniel Craig brought an awful lot to James Bond. I think he humanized him in a way that I hadn’t ever thought of before with that character and made him a real man with real issues and real struggles. But I think that Lisbeth, it’s not the same thing at all. I don’t see how you could continue to make a story with a perpetually young central character like that.
Your point about her being perpetually young makes a lot of sense.
The reality of Lisbeth has to be the thing that’s at the core of it, otherwise it will lose its focus and something that makes it special and unique.
Would you want to play her again?
I think I’m not really interested in trying to predict what happens in the future. Because this industry, by nature, you can’t predict it. It’s all based on taste and opinion. And so, I’m very happy and glad that I got to play Lisbeth in one movie, and if that turns into something else, and then it turns into something else, but I’m not gonna kind of project into the future in that way.
I read Josh Singer’s book about his annotated screenplay of First Man. It’s really interesting.
I’ve seen it, yeah, because he’s been sort of walking around with it.
Reading it, I was shocked how many scenes you had to ad-lib in First Man.
It’s not a movie I really assumed that would happen a lot.
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know why on earth they did that, but they really did. And I’d never really shot like that before. You were given so much freedom to have the right answer I suppose. I think that Damien Chazelle has real faith in his actors that we would sort of become weird experts on our character, I suppose. And sometimes he would just say, especially in some of the more emotional scenes, he’d just be like, “Just go, just do it.” And it took me a while to get used to that. Because I was like, “What? Not say the words of dialogue?” I love scripts. I love them. So suddenly working like that, I felt really, really terrified. But Ryan gave me a lot of confidence, because he was just like, “Come on, let’s do it.” I was like, “Okay.” And it’s so generous of Josh, as well, as a writer to handover the motives and the drive of the story to some actors. It’s really quite an honor.
It’s so weird that your first movie is with Nicolas Cage in Season of the Witch.
[Laughs] That old chestnut.
Your first movie is this crazy movie with Nicolas Cage.
Pretty much, yeah. I remember I went and did it straight after I’d done a BBC adaptation of a Charles Dickens thing called Little Dorrit. And it was just… I was like, I’m going to go film in Hungary for six months with Nicolas Cage. I’m going to pretend to be a possessed medieval girl. There are wolves in it!
Yeah, there are.
And it was just like the most amazing experience. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done since. I think it’s a different time. It was like 2008, or something, I think. Was it before the financial crash? So it was just a different way of making movie. A different way of being, I suppose. And so, it was, I don’t know, I found it was a real learning curve and quite eye-opening.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.