Exclusive: Niels Arden Oplev talks Dead Man Down and working with Noomi Rapace
The Director of the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009, from Sweden), Niels Arden Oplev, has a new film coming to Blu-ray and digital services on July 9th. His first “Hollywood” feature, DEAD MAN DOWN is a creeping, psychological thriller that was billed as an action flick. In our interview, Oplev discusses why he got into filmmaking, the differences between Hollywood and working in Europe, and much more.
Flix 66 – Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I just have a few questions here for you. When did you decide you wanted to make movies?
Niels Arden Oplev (Oplev) – When I first decided I wanted to make movies? That’s a long time ago. I think that, when I first made the decision for real, I was like 21, I’d just turned 21. But when I got the idea that one could have a life making movies I was only 12 years old. I saw an extraordinary film, a very serious extraordinary film by a legendary Scandanavian filmmaker called Carl Th. Dreyer. Dreyer made a film called THE WORD. He made films in Copenhagen from the silent movie times all the way up until the sixties, and he was enormous inspiration for Lukovsky, Ingmar Bergman, John Cassavetes, those kind of people. One of his films (THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, 1928) has consistently been on those lists of the 10 most important films in history like CITIZEN KANE and THE BICYCLE THIEF. He made this extraordinary film called THE WORD in 1956. I saw it on television with my father when I was 12 years old and it totally blew me away.
Flix 66 – Can you tell us about meeting Noomi Rapace the first time? Did you immediately know she should be the title role for the Millenium Trilogy?
Oplev – Well, I mean, the thing is when I traveled from Copenhagen, because I’m Danish and I did a Swedish film which was a little bit strange, but the Swedish producers really wanted me to come up to Sweden and turn the first book of Stieg Larsson into film. And when I read it and I thought I could make a big kind of like a big, Scandanavian SILENCE OF THE LAMBS kind of film, and I also thought that the casting of Lisbeth Salander would be the most difficult thing that I had ever done because it was such an extraordinary character. And to find somebody who could make that come alive on screen. And the interesting thing is that Noomi was the second one to come into rehearsal with me, to casting with me, and the first time I met her I worked with her for like 32 hours.
Flix66 – Wow.
Oplev – And I just knew that she was it. I really knew that nobody would be able to outcompete with what she had. She has this aura of dark energy that really comes off on the screen and makes her so intriguing and dangerous and entertaining at the same time.
Flix 66 – This marks your first reunion with Rapace since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Was she already attached to DEAD MAN DOWN or did you have her in mind for the role?
Oplev – No. When I read the script it kind of happened simultaneously. I read the script and responded really well to it and I think that her agents, at the same time when they heard that I was interested in the script they sent the script to her and she read it and responded really well to it and then we started talking. So, it kinda like, it kind of happened very fast. When they rumor was that I was interested that’s when she started reading it.
Flix 66 – DEAD MAN DOWN is your second major film to play in America. It’s also the second film you’ve made about revenge. What about revenge keeps you interested, or is it that they are drawn to you because of how you bring it to the screen?
Oplev – Technically DEAD MAN DOWN is my first American feature, since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, it became so huge out of Sweden, because it became a world phenomenon it kind of feels like my first American film in that sense, but really DEAD MAN DOWN is my first real American film. I think the subject matter is more for me injustice. In this story, as it is for Lisbeth, is the natural consequence of major injustice. And what connected me to the characters in DEAD MAN DOWN is this horrible injustice that are done to both of them. You know, one character loses both family, the other character, you know, gets caught up and loses her Mother, and therefore part of her soul for good. Right? So it’s more the injustice that draws me into the story.
Flix 66 – You mentioned this is your first true American film. What is the biggest difference between making a “Hollywood” film and making a film in your home country, or in Europe?
Oplev – Well, I mean, I think the biggest difference is, that, uh, well, you know, everything. You could say, in the Danish Crowns there are about 5 crowns to $1. We always say it costs about 200,000 crowns to run a film crew a day. In America it also costs 200,000… but its dollars. I think that the fact that everything is so much bigger, and you have a 120 person crew, while over here (Mr. Oplev was in Europe during the interview) you have a 75 person crew. And, you know, it’s more specialized out with each person doing their thing where as over here it’s a more collective process to shoot a film. But I think for me the most, the major difference, is that I can go in and work with action scenarios and, you know, shooting sequences and they’re kind of like… well, you can do stories that are on a grander scale. You can’t finance that in Scandinavia, the film industry is simply too small to carry a production that size. So it’s more like you’re allowed to tell a different kind of story that, you know, is larger in scale. That’s the major difference.
Flix 66 – What did you envision audiences would take away from DEAD MAN DOWN?
Oplev – Well, I mean, I certainly hoped they would be well entertained and see an intriguing, kind of like a dark modern tale with an odd love story and some cool action, that has a different approach to the action thriller than a normal more standard-ish American film does. It was really our mission to try to make a film that had something that was different in its way of telling it’s story, different in the way of approaching the characters, and had a more frantic level to the action. It’s not really seen as a strictly realistic film, it’s more of a dark modern tale with these characters and this odd love story. I would hope they would take it in as exactly what it is, an intriguing action love story that are quite different than what they normally would see.
And, you know, when I saw how some of the critics and some of the audiences received the film that was not so favorable, I think they basically just misunderstood the premise. I think maybe the campaign was too one-sided on action, and kind of like the love story and the whole relationship between the mother and Noomi was kind of lost in the campaign. I do think the film has a lot to offer for audiences that are open to something that’s a little twisted compared to normalcy. But if you go in and expect to see a completely straightforward, normal, realistic action movie then this is not the film for you. You have to be open to see something that is more artsy, and more twisted.
Flix 66 – Well, sadly we’re almost out of time. We have one important question left to cover, what is your favorite film of all time?
Oplev – (laughter) That is a very difficult question. I cannot say that I have one favorite film, I can say I have a handful of films that I really like. If I had to pick my favorite, like, film from the west or film from the US I would say BLADE RUNNER.
Flix 66 – Very nice, very cool. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today!
Oplev – Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. Good luck.
DEAD MAN DOWN arrives on Blu-ray and digital download on July 9th, 2013.