The book and two sequels by the late author Stieg Larsson were made into a trio of popular Swedish-language films -- "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" -- earlier this decade.
Fincher, whose film credits include "The Social Network," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Fight Club," "The Game" and "Se7en," said the biggest reason he wanted to direct an English-language version of "Tattoo" was because he was intrigued by the story's central relationship between unfairly disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig, and Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant, but anti-social security company investigator, played by Rooney Mara. The movie follows the pair as they team up to find a young woman who disappeared 40 years earlier and their investigation ultimately leads them to a serial killer.
"The mystery of this movie wasn't that interesting to me. The Nazis and serial killers and the evil that people do," Fincher told reporters at a press conference in New York Saturday. "The thing that was first and foremost was this; I hadn't seen this partnership before. I hadn't seen these two people working together to do anything. I liked the thriller. I liked the background of that, but I was more interested in the people."
Despite having an American director and leading lady, the remake maintains its Swedish setting, unlike another Hollywood adaptation of a popular Scandinavian property, "The Killing," which was transplanted from Denmark to the U.S. city of Seattle earlier this year.
Asked if he or the movie's producers ever considered moving "Tattoo" to another locale, Fincher said: "I never tried to figure out a way to transport this to the United States. ... [The producers] were extremely supportive and said, 'Go to Sweden, shoot Sweden in Sweden.' I think if you have a 40-something reporter and his 20-something hacker girlfriend and you transport that to upstate Connecticut, it's a different thing. You'd have a different story. It seemed to me it really needed to take place in Sweden."
Fincher went on to say he was fascinated by how one could be in the cosmopolitan city of Stockholm, then travel 15 minutes by car or train and be in a land of farms and rolling hills.
"It's a very interesting [trip] from downtown to nowhere in nothing flat. It's an interesting kind of terrain, so it never occurred to me that we would change that," he explained. "There were talks about how it would be cheaper to shoot in Canada, but they were short-lived."
So, how did Fincher go about casting the film's two most important roles?
"You start with an anchor and we started with Daniel. I knew him socially. I knew him on the screen as a different kind of person. I knew him to be self-effacing and playful and witty and I knew that I needed that for Mikael, as well," he noted. "I wanted a very masculine center to the film. I knew the androgynous side of the movie would be carried by Rooney; that was her job. So I knew I was looking for a sort of Robert Mitchum center and then when we had Daniel and that was a fait accompli, we started to look at the other elements. There is this sort of magnetic ... they are sort of unable to be close to one another. [The characters] sort of push against each other. So I started looking at things about Lisbeth that I wanted to see and I didn't see them initially in anyone we were looking at."
He then recalled how Mara, a 26-year-old actress he worked with briefly on his 2010 movie "The Social Network," was "right under our noses" when he was looking to cast the part of Lisbeth in "Tattoo."
Although her talent was obvious, Fincher said he wanted to make sure she could handle the intensity of the project, which includes a brutal rape scene and stunning demonstration of retribution, before offering her the role.
"When you cast someone, you look for an inherent quality because you're going to be shooting 14-hour days. You're going to be tired," he said. "You're not going to necessarily be able to conjure an armor or a facade every single moment. You want the actor to have a quality you can't beat out of them with a tire iron, that thing. You're looking for an innate quality that they have. Rooney was the one we brought back time and time again. Not because we didn't see what we were looking for, but because, initially, the problems that she solved for me in the beginning of 'The Social Network' where she was intensely feminine, very mature, she was warm, she was verbal, she was trying to build a bridge desperately to [Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg character in 'The Social Network'] in that 5 1/2 minutes she was on screen -- none of those qualities applied to Lisbeth. In fact, they were the antithesis. Every time she would come in and we would work together, I would say: 'OK, here's a new hurdle. You have to jump this.' And, finally, after 2 1/2 months the quality that was undeniable and the thing that seems to be most Lisbethean was she just wasn't giving up. She was indomitable."
Although "Tattoo" is one of the most celebrated movies of 2011, Fincher said there is no pact in place for him to make the anticipated sequels to it.
"Classically, movie studios don't make deals with directors, even if there's a hope that there's going to be three, because they want to make sure you behave," Fincher said, adding he will try to shoot the next two films back to back if he does sign on to continue the franchise. "The next two books are very much one story and it doesn't seem prudent to me to go to Sweden for a year, come back for a year, put out the second one, go back to Sweden for a year, come back for a year … . I don't think Rooney wants to be doing this four years from now."
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which was named one of the 10 best films of 2011 by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review, opens nationwide Tuesday. Mara earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama last week for her portrayal of Lisbeth.