The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Costumes, Hair and Makeup
The task of dressing Stieg Larsson’s wide-ranging characters, who run the gamut of Swedish society, fell to costume designer Trish Summerville. Summerville joined with hair stylist Danilo and makeup artist Pat McGrath to forge the elements of Lisbeth Salander’s intentionally off-putting style, replete with chopped hair, dark makeup, studded eyebrows and cloaked outfits consisting of hoods, leather armoring and shredded denim.
The key to it all was allowing Lisbeth to be transgressive but also real – someone who might stand out in the corporate security world in which she works, but could also easily disappear at the margins of society. “We didn’t want to make her flashy and loud, but really, really authentic,” states Summerville. “We didn’t want her to look like she’s in a punk or Goth band, but to make her look really cool in a way that is kind of worn-in and used. We saw Lisbeth as someone who can just fade into the shadows if she chooses to do so.”
Her wardrobe of dark hues includes moto jackets, combat boots, high-tops, pronged belts, leather bracelets, thick “spacer” earrings, and t-shirts with provocative declarations (often in Swedish) – with every item washed, sanded, bleached and abraded to give them the essence of heavy use. “And then there are the hoodies,” notes Summerville of one of Lisbeth’s most metaphorically rich fashion choices. “She always has a hoodie and she also wears this over-sized snood – which David called the ‘Jedi Knight’ – when she’s hacking.”
For the initial design of Lisbeth’s hair, Summerville brought in her friend Danilo, who has worked with such artists as Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani, because she thought he had the right aesthetic. “He’s an authentic punk from back in the day who has lived all over the world, so I was like, ‘If this guy can’t get it, no one’s gonna get it.’”
Fincher wanted Lisbeth’s hair not only to be expressive but fluid and changing. “David’s big thing was that this story takes place over a year, so it can’t be the same hair style the whole time,” Summerville explains. “Danilo gave Rooney, who then had hair to the middle of her back, an extreme cut. It has micro-bangs, the underneath is shaved, the back is chopped off and there are long pieces in the front – but there are so many ways to wear it. You can pin it up, let it down or Mohawk it out.”
It was also Danilo who bleached Mara’s eyebrows. Summerville recalls watching the metamorphosis. “It just made her face so amazing and changed her look completely,” she says. “Rooney was so affected that she asked if she could have a few minutes alone. Then we went over to a tattoo-and-piercing salon and she got her eyebrow pierced that same day. It was like this instant transformation, and in one day, she suddenly emerged into the character of Lisbeth.”
Summerville worked with Fincher on the design and specific bodily locations of each of Lisbeth’s tattoos, including the definitive image of the story’s title, which adorns Salander’s shoulder. “The dragon was definitely the hardest,” she comments.
On the set, the scene-to-scene shifts of Mara’s hair, makeup and tattoos were overseen by hair & makeup designer Torsten Witte, a long-time collaborator with Summerville, who had earlier worked with Fincher during the screen tests to find the film’s Salander. “Even then I knew that David had Rooney in mind,” he recalls. “For me, she was the perfect palette to paint on.”
She also endured a lot in Witte’s chair. “I would often feel so bad meeting Rooney at 4:30 in the morning to cut, shave, bleach and tattoo her,” he says. “There was a huge amount of maintenance involved for each of her looks. David and Trish were very specific about what they wanted to see in each scene. In general, David wanted there to be a back and forth between Lisbeth being attractive and pushing people away – so that you think, ‘Oh, she looks interesting’ but at the same time you wonder, ‘What is that?’ But the look was never static. If Lisbeth had been up for 36 hours on the computer, smoking cigarettes and not eating, she’d have bags under her eyes and her hair was a mess. Her look could change from very strong to more innocent and simple, depending on the situation.”
Her haircut helped create that flexibility. “The dark, chopped hair really made a great frame for this pale, fragile face that never sees sunlight,” Witte observes. “We could do a lot with it. I loved the braided look, a Mohawk looked really strong on Rooney and I also loved it just simply slicked back or in a beanie. The one bottom line was that David had to be able to see her face at all times.”
For Mara’s makeup design, producer Ceán Chaffin suggested bringing in British makeup artist Pat McGrath, named by Vogue magazine as the most influential makeup artist in fashion, to do a brainstorming session. “Ceán really admired her work and so she came out to Sweden and for two days tried out a great variety of looks,” recalls Summerville. “She did beautiful work. And then she conceptualized the makeup for the entire film, with more than 30 different character looks. She and Danilo and the rest of the crew were a dream team. David was able to throw us any idea – crazy, crazy stuff – and get so much creativity.”
Witte’s day-to-day makeup for Lisbeth was based on her likely disdain for a complicated beauty routine. “Trish and I talked about ways to make her very real, and one thing we talked about is that she probably would have only have a few makeup products she uses every day, like a black eye-liner and dark eye shadow and we stuck to about five products for each of her looks,” he explains.
Each day, Witte also applied seven fresh tattoos to Mara’s skin. “We used a real ink transfer and when I thought about them shooting with the RED camera and that the tattoos would be as big as a house on the screen, it was important that we do them every day,” he says.
In addition to the eyebrow piercing, Mara also went further. “It is difficult to fake a nipple piercing, so Rooney just decided one day that she needed to do this for her character and we all went together to get it done,” he recalls. “The other piercings of her nose and lips we were able to replicate. But it was all a lot of work for Rooney and she was amazing in her commitment. It was a great team effort with her, Trish and David all figuring out what was needed for the character in the moment.”
While Lisbeth’s internally-motivated style is a centerpiece, it was equally essential for Summerville to create a stark contrast with Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist. “I had such a great time with Daniel because he’s so much fun to dress,” the costume designer notes. “We worked in a lot of sweaters and layers to make him look a bit heavier and slouchier. Everything Lisbeth wears is very worn in, but his clothes are more fitted, more of a uniform. Yet, they are still quite relaxed. He doesn’t iron his shirts and he wears them open at the collar and kind of half tucked-in. He always has the same jeans – these Scotch & Soda jeans that we bought 30 pairs of for Daniel.”
Summerville especially enjoyed the broad scope of the movie, with its dozens of characters from disparate walks of life. One of her favorites is Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s lover and magazine partner, played by Robin Wright. “I saw Erika as a more mature, professional version of an older, gentler Lisbeth Salander,” she explains. “Like Lisbeth, she has a very strong female intention, and I think that’s also the reason that Blomkvist is so attracted to her. It was great fun to work with Robin.”
As for working with Fincher, Summerville calls it the best experience of her career so far. “You really have to bring your A game,” she notes, “but why would you want to bring anything else?”