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Press Conference Interview With Niels Arden Oplev On Dead Man Down

Writer/director Niels Arden Oplev made a name for himself in Denmark with such films as Portland and The Eagle, but it was his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which really catapulted him to international success. The success of his adaptation of the infinitely popular Stieg Larsson novel has now led him to make his first English language movie in Dead Man Down.

We Got This Covered: Do you take pride in Noomi’s success as you discovered her?

Niels Arden Oplev: You know I can’t take credit for Noomi’s success. Noomi’s unique and I can take credit for picking her to do The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When she came to rehearsal, she was already angry that I wouldn’t pick her. Back then I knew she was a strong actress, and I could see that she was somebody who was a real possibility for this part.

But I was really worried that she was so god damn beautiful, and she must have known that because she showed up in her husband’s old clothes which probably hadn’t been washed for three days. I did a rehearsal with her which was two hours long, and she was the second one that came in and I just knew that she had that in her. Had she not had it in her, I would never have asked her to do it. So I can’t take credit for that, but I can take credit for my own success in that sense. I can also take credit for being really good at letting a lot of people’s creativity flow into our film.

I said to Colin and Noomi there are some directors that see their film as a two-lane track, and if you drove off that the whole thing will fall apart. I don’t see a film like a two wheel track that’s the only place you can drive. I see my films as a f**king six lane highway, you know? It’s all going in that direction. We’re all going to end up there. But if somebody says “but what if I speed up to 150 and take the emergency lane and then go in and turn around?” I’ll say “hey that sounds like a f**king cool idea! Let’s try it out, I’m curious.”

So I’ll alter my road organically throughout. Anybody who comes up with a good suggestion, I’ll just take it. It’s all about making a good film, and it just makes me look better in the end (laughs). So I think filmmaking is a strange animal because it’s anti-Democratic and collective at the same time, but I think it’s all about not trying to know everything better than everybody else but making the right choices.

We Got This Covered: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Dead Man Down are very violent movies. Do you think violence is a necessary cinematic tool and what is your overall take on it?

Niels Arden Oplev: I like to quote Douglas Sirk, who was a German-American filmmaker, and he said “filmmaking is an imitation of life.” I think if there was no violence in our world, there would be no violence in film. Violence is a part of human nature, and obviously it’s a troublesome part of human nature. You always have responsibilities when you portray violence in what angle you put down on that scene. A lot of people were naturally disturbed by the rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but most people didn’t accuse me of being exploitive. There were a few male American critics that I felt were trying to score cheap points with the other sex by showing how fucking politically correct they could be, which seems to be a disease because it stops you from saying straight out what you mean.

But that scene is a very good example of how I deal with violence because I wanted it seem to be horrific. The last thing I wanted was to make it entertaining or sexually arousing for anybody. When I read the book and decided to do it, I was really scared that and I said “fuck I’m gonna have to go there.” I didn’t want to make a scene that I couldn’t look my daughters and my own mother in the eyes, and I thought about it for a long time.

There’s a saying that the devil is in the details, and I decided to make it about the preparation of the rape instead of the actual rape. The interesting thing about the scene is that it’s more than two minutes long and you only see the rape for seven seconds. The rest of it is him gaining control over Lisbeth to be able to rape her down to the point where he takes his Swedish slacks off and goes and hangs them over this furniture they have in Sweden to hang your suit on. That sick little detail says it all. Even when he’s raping somebody, he can’t put his pants down on the ground to do it. So I think when you do a violent scene, you have to have a moral about the violence.

I’ve done a film where the violence is from a headmaster of a school to a 13-year-old boy and for me in some ways that’s more horrific. I also did a film about Jehovah witnesses where there’s mental violence done to a 17-year-old girl that has been brainwashed and then ousted by her family. I think the answer to this is violence will always be in film as humans are violent. Violence will be in the media, but there is a responsibility to what angle you put on it. You can’t put a too politically correct angle on it either like a bad guy always has something bad happen to him. You have to try to portray why it happens and what are the mechanisms behind it.

Taxi Driver is a really good example because when Travis commits violence at the very end, you know damn well what pushed him and what inner psychological mechanisms made him do that. We need to keep examining evilness. For instance, I’m totally against the fact that Osama bin Laden was shot. I think that he should have been put on trial and exposed as that human being he was. I think he should’ve been standing mentally naked in front of the rest of us and stand to justice for what he did. No matter what he would have said, he would’ve revealed himself the same way as when you saw him in those interviews and was questioned as to why he did what he did. The clinical nature of it was exposed, and we need to understand how people end up. Nobody’s born evil. I guess that’s why we’re drawn to violence. We’re fascinated by it, but there’s a moral in how you examine it.

That concludes our brief chat with Neils but we’d like to thank him for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to check out Dead Man Down, now in theatres.

About the author

Ben Kenber