The Surprising Reason Scarlett Johansson Didn’t Star In ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

Most women actors find the perfect niche for themselves in movies, even if a rare few become so much like chameleons, they can play anything.

The biggest liability has always been the sex symbols, going back to the days of Marilyn Monroe. What made that problematic is actors like Monroe wanted to be respected for acting prowess, yet always inhibited by appearance.

Perhaps you can place Scarlett Johansson into a similar category, though not as much now after proving herself in numerous serious acting roles. Back when she was still auditioning for some major parts, however, she found out there was some serious bias going on in the casting departments.

When casting was underway for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Johansson took a crack at an audition. The result is still a bit shocking considering her acting pedigree already then.

The ‘Dragon Tattoo’ audition story comes directly from David Fincher

Scarlett Johansson on the red carpet
Scarlett Johansson | Photo by Luca Carlino/NurPhoto

A couple of years ago, Vogue did a piece listing some little known facts about Scarlett Johansson as she was preparing a return to the big screen in the film Ghost in the Shell. This was during a time when she was starring in a series of sci-fi related films as proof she could work within the confines of any film genre.

In the Vogue piece, it’s noted Johansson did an audition for Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and passed it with flying colors. However, director David Fincher noted she did the audition a little too well. He considered her “too sexy” to realistically play the role of Lisbeth Salander, instead hiring Rooney Mara.

According to Fincher, he said Johansson’s audition was terrific, including besting many other candidates from around the world. Yet, Fincher (controversially) said Johansson just makes people want to see her take her clothes off immediately, going against the physicality of the Salander character.

Vogue said at the time Johansson denied this ever happening, so who do we believe?

Not that Johansson really needed the Lisbeth Salander role

The year this audition took place (2011), Johansson was already a part of the MCU as Black Widow (in Iron Man 2), and had also established herself as an adult actor taking roles in Woody Allen’s big comeback movies.

Nevertheless, she was still waiting to find something taking her acting to a new level. Playing Lisbeth Salander certainly would have. We almost wonder if Fincher jumped the gun on not hiring for the role based strictly on her physical persona in the audition.

If there’s any real truth to this audition story, it’s worth pondering if Johansson is still having similar problems. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of this since she’ll be acting in a couple of movies where she isn’t meant to be a sex symbol.

Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit are just two examples of playing more modest, motherly characters and finally escaping the idea she can only play sexy superheroes or suggestive sci-fi characterizations.

Is Johansson the Marilyn Monroe of her time?

Monroe had to fight against her sexy stereotyping all through her career, outside of finally finding a couple of roles worthy of her dramatic acting talent. Johansson doesn’t necessarily have to prove anything. Regardless, she’s still obviously looking for roles to help reinvent her persona.

Should she be nominated for Best Actress in Marriage Story (co-starring Adam Driver), this could finally change directions for her in playing women who aren’t perceived as overtly sexy.

Of course, with Black Widow releasing next year, it’ll be right back to the old persona. It’s still a safe bet Johansson will mix it up over the next decade, no matter how controversial she becomes in her public comments.

Being able to shift from sexy to someone more conservative (or unrecognizable) will likely take her into the same trajectory Charlize Theron went, which subsequently won latter an Oscar.