Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, from 2001, starring Angelina Jolie as Lara, made nearly $300 million worldwide so it seems like rebooting the lucrative franchise would be a no-brainer.
Surprisingly, the studio wasn’t even certain they would renew the property’s rights, let alone make a third film. Sometimes, though, the right actress comes along and all the pieces fall into place. That’s certainly what happened with the new Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander and written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet. We spoke with Robertson-Dworet about bringing one of the world’s most popular videogame character back to the big screen.
Robertson-Dworet had the opportunity to hone her comedy-writing skills writing for the National Lampoon when she was at Harvard. But her dream was to want to write action movies. It seems her dream has come true. In addition to Tomb Raider, she is working on the upcoming Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson, Silver & Black, and Dungeons & Dragons, all set to release over the next three years.
After having two scripts on the Black List, Robertson-Dworet began her screenwriting career in various film franchise writers’ rooms. Yes, sometimes movies have writers’ rooms, just like a TV show.
“Rather than have one writer break the story,” says Robertson-Dworet, “they get a group of writers with the intention of working on multiple movies in the franchise at once as the case was with Transformers. I was in a Sherlock Holmes 3 writers’ room that was focused on one movie but the idea is that the group will crack the story as a team.”
Robertson-Dworet considers her work in the Transformers writers’ room to be her big break.
“I could see the other writers’ process. You learn a huge amount from them; at the same time you’re contributing your own ideas to the property. I was really grateful for that experience.”
In the fall of 2015, Robertson-Dworet was hired by Cassidy Lange, Vice President of MGM, after Lange read her sample.
“Cassidy responded positively and brought me in for Tomb Raider. I’m really grateful to her, she really opened doors for me.”
I asked Robertson-Dworet about what’s new and different in this version of Tomb Raider.
“The Angelina Jolie movies are a ton of fun. She created such an iconic character and gave such an amazing performance. But that Lara feels really perfect – she already knows who she is: a kick-ass archeologist. We really wanted to go back to the beginning and show how you become that person. What do you go through? We wanted to make her grounded in reality, give her a realistic family life and give her real struggles like making rent.
Robertson-Dworet says what’s most interesting to her is the character’s journey. “Someone who thinks they can take on the world but quickly finds she in way over her head. When Lara gets to Hong Kong, she’s almost immediately beaten up by a group of teenagers. She can’t really kick ass yet. Then, over the course of the story, she learns how to confront her inner fears and outer fears and to face down any obstacle ahead of her.”
Creating a more realistic, more humbled Lara Croft is largely based on Vikander’s input. Robertson-Dworet says she went to London and worked closely with the actress.
“Alicia Vikander was so creatively involved in the creation of this character and this movie. There were certain aspects of the character she wanted heightened. There were certain aspects she wanted taken away. She really cared about the film being very realistic, very grounded. That was also a shift that was already happening on a larger level within the tone of the movie. My earliest drafts were very much an action-comedy. The director, producer and Alicia – it was kind of a team decision – they wanted it to be more realistic, more grounded.”
Before Vikander got involved, Robertson-Dworet says her early drafts were closer to the snappy tone of Indiana Jones. “You know how Indiana Jones makes jokes even in the most dangerous situations? Like when he’s getting the shit kicked out of him, he’s still really mouthy. That was stripped down because Alicia didn’t feel it was realistic. So we took a lot of that out to change the tone to what you see in the final movie.”
Robertson-Dworet says the biggest challenge was in the beginning when the entire project seemed up in the air.
“When I was brought in, they weren’t even sure they were going to renew the rights of the property and you need the rights to go forward with making the movie. So it wasn’t a high priority for the studio. But then Alicia came on board.”
And voila – the movie came together.
There are moments in Tomb Raider that appear to be straight out of the actual videogame. Robertson-Dworet says that’s on purpose.
“MGM had many drafts of this script before I came onboard but nothing felt quite right. One of the things they wanted more of was bringing in more of what works so well in the videogame. We all looked at the game closely and thought about what we all loved most about it. We loved the setting, we loved that she wasn’t a full-fledged tomb raider yet and we took that even further. In the game, she’s already on her path as an archeologist and we stripped that down even further.
She says entire sequences from the game were put into the screenplay.
“Why wouldn’t we use them? And for fans who love seeing them on the small screen, we knew they’d love seeing them on the big screen.”
Tomb Raider opens March 16.