Tomb Raider screenwriter opens up about rebooting Lara Croft & writing Captain Marvel

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Mar 20, 2018

The remodeled Tomb Raider franchise may not have had the blockbuster debut some had hoped for, but the Alicia Vikander-led vehicle still posted solid box office numbers. It earned $23.5 million over the weekend at U.S. theaters, and there's even more positive news to be found overseas. Lara Croft's global appeal remains strong, as seen by its impressive $41.1M haul in China.

For Warner Bros., that has to be a relief, considering the movie spent several years trapped in development hell. Screenwriter Geneva Robertson-Dworet scripted the final draft of the movie, based on the 2013 video game reboot. The Harvard grad is one of the busiest writers in the business at the moment as she is currently set to write Paramount’s Dungeons and Dragons, Sony Pictures’ Silver & Black, WB’s Sherlock Holmes 3, and Gotham City Sirens, and has already penned the script for Marvel’s Captain Marvel, which is currently being filmed. She is more than doing her part to erase the mindset that women can’t write a proper action film.

While the final film that you see in theaters may not be wholly Robertson-Dworet’s original vision, she is appreciative of the collaborative nature that filmmaking is meant to be. “I think that it’s pretty cool that we’re now working in a moment where actresses are more empowered to have more of a say with the characters that they play,” she said. Once Vikander was on boarded to the project it was noted that she would have partial creative control over her character not unlike actors such as Tom Cruise, Will Smith, and Charlize Theron.

Being the busy woman that she is, SYFYWIRE was lucky enough to speak with Robertson-Dworet regarding her involvement with Tomb Raider, her history of being a “gamer girl”, and juggling a handful of iconic female characters.

How familiar were you with the source material when you came aboard the project?

Very much so. I was a huge fan of the games as a kid. I was actually home schooled so I got more opportunity than most kids to play games cause I could just quickly flip my screen over to pretend that I was doing some kind of work and my mom wouldn’t even know. So I was a huge, huge, fan. Loved the new game, the rebooted game as well, which is the source material.

How many times did you play the rebooted game? I’m working on five years of trying to finish that game. It’s so long.

Truth be told. I was really great with games. I played all the time in high school and junior high, and elementary school. I can even remember the whole Lucasarts games. Those adventure games from the early 90s. I don’t know if you’ve played any of those.

Like Oregon Trail….

Like Oregon Trail or Sam & Max, Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle. I went to college and I didn’t have time to play games. Then I came out of college, and I just wanted to play games again once I had some more time. And I found the interface to be really hard, like what the hell? I suck at this now. I watch my husband play cause he’s awesome whereas I get stuck on the first level or sometimes - this is so embarrassing-  the training. I just suck at it, and so it’s much more fun to watch him play cause he’s a badass at it. He can get through it really fast so it’s almost like watching a movie. Watching him play Bioshock or all these amazing games where they’re doing such exciting things in terms of narrative storytelling. That’s my sad fact about my adult video game life.

Since the movie is based on the 2013 game, what were you allowed to stray from, and what were you required to include in the script?

It was an interesting background to the project before I came on board. I came on board in the fall of 2015. I want to say that MGM had the first draft of the reboot written in 2011 or something before the rebooted game came out. So those drafts are really different. They worked on various drafts or possible versions of the movie. When I came on they said we want to go back to the game and what is so great about this rebooted game. So we knew we loved the location. In the game, more than the movie, we know that Lara is already interested in archeology, but she still feels like a little bit of an amateur.

She’s young, and a little bit inexperienced at it. We of course took that even farther back to have that she’s not even interested in archeology at all when we need her. We were interested in going back further in her life than obviously the Angelina Jolie movie where she’s already a badass archeologist. Also, we were straight up interested in using some of the kick ass sequences in the games. There’s some really mind blowing action in the game, like why wouldn’t we use this, this is f--king awesome. As fans we loved it, so we were like, why wouldn’t we put this in. The plane sequence is actually one of my favorite parts of the movie, which is a version of what’s in the game. That was incredibly fun to write. I love writing action sequences and drawing inspiration from the game was like a real treat.

Speaking of the Angelina Jolie films, what elements did you expressly want to avoid from that series?

We knew that we wanted to do an origin story. In the Angelina Jolie films, she’s already as I just mentioned, she’s a badass already. She feels so cool that she’s almost unrelatable. She’s Angelina Jolie. So we wanted to certainly focus on her inward journey in this version as much as her outward journey, and make it grounded in reality. With a realistic daily life like making rent. That was a big focus for us. Of course we drew a lot of inspiration from the source material just like they did. Richard Croft for example, Lara’s father, is a really important character in the mythology. He appears in almost all of the iterations of the games, and comics that are out there. We wanted to lean into him just like the first Angelina Jolie film did.

Is there a scene that you wrote that you really wanted to keep in the final draft, or film that didn’t quite make it?

There were many iterations of things…..that’s a really good question. It’s like a progression, right? I think some people just think that you sit down and just write it. The reality of a movie that’s this big, and expensive is that it takes about a year or longer to go from script to shooting. I came on in November 2015, and worked on it for a year straight. In that progression, that year of time, there were a lot of changes that happened in the movie overall. The original vision of Lara, the tone of movie was supposed to be very action comedy, fun, sort of light hearted like Indiana Jones.

The violence isn’t super real. Indiana Jones would not kill somebody then cry about it. In Indiana Jones you just whack someone and they fall out of the frame. Never seen again. So the original tone was much more like that to be honest, and then I have to give credit to Alicia. In many ways this is Alicia’s movie. She was very empowered as a creative force in this movie. It’s obviously Roar’s vision of the movie that’s on screen, but it’s also Alicia’s vision. When she came on in the summer of 2016 how she wanted a more grounded, realistic tone to the movie. So while the plot stayed the same we ended up rewriting a huge amount of dialogue. The first draft, to answer your question of what got cut, that I really loved was the opening birthday party like her 20th or something. She was younger and more of a sassy character. Her sassiness got taken out quite a bit, but for good reason. It was not in keeping with Alicia’s vision. I think that it’s pretty cool that we’re now working in a moment where actresses are more empowered to have more of a say with the characters that they play. Alicia had a huge influence over reshaping the tone of this movie.

Playing to her strengths….

Right, playing to her strengths. She’s so able to capture poignancy, and a heightened sense of drama in her work like Ex-Machina or A Royal Affair. She’s just awesome.

You’re writing some of the most iconic female characters of all time with Captain Marvel, Lara Croft, and Harley Quinn, and they couldn’t be more different. How challenging has it been to juggle all of them in such a short amount of time?

It’s been a blast! It’s been so fun. They all have different things that are so fun about writing each one. Lara was one of my favorite characters as a child so writing her was a dream come true. Writing Harley Quinn, she’s brilliant, but she’s crazy and she’s so free. You can write  anything with Harley and it’s f--king funny as hell. Then same with Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel. Carol is super sassy, super funny, talks back. She’s just an amazing character to get to write. They each have their strengths as characters and unique traits as characters. It’s actually just really fun to change gears between them.