A hit book and Brad Pitt? No wonder Hollywood's hottest actresses are eager to star in a movie version of a huge best-seller.

We haven’t seen this many actresses clamoring over a book since Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. The best and brightest of Hollywood’s under-30 set are all reportedly contending for the title role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first film in a planned big-screen trilogy based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium mystery series. Established stars like Keira Knightley, Natalie Portman, and Kristen Stewart and newcomers like Alice in Wonderland‘s Mia Wasikowska are all in the running, while one report claimed that Juno star Ellen Page and An Education‘s Carey Mulligan went so far as to contact the film’s producers to ask for the part.

The object of their affection: the plum role of hacker Lisbeth Salander, a troubled, tough-as-nails genius who helps journalist Mikael Blomkvist expose big-business villains. Brad Pitt is reportedly mulling the male lead, which would reteam him with director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), working from a script by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, American Gangster). But despite their beauty and brains, the aforementioned ladies might get shut out for lack of another quality: anonymity. One source tells EW that studio Sony is looking to cast an unknown in the role, possibly to keep down costs and protect the part from a surplus of star wattage.

Why all the fuss over a book about a back tat? Six years after the death of Swedish author Larsson, his Millennium Trilogy has become a global phenomenon, selling more than 40 million copies in four years and topping best-seller lists around the world. The third and final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is already a worldwide hit, prompting publisher Knopf to order a massive first printing of 700,000 copies for its May 25 U.S. release. ”Larsson has become a global brand on par with authors like Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, James Patterson,” says Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity at Knopf. ”He has that kind of recognition.”

On top of that, Dragon has already proved its blockbuster-movie potential — at least in the rest of the world. A Swedish-language adaptation released earlier this year has grossed $88 million in foreign territories, though it failed to break out of the art-house market in North America, where it’s made just $7.8 million.

A Hollywood upgrade would need to address the concerns of the books’ fans. Will the action still be set in Sweden or moved to America? Is Brad Pitt too handsome to play an Everyguy like Blomkvist? Will the movie tone down Dragon‘s graphic scenes of rape and torture? And regardless of which girl ends up with the coveted title role, she’d better watch her back: Those tattoo needles can hurt.

Who’s in the running to play the girl?
Keira Knightley
Ellen Page
Carey Mulligan
Natalie Portman
Kristen Stewart
An unknown

What’s the story? A primer on the Girl series

Set in modern-day Sweden, the Millennium Trilogy is a mystery series about Mikael Blomkvist, a muckraking financial journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a gifted hacker who’s been declared legally incompetent due to her antisocial behavior. Their partnership sometimes extends to the bedroom, but the pair get the most pleasure from uncovering conspiracies and corruption.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Book)
  • Book
  • Stieg Larsson