Interview: How Noomi Rapace Became a Global Movie Star, from ‘Dragon Tattoo’ to Ridley Scott, Brian De Palma and ‘Dead Man Down’

Interview: How Noomi Rapace Became a Global Movie Star, from 'Dragon Tattoo' to Ridley Scott, Brian De Palma and 'Dead Man Down'

Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, 33, never wanted to go Hollywood. As far as she’s concerned, she hasn’t changed her preference for complicated, compelling roles. Look at the range of what she’s done since “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series catapulted her into a bankable global marquee name.

She played a happily married woman facing her estranged, once-abusive mother in Pernilla August’s Swedish family drama “Beyond.” Rapace brought strength and spirituality
to her role as a space-trekking archeologist in Ridley Scott’s summer epic
“Prometheus.” And she was more than just another pretty sidekick in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of
Shadows,” which led to her co-starring opposite Rachel McAdams again in
Brian De Palma’s kinky Eurothriller  “Passion,”
which comes out in June.

Rapace has chosen well, never compromised. Either she brings something extra to the parts as written, or she has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Which is part of what it takes to be a movie star. “I’m an actress,” she says simply. “I can be anything, transform into whatever…I like underdogs and survivors who are struggling and searching for life…You can never rely on things you’ve done before. It’s only today that counts.” 

The Stockholm theater and film actress was not on everyone’s lips for the role of Lisbeth Salander, but she landed it, her director Niels Arden Oplev told the NY Times Magazine for its cover profile, because “when she’s Lisbeth and you put a camera on her, and she’s just sitting
there looking at you, you think, ‘Oh, my God, what is she going to do?’ There’s an unpredictable, dark, dangerous energy that flows from

De Palma cast Rapace in “Passion” for similar reasons. “Noomi’s very dangerous, and you don’t know what’s going on in her head,” he told me. “She also can be incredibly empathetic, but she can be scary. Believe me, I’ve been scared by Noomi… I mean that Mafia kiss that Noomi gives Rachel when she says, ‘Let’s kiss and make up,’ is right out of the soul of Noomi Rapace. And you go, ‘Whoa!'”

Now the actress rejoins Oplev for his first English-language film, IMGlobal’s $30-million New York
gangster thriller “Dead Man Down” (FilmDistrict, March 8), which co-stars Colin
Farrell, Terrence Howard and Isabelle Huppert, who plays her French
mother. Written by J. H. Wyman (“Fringe”), the movie is stylish and surprising–and it’s Rapace who makes it compelling to watch.

Anne Thompson: How does it feel to be a bankable international movie star who can get movies made, like ‘Dead Man Down?’

Noomi Rapace: I’m an actress doing the same thing I did ten years ago. I’m happy and proud to be working with amazing actors and directors, but I never read anything about myself, and I find it always hard to watch myself. I don’t see myself from the outside.

AT: How do you choose your roles, on what basis?

NR: When making the decision it’s always a combination of the director, the actors, and the script. You might have an amazing script but maybe you don’t connect with the actors or the star. Then you know you can’t do anything on your own, you have to have chemistry, share a language or vision or dream of what the movie potentially could become… The thing that matters is what do they want? What waters are they fishing?…  That’s why I always meet people before I make a decision, to sit down and talk. It’s very personal for me, I know when I step into a character, now it will take over my life. It’s going to be affecting me and the people around me for two months or in the case of “Prometheus,” five months… I have to find a way to do it my way… I know myself now. I don’t have any desire to be a superstar. I never make a choice because it’s a good pay check. I don’t care if it’s a big studio or a small indie film with a low budget…Most studio films are actually made in Europe.

AT: You seem to want to work with Tom Hardy, you have two films coming up. 

NR: Yes, Tom Hardy is an incredible actor. I saw him in the movie “Wuthering Heights” six years ago, and I was just so blown away by him and his energy and charisma, he’s like nobody else. I met him two years ago. We connected from the first minutes, and we’ve been trying to do something to do together. I read something I like: ‘What about this?’ We’re both busy doing other things. Then I read “Animal Rescue” (based on the Dennis Lehane Boston noir, Fox Searchlight), and he read it, we both loved it. We are prepping, we start on Monday, in Brooklyn with “Bullhead”‘s amazing Michael Roskam and Matthias Schoenaerts.

AT: Will you also star with Hardy in Daniel Espinosa’s ‘Child 44,’ Scott Free’s 50s thriller adapted by Richard Price from Tom Rob Smith’s novel, to shoot in Budapest this summer?

NR: Yes, that was sent to both of us: ‘This might be it, we’ll do it together.’

AT: Even with a studio film like ‘Prometheus,’ you add your own DNA to what could have been yet another simplified female.

NR: I need to run everything through my own body and blood system, I need to fully understand the character. It was important with Elizabeth that she’s not a cartoonish action hero, I wanted her to be a real woman. She was going through so many terrible things. I wanted to do my own stunts as much as they allowed me to do, it was extremely important to make her human. One scene I added, after she does her Cesarian in the room, was putting on her boyfriend’s ring, talking to God, and making the decision to go out again. It’s a small scene, but we needed to see her pain and her decision. She has her faith, she’s strong-minded, it’s not like she doesn’t feel the pain. She’s decided to go on and fight and force herself not to give up.

And there’s a tiny scene at the end of the movie when she starts to cry, lying outside the space ship in the helmet, ‘I’m very sorry I can’t do it,’ she’s talking to her dead boyfriend. It’s a small piece, but I wanted to see her fragile, trembling heart. She’s not OK with all this, she’s not a tough cookie who can go through anything and stand there and be sexy and beautiful.

AT: Ridley Scott allows for strong women: ‘Thelma & Louise,’ ‘Alien.’ Will you do a ‘Prometheus’ sequel?

NR: I adored Ridley. He’s open and clear, he loves our strength. Every time I said, ‘I want to do this fight scene, let me run one more time,’ when I was so exhausted, falling to pieces, I love that he was very supportive. I’d love to work with Ridley again. I know that he would
like to do a second one, I think that’s everybody’s will, I hope it will happen,
the studio wants to do it.

AT: You and McAdams improvised a lot of your scenes in ‘Passion,’ with De Palma?

NR: We worked closely. Rachel and I discussed this
script. Actually one scene that didn’t belong in the story we took out,
and added other things. It was very creative, it was a very different shoot. I see my character as emotionally disturbed in a way that none of my other characters have been. She has a cold calculating psychopathic mind, I did lot of
research, so I had to run
everything through that. I couldn’t work from an emotional ground,
as I normally do, so it was different translating: ‘how does an emotionally
disturbed person, how would she react and think?’ So it was for me a different
way. De Palma was fun, we had a lot of conversations. We didn’t always agree, we’re both
strong-minded and stubborn. He’s interesting and creative, he’s a strong

AT: What made you want to support ‘Dead Man Down,’ besides being able to work with Oplev again?

NR: The script was so unpredictable. I couldn’t see where it was going. I love when I read a script and it takes me on a journey. I really liked the combination of strength and fragility in Beatrice. She was hit by car a year ago and almost died, woke up in the hospital and looked at herself and wished she was dead, her face was destroyed. She doesn’t look that bad, but she can’t see that, she’s trapped in nowhereland as the plastic surgery sets, she can’t see how she’s improved a lot. Then when she sees Colin’s character kill this man, this weird thought, an idea, enters her mind: ‘oh my god, this is my solution, he can help me to do this thing I need to have done, then I can start my life again.’

AT: Both of these unconventionally romantic characters share an intense desire for revenge.

NR: That’s what I like, to be on the edge, to explore things that are complicated. I want to see who am, what would I do, what is the trust in this? I love that acting is complete freedom, in there in that bubble I can be anything, gain weight, shave my head, be blonde, pretty or beautiful, no limits, everything is possible, it’s almost like a paradise, that’s why I don’t like to look at myself, I know when I see myself, vanity will hit me, ‘horrible, I don’t want to look like that!’

AT: How did you feel working with Isabelle Huppert?

NR: She has always inspired me, she’s one of the greatest actresses in the world. When I saw “The Piano Teacher,’ I was so blown away, I couldn’t let it go, I was thinking about that movie for a week, she’s so incredible, working with her was a dream.

AT: Would you want to direct, like Pernilla August? 

NR: I cannot let go of my dream of being an actress forever. I want to die a 90-year-old actress on set.

See this video interview with Rapace in Venice in 2010.

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