These last few years have been a wild ride for Noomi Rapace, but sitting down to talk with her at the Marrakech Film Festival this week, we found her refreshingly down to earth, giving the impression of someone who is fully aware of the lucky hand she’s been dealt and is not afraid to work hard to stay so lucky. Of course it was the Swedish version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” trilogy that originally saw Rapace break out internationally, and since then one of the things that has characterized her career has been her tendency to work again with people she has collaborated with before. So over the brief span of four years she did “Dead Man Down” for ‘Dragon Tattoo’ director Niels Arden Oplev, has two projects with Tom Hardy in the can, two with Mathias Schoenaerts and hopes to reteam with Ridley Scott for the mooted “Prometheus 2.”
With the actress in town as part of the impressive delegation representing Scandinavian filmmaking (including Mads Mikkelsen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Tomas Alfredson, Bille August and Tobias Lindholm—our interview here—among others) we spoke with Ms. Rapace about these and other projects, her impeccable work ethic and the importance for her of maintaining recurring relationships with actors and directors. But first, we had to ask, because we nearly didn’t recognize her, about her hair.
So you’re a blonde now?
Ha, yes. I did a movie this year called “Child 44” with Tom Hardy, and we play Russians. I bleached my eyebrows and had these light eyes—blueish green—so I looked very Russian. And my new movie I’m prepping in New York is called “Alive Alone” and I’m to be even blonder.
Can you tell us a bit about “Alive Alone”?
It’s actually one of the most beautiful scripts I’ve read, it’s a fantastic love story. I would say if you take “Taxi Driver” and “Leaving Las Vegas” and throw them together … It’s an intense story between my character who is a heroin addict and prostitute in New York and Matthias Schoenaerts, he is playing the other lead. We worked together on “Animal Rescue” and we really connected but we only had two scenes together. We felt straight away that we wanted to work together again, and he gave me the script and I read it and I thought it was amazing.
[It’s for a] first-time English director his name is Khurram Longi and he wrote the script as well, like seven years ago. He’s been holding onto it and studios and big directors have wanted to buy it, but he wouldn’t sell. So it’s very personal for him, it’s his story. [We’ll be shooting] in New York In January and February.
And how about “Child 44,” your second collaboration with Tom Hardy?
We did “Animal Rescue” and I love working with him. We know each other … sometimes you meet someone and you feel like you can go anywhere—step into different characters and time zones or a period film or contemporary or whatever—we have a very intimate [relationship] and trust each other a lot. But we have a lot of fun even if it’s quite dark or heavy, we’re always laughing a lot and having a good time, so I love working with him and he’s such an incredible actor, I’ve been really lucky.
And Gary Oldman is in it, who is one of my heroes, and Ridley Scott produced so he’s in the background and Daniel Espinosa who is from Chile but grew up in Sweden he is directing it. He did “Safe House,” and “Snabba Cash” and he’s also a friend of mine. So it was a long shoot and quite a big epic movie in one way, but very much a character drama, also some kind of reverse love story between my character and Tom’s character: they’ve been married for eight years when the movie starts and it’s like a cold war between them.
Of course it’s based on the Tom Rob Smith book, which is the first in a trilogy in which your character, Raisa becomes arguably more central as time goes on. Will you return for movie sequels, should they happen?
Yes absolutely, if it’s the same [team] I would love to. I find if you do sequels—for example Ridley promised me he’s going to do “Prometheus 2”—so if we’re doing the second one of “Child 44” I would like to have Daniel with me on that, because for me when I’m working it’s so personal, I open up a lot and it takes over my life so the people around me are really important. I need to work with people I know I connect with, and Daniel is one of the best directors I’ve worked with. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest directors in the world.
And how about working with “Animal Rescue” director Michael Roskam?
He’s fantastic, I loved [his previous film] “Bullhead.” I saw it and was blown away and I called my team “I want to work with this guy!” Then I read “Animal Rescue” before he was even on board, and I was meeting with Fox Searchlight, we kept a dialogue going, and then when I heard Roskam was doing it, I wanted to do it. I think he’s very passionate, and intense and very well prepared, he knows what he wants and is very focused, very much an actor’s director.
There’s actually a scene that’s not in the script, I came to him and said I think we need this scene, between me and Matthias, that tells more about the two of them, that they have a history together that you never really saw. We did it, like four takes and when I met them in L.A., they said it’s one of the best scenes, so he’s very open. I definitely think we will work together again.
How much do you refer to the book when filming an adaptation?
I’ve done a couple now, the Millennium trilogy and “Beyond” was also a book and now again … I think it gives you more meat, more to work on but you have to be selective, it’s impossible if you try to get everything in. Also you need to understand the difference between a book [and a film]. It was clear when I did “Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” that Stieg Larsson can write ten pages about what she’s thinking, what’s going on in her head but she is stone-faced, and you can’t really do that, you must translate things in a way.
You have to find a way, not to be disrespectful, but if you love the book too much it can become like a prison … I’m developing a thing now that’s also based on a book and I was on the phone with the writer, and we’re talking about the differences between film and the book and the changes we need to make.
And the hard work will continue afterward with “What Happened to Monday?” in which you play seven roles?
Yeah I’m doing that, maybe it’s a big mistake! I will play seven twin sisters. I just came back from meeting with one of the producers in Paris and next week I’m in London to work with the director [Tommy Wirkola] on the script. It’s a Black List script, and was written for a man.
So did they specifically change it for you?
Yes, Tommy got it, he pitched and when he had it, he said “there’s only one actor that I can think of [for the parts] but it’s Noomi.” So he rang me and said, “I have this movie I want to do but I can only do it with you.” It was about seven brothers then, and now we’re doing a major rewrite…[It’s shooting] in May, in Romania and London, I think.
How much has sudden fame changed you?
I think I’m still the same. I check in with friends in Stockholm and I ask them, “Am I becoming a diva?” But I’m not really seduced by money or fame, I’m not doing movies because of a paycheck or to become a celebrity … I can play the game of doing red carpets and I love fashion, but that side of it is less important. The work is not glamorous and … my body is always covered in cuts and bruises, I leave with a new scar from each movie.
Speaking of, how do you prepare for these often very physical roles?
Now that I’m preparing for “Alive Alone” I’m doing research, I’ve been in New York spending time with addicts and prostitutes, getting into the life they’re living and trying to understand it, I don’t want to come from some top fancy hotel and have some blue marks put on my arm: I need to know, I need to go into it as far as I can. It’s a combination of research, and I’m now losing weight for the movie too.
Most of the times the physical preparation and the emotional/psychological, they kinda embrace each other, they help each other for me. When I was doing “Prometheus” I worked out a lot, I had a personal trainer and we worked out every morning, and then that helped me because I felt really focused and structured, in a way my body was awake and ready for whatever was coming and my mind ended up there too, but now for “Alive Alone” I feel that I need to be quite fragile and it will probably affect my mood and personality a lot too. This one it might be one of the hardest ones I’ve done so far. I might need to log out from the world for six weeks …
Apart from cuts and bruises do you keep mementos from the shoots?
No, never. I’m not sentimental, even with my prizes and awards. I think I’m putting a spell on myself if I take them, I have to move on. Satisfaction is dangerous …