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How 7 Gender-Swapped Roles Offered Noomi Rapace the Most Challenging Work of Her Career

In "What Happened to Monday?," the actress plays seven sisters, in a twisty film originally designed for a male lead.

“What Happened to Monday?”

When Max Botkin’s high-concept sci-fi thriller “What Happened to Monday?” landed on the Blacklist of “most liked” unproduced screenplays in 2010, the film followed seven brothers living in a dystopian future world where families are only allowed a single child. Seven years later, Tommy Wirkola’s version of the film is complete, with one major twist: now it’s about sisters.

Although the film went through a number of rewrites during its journey from page to screen, it was Wirkola who hit upon the idea to change the gender of the septuplets, all the better to add a different dimension to an already clever concept. But his idea came with a caveat, as he could only imagine one star in the role (well, the seven roles): Swedish star Noomi Rapace, whom he had once considered casting in his “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”

When Wirkola initially sent Rapace the script, “What Happened to Monday?” was still centered on seven brothers. Wirkola was eager to change that, but only if Rapace was game. “He called me up and he said, ‘Noomi, I think I’ve got something for us, but it’s seven brothers and I can’t imagine anyone else except you doing it, so if you want to do it, I want to change it to seven sisters,” Rapace said with a laugh during a recent interview.

Her reaction? “I was terrified!” For a versatile actress like Rapace, first introduced to audiences through dark material like the original Swedish-language “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” films and Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” that’s saying something.

In Wirkola’s “What Happened to Monday?,” Rapace is tasked with playing seven sisters – each one assigned a day of the week (and a matching name) during which they’re allowed out of their apartment to live a fraction of a life. When one of them (the eponymous Monday) goes missing, the remaining six are forced to crack the case, lest they end up going the way of their absent sibling.

Rapace was intrigued by the inherent challenge of playing seven characters in a single film, but the opportunity to contribute her own ideas to the changes necessary to gender-swap the roles was what really excited her.

“I was very involved in the script, kind of giving each character a real back story, a real life, a real personality,” she said. “I didn’t want them to be cliches, kind of like Spice Girls. ‘This is the sexy one, this is the shy one, this is the tough one.’ [I wanted] to actually treat them, each one of them, as if they were the main character.”

Swapping the gender of the siblings at the heart of the story added a new level of emotion and interplay between her roles. “It became way richer,” Rapace said. “There’s always more drama going on between girls.”

“What Happened to Monday?”

COS AELENEI

Despite her early involvement in crafting the film’s seven key characters, Rapace didn’t mince words when asked about the toll the film’s production took on her. “I knew that it was going to be hard, but it’s difficult to imagine what it’s going to be like before you get in there,” Rapace said. “I love to challenge myself and push myself. I never want to repeat myself and I always try to do better. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Rapace, who considers herself a fairly open and gregarious member of any production team, spend a lengthy period in isolation to work through each of her characters.

“I went into this weird bubble and I stayed there for almost five and a half months,” she said. “I didn’t really see anyone, I couldn’t socialize. Normally, I have a lot of energy and I have no problem concentrating, but this was so hard. I couldn’t even speak to people.'”

The actress also adopted a strict routine when it came time to transition from one character to another, including crafting individual playlists and picking different perfumes for each sister. “Just to learn the lines for seven voices in a scene and be the one answering yourself is a completely different from what you normally do obviously,” she said. “I had to find a complete different method or technique to work, because normally I base my acting on the other actors. Now I had to invent it all or be them all.”

Rapace occasionally worked with doubles and stand-ins, but much of her performance required working alone with green screen, acting against tennis balls and reacting her own pre-recorded dialogue. Still, she missed working with other actors. “Glenn Close came in and she was there for like, I think 10 days, a week,” she said with a laugh. “When she was leaving, I was like crying, I was like, ‘Can you not give us one more scene? Can we not have her stay an extra day?'”

Despite the intensity of the project, Rapace is pleased with the result, if a bit nervous to see how it (and she, times seven) play to audiences.

“I feel very blessed that everyone trusted me, the production, the producers, financiers, Tommy,” she said. “It was kind of in my hands and I knew if we fail, if this doesn’t work out, it’s all going to be on me.”

“What Happened to Monday?” will start streaming on Netflix on Friday, August 18.

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