Dead Man Down
Rapace in '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 her.”

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!'"

Noomi Rapace
Olaf Blecker for The New York Times Noomi Rapace

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.'