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

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 7, 2013 at 6:00AM

Swedish actress Noomi Rapace 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 scientist in Ridley Scott's summer epic "Prometheus." And she didn't play 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.
Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace in 'Dead Man Down'
Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace in 'Dead Man Down'

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 character.

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.

This article is related to: Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Dead Man Down, Interviews, Interviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.