NOOMI RA­PACE STEPS OUT OF THE SHADOW OF STIEG LARS­SON

Noomi Ra­pace has gone from an ac­tor who spoke no English to one of the film world’s most bank­able stars, writes Michael Bodey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

IT’S KIND OF BEAU­TI­FUL HOW DES­TINY BRINGS SOME PEO­PLE AND PROJECTS TO­GETHER

NOOMI RA­PACE

FOR bet­ter or worse, one character can de­fine an ac­tor. For Noomi Ra­pace, that character was Elis­a­beth Sa­lan­der, the brood­ing, vi­o­lent ti­tle role of the Swedish film adap­ta­tion of The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too. Such was Ra­pace’s chill­ing ef­fi­cacy in the film — aided by her own enig­matic back­story — that it comes as a shock to find the Swedish ac­tress in an ebullient mood: witty, vi­brant.

Then, she has ev­ery rea­son to be vi­brant, hav­ing sub­se­quently pieced to­gether an eclec­tic se­ries of roles that have di­vorced her from the ex­treme goth in the fa­mous Girl tril­ogy cre­ated by Stieg Lars­son. (Only now is she repli­cat­ing the ac­tion of that film in Un­locked, which she is film­ing in Prague. But more of that later.)

This week, she fea­tures in a new re­lease, the US crime drama The Drop (see re­view on page 14), op­po­site Tom Hardy and James Gan­dolfini, in what would be­come his fi­nal per­for­mance.

The Brook­lyn thriller has some heft. It is the first English-lan­guage film by Michael Roskam, the Bel­gian di­rec­tor of Academy Award for­eign lan­guage film nom­i­nee Bull­head, and Den­nis Le­hane adapts his own short story fol­low­ing pre­vi­ous adap­ta­tions of his nov­els Mys­tic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shut­ter Is­land.

Yet an in­di­ca­tion of Ra­pace’s in­creas­ing stature is she was the first per­son at­tached to the project, ahead of the di­rec­tor, Hardy and Gan­dolfini, who died in June last year.

She plays a vul­ner­a­ble woman, Na­dia, once in­volved with a hood ( Bull­head’s Matthias Schoe­naerts), who hooks up with Hardy’s in­tro­verted bar­tender, Bob. The Drop is Hardy’s film, as the star of Bron­son, The Dark Knight and the com­ing Mad Max film brings his cha­ras­matic in­ten­sity to another Le­hane character that shows spine while all those around him slither.

Ra­pace (pro­nounced ruh-PASS) had wanted to work with Hardy for some time. Like her, he ac­cel­er­ated his per­form­ing ca­reer with a sin­gu­larly mem­o­rable per­for­mance, as a Bri­tish jail­bird in Ni­co­las Wind­ing Refn’s Bron­son.

They met at a char­ity ball hosted by El­ton John while Ra­pace was film­ing Ri­d­ley Scott’s Prometheus and only months after both be­ing sought for the same film. They didn’t do the film but the seed had been planted.

“We started talk­ing about that one and we con­nected straight away, kind of like-minded ac­tors drawn to the same kind of projects and ma­te­rial,” she says.

They vowed to send any screen­plays they liked and felt might be suit­able for each other.

Ra­pace re­calls they emailed and texted each other for six months — there was spec­u­la­tion they were dat­ing — un­til she read Le­hane’s screen­play for The Drop and thought “F..k, this could be it!” Roskam thought the same thing; he has since said he cast his “dream team” of ac­tors: Ra­pace, Hardy, Gan­dolfini and his Bull­head star Schoe­naerts. In­deed, even Ra­pace col­lab­o­rat­ing with her di­rec­tor was some kind of kismet. Ra­pace laughs, say­ing: “If I fall in love with some­one who I want to work with …”

She saw Roskam’s Bull­head while on a plane and as soon as she dis­em­barked called her agent and said she was go­ing to work with the di­rec­tor. “I’m go­ing to find him, knock on his door and find a project for us,” she re­calls say­ing.

A year later, the di­rec­tor came to her. “All the boys said re­cently I’m like the spi­der and they were all in my net!” she says, laugh­ing. “It’s kind of beau­ti­ful some­times how des­tiny brings some peo­ple and projects to­gether.”

And the for­tu­itous match­ings flowed to a set that was brighter than the sub­ject mat­ter sug­gested, she adds.

“It was a lucky match and some­times things hap­pen and you kind of are in a group of peo­ple that are shar­ing the dream of what can be. It was a great col­lab­o­ra­tion, very fun and very play­ful even though it’s (a) very dark movie.”

Gan­dolfini’s fi­nal two per­for­mances — in The Drop and Ni­cole Holofcener’s ro­man­tic com­edy Enough Said — have been af­fect­ing. The ac­tor, of course, was branded the mob boss in The So­pra­nos; in Le­hane’s tale, he plays Cousin Marv, a Brook­lyn bar owner on the other side of the mob, on the fringe of the lo­cal crime scene and be­holden to it.

“James was just so much fun, such a nice, hum­ble, quirky man, and he was so nice to every­body and just so re­spect­ful to the team,” Ra­pace re­calls. “And big, one of the big­gest men I’ve seen in my life, but just a very loving man. And, in­ter­est­ingly enough, quite ner­vous.”

She re­calls com­ing to set early one day to watch a long scene with Hardy and Gan­dolfini.

“And it was just magic watch­ing th­ese two men work­ing and I couldn’t leave,” she says, sigh­ing. “I re­mem­ber my per­sonal as­sis­tant say­ing, ‘You have to go into make-up’, but I couldn’t leave. I wanted to see the next take.”

It was “kind of beau­ti­ful” to see some­one of Gan­dolfini’s stature and ex­pe­ri­ence so open to ex­plor­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing, she adds.

Ra­pace has found another sim­i­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor in Hardy. The duo moved straight from

The Drop to work­ing on the Stalin-era spy drama Child 44 with Gary Old­man.

“(Hardy) is one of the kin­d­est peo­ple I’ve met and so hard­work­ing, and 100 per cent com­mit­ted,” she says. “Also I have this thing with Tom where we re­ally trust each other. I know he has my back and I can al­low my­self to try things and take risks that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t do if I felt I needed to prove my­self or de­liver or be good all

the time. With him I can do a bad take and laugh and say: ‘That was re­ally shitty.’ ”

Ra­pace con­cedes it is re­fresh­ing to be in an ego­less per­for­mance space. It is what she, as an ac­tress, is al­ways search­ing for.

“I love to see my co-stars shine and take off and fly and be as good as pos­si­ble, and that makes me so happy,” she says. “It’s never a com­pe­ti­tion. It is pure joy when it feels like you con­nect some­how in a scene and it takes off and no one’s re­ally con­trol­ling it and it feels like you’re fly­ing to­gether.”

She re­calls her first scene with Guy Pearce in Prometheus, wherein he calmed a very ner­vous, bat­tered ac­tor. “I was so blown away with his gen­eros­ity. Once in a while you run into ac­tors like that and it’s in­de­scrib­able.”

The irony of The Drop is that a dirty Brook­lyn story has been made by a Bel­gian di­rec­tor with Bri­tish, Swedish and Bel­gian leads op­po­site the Amer­i­can Gan­dolfini. It high­lights how Ra­pace’s English has come a long way. Her ef­fec­tive use of Brook­lyn pro­fan­ity in The

Drop is proof of that. The ex­pe­ri­ence four years ago pro­mot­ing

The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too glob­ally with­out speak­ing English was “hor­ri­ble”.

“I was so ashamed and em­bar­rassed, and I just re­mem­ber com­ing back say­ing this is not how I want to live,” she says. Ra­pace didn’t learn to read or write un­til she was 14, dropped out of school and left her fam­ily a year later, mov­ing to Stock­holm to study the­atre. Yet she had picked up the Ice­landic lan­guage as a young child while liv­ing there for three years; it was there she caught the act­ing bug as a seven-year-old when she was cast in a movie.

Later, after the hor­ri­ble press tour and while film­ing the Swedish thriller Baby­call ( The Mon­i­tor) in Oslo, she would “make English mine” — adding it to her Dan­ish, Nor­we­gian and Ice­landic — by de­vour­ing English film, TV, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines.

For The Drop, she spent time re­search­ing while hang­ing out at a New York res­cue cen­tre for dogs, “study­ing peo­ple, lis­ten­ing, hang­ing around. That’s the best way with ev­ery­thing al­ways, to try and get my hands dirty and just be like a sponge.”

It has her well placed. Her char­ac­ters have of­ten been emotionally and phys­i­cally wrought, show­ing direc­tors the lim­its to which she is will­ing to push her­self. Now seems the right mo­ment to ex­plore the more dy­namic Ra­pace, and she is do­ing just that in Prague, film­ing Un­locked for Michael Apted op­po­site Michael Dou­glas, Or­lando Bloom and Toni Col­lette. It is her first real ac­tion role since The

Girl with the Dragon Tat­too.

“It’s like a fe­male Bourne,” she says. “Lots of run­ning, lots of ac­tion, lots of bru­tal­ity but also the script is good, it’s quite lay­ered and there’s a com­plex­ity to the char­ac­ters I like. It’s a good one.”

And the spoils of war sud­denly look far brighter fol­low­ing Scar­lett Jo­hans­son’s turn as a solo star in Luc Bes­son’s ac­tion sci-fi hit,

Lucy, ear­lier this year. Ra­pace says that film’s suc­cess has in­creased con­fi­dence in the com­mer­cial fu­ture for fe­male ac­tion stars.

“Lucy changed a lot of things,” she says. “And Luc Bes­son is so amaz­ing cre­at­ing char­ac­ters that are fe­male and strong. La Femme

Nikita is still one of my favourite films.”

The Drop is screen­ing na­tion­ally.

Noomi Ra­pace, left;

Ra­pace with Tom Hardy in The Drop,

be­low left; in The Girl with the Dragon

Tat­too, be­low right

Ra­pace in Prometheus

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