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