After smashing onto the scene as anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace has the world at her feet. But, as she explains, her ambitions reach much further than Hollywood…
She may have been on screen for half her life, but Noomi Rapace will doubtless look back on 2010 as her year. The Swedish-born actress at the heart of the hit film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium novels has become world cinema’s brightest new star, or to put it another way, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has become The Girl Who Took on Hollywood. Like Marion Cotillard before her, who went from an Oscar win for La Vie En Rose to starring in Public Enemies and Inception, the 30-year-old Rapace is being sized up for a Hollywood career.
When we meet, it’s just a month after she spent the summer in the US, taking meetings with the likes of Ridley Scott, McG and James McTeigue. “I met some wonderful people that I really respect and would love to work with,” she admits. It’s a heady time, not least with Rapace discussing a role alongside Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 4, as well as McTeigue’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, The Raven, and McG’s spy comedy, This Means War. What’s more, the US distributor of the Millennium films is already talking up a possible Oscar nod for Rapace for her role as heroine hacker Lisbeth Salander.
Yet the actress is understandably cautious about the groundswell of hype around her. “I’m getting more and more famous,” she sighs, “and I don’t really see any value in that, if you’re only famous for being who you are. I think that’s really dangerous. That can really destroy everything about your work. If I get too famous, then people will see this famous person on the screen. They won’t see my character. You have to find a balance between how much [publicity] you should do and not. I think it’s extremely important to keep some kind of secret to yourself and not let everybody move in!”
Admittedly, dressing like a movie star probably doesn’t help when it comes to preserving your anonymity. It’s 11.45am when we meet, and Rapace looks ready for the red carpet. Wearing platform heels and a charcoal-black evening dress, with a thigh-flashing split, her long brown hair is elaborately pinned up at the back of her head. She couldn’t look more different from the pierced and tattooed tomboy Lisbeth, who prefers hooded tops to haute couture. But then, after 18 months of inhabiting her skin, Rapace is probably relieved to escape.
Noting that she felt “more and more lonely” as time went by during the Millennium shoot, when it came to filming The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the final part of the trilogy, she could no longer cope. “I was almost drowning in loneliness,” she recalls. “I felt so isolated. So I wanted to connect with somebody. I wanted to be able to talk to someone. But I couldn’t. It was very strange.” As far as she was concerned, she was beginning to take on Lisbeth’s characteristics. “She’s not able to [communicate]. She can’t. She doesn’t have any language and she’s never learnt to share anything with anybody.”
It didn’t help that in this conclusion to the trilogy Lisbeth is on trial for murder, with her very sanity being questioned—a plot point that only served to increase Rapace’s feelings of isolation. “I was in some kind of bubble. I felt like I was going to drown. Like ‘I have to get out soon!’ I’m never sick, but when I was done I started to throw up. The producers came with a big bottle of champagne and everybody was celebrating, that it was the last day and the last scene. And I just ran to the toilet, and I was throwing up. I was just laying on the floor for one hour.”
Open and outgoing, Rapace is little like the antisocial loner Lisbeth in the flesh. Yet, with a Swedish mother and Spanish father, she can relate to Lisbeth’s feelings of being alone. “I always felt like an outsider somehow. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just about energy, but I always felt that my energy doesn’t really fit in, with the Swedish mentality. In Sweden, everything is a bit lukewarm. Nobody wants to argue. Nobody wants to be too happy or too sad or too emotional. Everybody is trying to find a balance so they can be neutral.”
Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing lukewarm about Rapace. A rebel in her teens, like Lisbeth, she once sported piercings and admits she “just wanted to get drunk every day”. Yet through all this, acting was her saviour. She first appeared on screen when she was seven-years-old, a non-speaking part in an Icelandic Viking movie. “It was like a new universe that opened in front of me. I think I decided at that point ‘I want to be an actress.’ But that was serious for me. I didn’t want to perform at home. I wanted to work.” By the time she was 15, she left home, enrolled in a Stockholm theatre school and began to support herself with acting gigs.
Given her gutsy attitude, she’s been particularly vocal on the topic of reprising Lisbeth for the Hollywood remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is due to start shooting this autumn in Sweden with Fight Club’s David Fincher at the helm. “I have been very clear that I don’t want to do it again,” she states. “I’m done. I’m finished. I can’t see any reason of doing it again. It would be cynical. Like why—why do it in the American way? To come in and be her again… I can’t see any reason. So I said it from the beginning. I’m done. I did everything I could. I want to move on.”
This Rapace has done, having ignored all those other offers to sign on to play a French gypsy in the forthcoming sequel to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps it’s apt that her first US film will be shot in the UK, much closer to home than if she were actually filming on a studio backlot. “I don’t have this dream about Hollywood,” she says. “It’s not like I want to be a big Hollywood star. I don’t care if it’s a small independent film from the UK, or a Japanese film with no money! I don’t really care, as long as it hits you. I think you always have to find something that you can’t let go.” Whether she’ll ever again find a role as gripping as Lisbeth Salander, however, is another matter. •