Noomi Rapace: an interview with the woman behind the 'Girl' film franchise
Noomi Rapace is hurtling through the pop-culture equivalent of a wormhole, warping her way from someone you’ve never heard of into someone you never stop hearing about.
As you may have guessed from her name, she’s not from around here. Rapace is an actress from a country best known for producing safe cars and sleek furniture. “Swedish actress” isn’t exactly an express ticket to the stars in Hollywood, but Rapace is riding a rocket thanks to her film-screen incarnation of one of the most powerful and popular characters in contemporary fiction. Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptation of author Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium Trilogy; more than 20 million copies have sold in more than 40 countries. Rapace’s character is the girl featured in each of the titles, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and the just-released The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
As described in Larsson’s books and as personified by Rapace, Salander is a petite punk-anarchist who also happens to be a superhacker. Molded by a murky past of nightmarish abuse and mistreatment, Rapace’s Salander is a postmodern version of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name: She barely speaks, and only the slightest expressions betray whatever she may be thinking or feeling. Rapace’s performance is like watching a magic trick. She somehow communicates a character that doesn’t, in fact, communicate. You see it and you have no idea how she did it. “It was quite frustrating at first, before I found her,” Rapace says during a recent phone conversation. “Stieg Larsson could spend 10 pages describing how she was feeling, what she was thinking, but she doesn’t show anything.
“I just finally decided, ‘don’t think about it, just be in the situation, what’s actually happening.’ And trust that people are going to be able to see what’s going on with my character in my eyes, in my body and in my energy.” There were times when that kind of leap-of-faith performance had those around her worried. Not Rapace. “The director would say, ‘Give me something, please,’ ” she says. “And I would try to come up with something, but it was always, ‘Sorry, she wouldn’t do that.’ ”
The power of that three-film performance – as the Girl Who Won’t Do Anything but Still Somehow Does What She Needs to Do – has made her the current titleholder of Next Big Thing in Hollywood. She’s filming Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes sequel with Robert Downey Jr. It seems as though she’s being talked about as the go-to starlet for every action franchise film on the horizon, from the next Mission Impossible to Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel. For an actress who “doesn’t see the value in being a big celebrity” because it makes it harder for audiences to see the character instead of the star, being thrown into Hollywood’s rich-and-famous supercollider (what she calls “the celebrity circus”) could be a disorienting experience.
“I’ve had a lot of meetings now with big studio bosses,” she says. “And there are people saying things like, ‘Oh, you should do a romantic comedy now so that people can see that you can be soft and funny.’ I don’t worry about that. “As long as I listen to what’s in my heart, I will stay on the right track. I want to work with great people and find work that has something pure in it, something I can fall in love with. Then I will be OK.”
There’s a moment of Salander-like silence and then she shares just a flicker of what’s going on inside. “But then, you should probably talk to me in a couple of years and see what I say then.”