Who's that Girl
She played the role of a lifetime as seminal literary heroine Lisbeth Salander, but NOOMI RAPACE’s Hollywood invasion has only just begun. She tells HERMIONE EYRE about doing whatever it takes for her craft, no matter how extreme.
It is a pleasure meeting Noomi Rapace partly because, unlike so many actors, she is clearly enjoying her fame. She parties with model Lily Cole at London’s Maddox club (pictures on her phone prove that much dancing occurred); grabs the opportunity to sit front row (Lanvin, Berardi, Givenchy); and stays at celebrity favorite The Groucho Club whenever she’s in London. Even more appealing, though, is Rapace’s consummate passion for the work from which all these perks originate. When we convene at 9:30am, she is wearing a tracksuit and Riccardo Tisci for Nike trainers – she has been powerwalking in a London park for the past 90 minutes. “It clears my head,” she says. “I can go for three hours or more.” Luckily, she has time for such elongated activity, thanks to her nocturnal habits: “I often just can’t sleep. I have too much energy,” she shrugs.
Rapace helps herself to a green juice and I wonder whether this is the source of all that enviable energy. She pours me a glass, and it’s pretty challenging, with no apple to sweeten it. “No, no, no, no. Only cucumber, celery, lemon and mint,” she insists in a voice at once direct and lyrical, a little bit like fellow Icelander Björk (Rapace was born in Sweden but moved to Iceland aged four). For the 34-year-old actress, the green juice has little to do with any health or vanity motive; instead, like everything, it comes back to the latest character she is creating. In this case, a prophet in Brilliance, for which she is currently only permitting herself 600 to 700 calories a day in order to “move like a butterfly, and be super-light in my body. And I also need to get rid of some muscle…” The green juice is a recipe by Lisa Jeans, the dietician recommended to her by Tom Hardy, Rapace’s friend and frequent co-star (The Drop, Child 44) – Jeans helped him bulk up for his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Rapace readily endured one of her six-day fasts. “The third day is worst, you’re hallucinating, but then it becomes easy.” Indeed, there is little she won’t put herself through for a part. “I give my heart and soul to it, that’s how it comes to life,” she says matter-of-factly. “I made that decision when I was 22, 23. I was doing a play and I was in makeup tests and I wanted to look sexy, but then I realized, ‘It’s not the character: it’s your vanity! This is you cheating on the character!’ So I made a deal with myself to never be driven by vanity. I’m vain and I love fashion, but it can never be my goal to look good in a movie. Maybe the character is vain, but my own struggles are something I keep away. That’s why I can bulk up or slim down or pierce myself or shave my head. Whatever it takes.”
Until 2009, Rapace’s fame was confined to her birthplace of Sweden thanks to homegrown TV shows, but then she won the role of Goth-girl avenger Lisbeth Salander (“I couldn’t wear black for a long time after”) in the Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Her visceral, vulnerable portrayal won her global acclaim, legions of fans and sent her career into the stratosphere. Cue BAFTA and Emmy nominations, followed by the Sigourney Weaver-style lead role in Prometheus, the prequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien series. Rapace developed the kind of relationship with the legendary director where she could suggest new scenes for herself to be shot. “I thought, ‘It’s crucial that we see the struggle this woman is going through.’ It’s not an ego thing, I don’t want to stay alive so that I can be in the sequel. It’s about doing justice to the character.” Does she feel she can bring a little equality to Hollywood by picking strong female characters? “I’m not drawn to strong characters, I’m drawn to complicated personalities, where you feel there’s a lot to discover. Sometimes it’s not even in the script, but I start to build it…” Rapace is particular, of course, about who directs her. “Right now, going from Michaël Roskam on heist film The Drop to Daniel Espinosa on Child 44 – I must be the happiest girl alive,” she smiles.
Whenever she prepares for a new part, she commissions a perfume suitable for the character. Recently, filming Child 44, Tom Hardy noticed when she was mistakenly wearing the wrong perfume, the scent of her role in their previous film together, The Drop. “He’s sensitive,” Rapace says of her co-star. Depending on the part, she also practices capoeira, ballet, kickboxing or parkour. “My body answers super-quick. My son [Lev, 11] is the same, my father too. He was very strong.” Growing up, Rapace didn’t know her father, a Spanish flamenco singer. She met him for the first time in 2005, only to lose him soon after to cancer. “I met him five or six times in my life. But I could see that his body was quite similar to mine, and his hands were identical.” Her childhood was spent with her actress mother and half-sisters in Iceland, where her mother ran drama classes for people with Down’s syndrome. They lived a “simple but alternative” life. “I used to make my own clothes because I couldn’t afford anything I wanted,” says Rapace. “My mother bought me an old sewing machine and I would stitch all night.”
Before they married and had Lev, Noomi Norén (her birth name) and her then husband, actor Pär Ola Norell, decided to change their surnames to ‘Rapace’, meaning ‘bird of prey’ in French. “We were in Paris when we had the idea. We wanted to start a new breed, a new clan,” she explains. “I’ve always been kind of obsessed with birds, eagles and hawks. When I was seven, I was playing among the rocks in Iceland and I felt this huge presence… I turned around and this big animal was there, almost my size, looking at me with golden eyes. Time stood still and we just looked at one another. I thought: ‘This is God.’” Was he about to eat you? “Ha! Probably,” Rapace chuckles. “But I took it as a moment of the divine. When I met my husband, he shared the same feeling for birds. They are loyal, they fight for their kids, they’re monogamous, they stay together all their lives…” A small note of irony in Rapace’s voice acknowledges she and Norell didn’t manage this, parting after ten years of marriage. Today, she praises him as an actor, while talking about their fluid plans for sharing their son over the summer. “As an actress you have to travel constantly; it’s a nomadic life. We’re both parents working like crazy and we’re always on the move. I’ve been saying no to a lot of stuff, to have time off to be with Lev.” She’s lucky, she says, because her son “likes traveling, he’s very sociable. He said the other day: ‘I’ve been in the same country for almost a month, I need to come with you now.’” He sounds like his mother. “I have a restless soul,” avers Rapace. “I want the whole world to be mine. I love discovering new places, but I can’t just travel, I need to have a goal, a mission. I need to be going into a new character, finding out about her. I like to cross borders, emotionally and physically.”
Rapace disappears to change out of her running kit, emerging in an orange-red Prada coat and huge dark sunglasses. We get into her car, where she produces a stash of delicate gold Maria Nilsdotter rings from her Hermès handbag. Before she leaves, I have to ask: does the tabloid speculation about her friendship with Hardy bother her? As is the way when actors are close both on- and off-screen, gossip tends to follow. On slips a little gold ring in the shape of a raven with black diamond eyes. “Tommy? I love working with him. He’s one of the best actors in the world. We both trust each other. We work well together and we have each other’s backs. It’s kind of old school, like it was with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.” On goes a gold ring with a gemstone in the shape of a bullet. In what sense? “In the old-school way that female and male leads used to be paired more…” On goes a golden claw. “Except we’re more stable and we’re friends.” On goes a little baby lion head ring. “Look, this one’s a lion because my son Lev is a Leo!”
Subject neatly avoided and with rings on her fingers and sunglasses on her nose, Noomi Rapace gives me a kiss and a wave, the girl who is conquering Hollywood – and having a great time doing it.
The Drop is out now (US)