Noomi Rapace: Songs in the Key of Life
Noomi Rapace is scrolling through her iPhone to show me a gift she’s buying her friend, the French musician Woodkid. “Do you know this artist, Nancy Fouts? She lives in a church. I’m going around there tomorrow. You gotta look her up.” The gift in question—one of Fouts’ surrealist pieces called “Key Ring”—is a key and lock linked with a piece of string (like a key ring) so that they’re together but the lock can never be opened. It’s a thoughtful present, given that Woodkid’s artistic symbol is the crossed keys of Saint Peter.
The Swedish actress shows me another piece—an antique clock with about 10 hands pointing to different numbers. “This is how I live,” she laughs, “I have Noomi time. It doesn’t match anyone else’s.” Yesterday she was in Paris, at the end of a punishing press regimen that had her holed up in hotel rooms, “talking, talking, talking.” But somehow Rapace is full of life today. She arrives wearing a baby pink suit, Coco Chanel brooch and earrings to match, topped by a shock of peach-pink hair. She didn’t have to travel far; our Notting Hill shoot location (the impossibly beautiful flat of a ballet dancer) is 10 minutes from her house. We sit outside in the huge, leafy gardens of the apartment as she sighs, wishing all her interviews were conducted here rather than French hotel suites.
Best known for her lead in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) (she played Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy), Rapace has played Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in the Ridley Scott science fiction film Prometheus (2012) and Nadia in 2014’s The Drop—to name just a few. She seems to favor tough, dangerous and moody characters who can wield a weapon without breaking a sweat. “I like real characters,” she says, explaining what appeals to her in a role, “you know, when they feel complex, have layers. Because in real life there’s no one who’s just sweet and sexy. In films sometimes, a lot of female characters are just functions. They’re there to spice up the movie or add some sexiness, a little bit of smile and sunshine. That doesn’t really interest me.”
She might favor tough, resilient characters on screen, but in person Rapace is all smiles and laughter. Yet as our conversation turns to the recent tragedy of her neighborhood—the fire in Kensington’s Grenfell Tower, which she can see from her house. She dabs at her eyes, which are turning red and watering. “I was driving past the other day. It looked like a tall black skeleton. I just broke down and started crying.”
Rapace has had a fairly nomadic existence, flitting between Sweden, Iceland and L.A. before settling in London. Born in Stockholm to an actress and a Spanish flamenco singer, her approach to Hollywood acting is somewhat unconventional. She’s been involved in the world of theater since the age of 19 (though she made her debut as an extra in a film at age 7) and has always taken a wide-angle approach to the business. “I’ve always been really involved in all areas,” she nods. “You know, like I went to the prop guy and was like, ‘What if we had this on stage? Could you find something?’ It’s not an ego thing, it’s not about me—I want every performance to be amazing. The more I can do to get it there, you know?”
The film she’s just been promoting across the Channel is What Happened To Monday?, a sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian world with an extreme one- child policy. Where normally you’d just play the one character, Rapace plays seven—a set of identical septuplets.
“It was insanely hard,” she gasps, explaining how it took three days to shoot a dinner scene at the start, something that would normally take four hours. “It’s never been done before. …” Using six girls as her doubles, plus markers to guide her movements, the film proved hugely demanding. “For six months I couldn’t go for dinners, I didn’t see any friends. I was up at 4 in the morning, went to the gym, prepped lines—just to learn the lines for several voices in a scene is completely different. I had to respond to myself … It’s a bit cuckoo,” she laughs.
“It was so weird, and I got really quite upset sometimes,” she continues, on the difficulty of being her own co-star. “There was one scene where one sister dies, and we did the death scene. Then, during the day, I was reacting to my own death.”
Developing a ritual, Rapace switched between the siblings by wearing different perfumes and tailoring music playlists to suit each individual personality. “Between characters, I had to be alone and lock myself in my dressing room to wash my makeup off, wash the smell off and reset myself,” she says. “I normally have a lot of energy, but that was extreme. At the end of each day, I was so empty I couldn’t even speak to anyone.” It even caused her a recurring nightmare: “I was having this dream where I see rows and rows of shoes, and I’m like, ‘Fuck, who am I today?’ I start calling people, and no one picks up, and I’m panicking more and more, and end up walking outside barefoot.”
The film, she explains, was actually written for seven brothers rather than a female lead. “Tommy [Wirkola] called me, like, ‘Noomi, I have this project—but I can only imagine you doing it. Read it, and if you like it, we can change it to seven sisters.’ And I loved it, but I was also terrified. I couldn’t even imagine how to approach it, like how do we even shoot it?” She worked directly with Wirkola to change the script and wrote in a twist at the end that added an entirely new layer to the plot.
When Rapace returned to London after shooting What Happened To Monday? she declined roles in nine other films. “I was very … not lost but empty. I felt like I gave everything I had. It was very emotional.” However drained she felt, her work ethic didn’t stop. She stars in the upcoming fantasy genre movie Bright alongside Will Smith, in which she plays a “villain—really evil. I’m playing an elf, so I have big elf ears and elf teeth.
Filming Bright allowed her to explore the dark side of human nature. “It’s weird how when I’m stepping into that side of myself I start to see the world in a different way. My character wants to create a better world, she wants to clean up the dirtiness and ugliness, and she had very brutal methods. When you look at villains, it’s easy to think that they are just cold-hearted revenge machines; they just kill people for fun. But I realized that she’s so passionate, and she’s fighting a fight. She’s on a mission.”
It’s not just the world of acting that Rapace is conquering. She’s just designed a clothing collection for a brand (“It’s very street, very hip-hop.”) She’s also launching a perfume later this year (“I’m doing a lot of stuff for fun,” she says). What I really want to know, however, is about the rumors she’s playing Amy Winehouse in an upcoming biopic. “Maybe … We’ll see. I’m involved in it, and I’m working on it, but all the components need to be right.” She smiles, explaining how, when they asked her to play Winehouse, she initially refused to read the script.
“I have a strong connection to Amy. She was really present, her music, in the most critical moments of my life.” Rapace’s quest for perfection is particularly crucial on this project. “I can’t compromise on that one,” she urges. “The script needs to be amazing. It needs to be 100 percent. She is too important to me; my respect and love for her is just too important. It needs to be really brave and really honest and raw—and from my heart.” Rapace pours herself into all aspects of her career and life, from roles as villains or identical septuplets to perfume and key ring gifts for friends. There is no halfway. All considered, if Rapace eventually does tackle the role of Amy Winehouse, you can bet she’ll do it justice. MM