If you’d seen me 15 years ago, I didn’t think I’d be alive today
She’s one of today’s most in-demand actors, but Noomi Rapace’s journey to Hollywood has been far from plain sailing. The action star tells Gemma Dunn how, despite hardships, she fought hard to make her dream a reality. Since making a name for herself in the Swedish film adaptations of the Millennium series, life has changed tenfold for Noomi Rapace. In eight short years, the actress – who was nominated for a Bafta for her portrayal of anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander – has gone from hardly speaking any English to carving out a career as one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. And it’s a transformation that even she herself finds hard to comprehend.
“I feel very blessed,” whispers Rapace, her CV serving as a go-to guide for gritty action flicks, including Dead Man Down, The Drop and Ridley Scott’s blockbuster hit Prometheus. “You know if you would’ve seen me maybe 15 years ago, I didn’t think I would be alive today. My life has changed a lot, and I’ve changed a lot,” confides the 37-year-old. “Now I’m working with the most amazing, incredible people in my industry,” she adds. “I still get shy, I’m still in awe. I meet people who want to work with me and I can’t really understand how that happened and when it happened … But I’m very humble and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Holed up in a hotel, Swedish-born Rapace – sporting leather trousers, a Victoriana blouse matched with Chanel beads and a punky blonde crop – has only been back in London for 10 days, having just wrapped Stockholm, a thriller based on the capital’s infamous 1973 hostage crisis. As she struggles to put one character aside (“I’m not going back to myself, I need to find a new me because I always change”), she’s ready to talk about another. Or seven, in fact, for her impressive stint in Netflix original film What Happened To Monday? A dystopian thriller set in the not-so-distant future, Rapace stars as a set of septuplets in hiding from the government after overpopulation and famine have forced a heartbreaking one-child policy. It’s a topic she hopes, while drastic, will leave viewers questioning the kind of world we’re living in.
“If we don’t start to be more responsible and more aware of the consequences of our actions, we can end up in a pretty bad situation soon,” she reasons, taken by the premise. “It’s interesting, my son is very aware of the environment. He’s tried to convince me to get an electric car, and he doesn’t want to have beef in our house because of political reasons …,” Rapace says, beaming with pride at the mere mention of her 13-year-old (her only child with ex-husband Ola Rapace). “I think the younger generation are more aware and they are responsible,” she adds. “He’s very aware of stuff and he’s already fighting for a better world.” Does she worry for him growing up in uncertain times? “I try not to,” she says. “We live in a world where so much destruction is happening, it’s hard to take in. My heart is just breaking every day, so I decided a couple of years ago to focus on what I believe in and what I want and what I find beautiful. “I’ve spent too many years of my life being angry and fighting and being upset and being against things,” she declares, head in hands. “I was very fearless but on the edge of just stupidity, and I’m fighting a different war now. Now I try to believe in love and forgiveness.”
Today Rapace’s release comes in the form of her work – the “total freedom” she feels when she’s in character. “It’s 100%. I’m very committed, I’m very loyal to my character. Whatever I need to do, I’ll just do it,” she says. “If I need to transform myself, my body, my thoughts, my look, my weight, whatever! “Sometimes I just need to log out and take a break from this world and everyone around me,” she confesses. “My friends, my family, my love, they know that I’m gone. I’ll be here but I won’t be here, you know.” She explains: “It’s not a threat anymore because I’m better at communicating it, but when I was younger, when I started off, I just got really f***** up in my head and my soul and my thoughts. I changed a lot and then it was quite scary for people around me because they didn’t recognise me and they were like, ‘How far are you gonna go?’ “Now I know that I’ll always find a way to pull myself back.”
It goes without saying, then, Rapace isn’t one for vanity, considering much of her roles drop her right into the middle of the action. “If you look at someone in real life trying to survive, it’s not pretty,” she quips, giggling. “If you look at someone fighting it’s not sexy, it’s not a fashion shoot. “I am devoted to my art, I love fashion, I love beauty, I love beautiful things, but my work is not about perfection and beauty and surface, it goes way deeper, and then it’s my duty to free myself from that, even though when I see the film I’m like, ‘F***, I look like s***.” “It’s not about vanity, it’s not posing, it’s not about delivering some kind of dream,” she pledges. “It’s, for me, heart and soul and it’s my biggest, strongest commitment.” And as the industry’s hottest directors know, no one has more vivacity to succeed than Rapace.
“I’m a producer on a lot of the things I’m doing now, I’m developing things and I’m starting a production company,” she says of moving forward. “It’s very much up to us, to women, to step in there and push for things. (It’s) like, ‘Come on, let’s tell our stories and embrace each other, help each other, support each other.” It’s simple: “Men and women need to be f****** equals,” she relays. “It’s so easy, and we should be paid equally. How, like it’s disturbing, in my industry would a man be paid more than me? Why? There’s no explanation. “I decided I want to go after my dreams and I want to fight for what I believe in and I want to make it happen. I’m not gonna wait,” she says with fervour. ” “I kind of always knew that I gotta do it myself,” Rapace adds. “I can’t rely on anyone else to do it for me. This is my journey and it’s a way of taking control and being a queen in your own queendom.”
What Happened to Monday? premieres on Netflix on Friday, August 18