Noomi Rapace talks starring as seven different people in new Netflix thriller
She made her name in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now Noomi Rapace is living in London and playing septuplets in a dystopian thriller for Netflix
Tom Hardy played both Kray twins in Legend. Pah! Jake Gyllenhaal was doppelgängers in The Double. So what? Even Alec Guinness’s virtuoso turn in Kind Hearts and Coronets looks lazy compared with what Noomi Rapace has just pulled off. In Netflix’s new dystopian sci-fi thriller, What Happened to Monday? the actress plays all seven septuplets, born into an overpopulated future and forced into hiding by the government’s brutally imposed one-child policy. Each sister has a clearly delineated personality and look, and all seven often appear in the same scene.
She had to employ a method. “I showered. I had a different perfume for each one of the sisters. I had playlists with different music and then I just I couldn’t speak to anyone. It was almost like mixing a song. It was just technically, really hard.” The hardest was yet to come, however. After the shoot, it took Rapace over a month to regain her usual calm sense of self: “Oh my days! I think I came back a slightly crazy person.” she says. “I was driving in Ladbroke Grove and all of a sudden, I had no idea where I was going! It was almost like my short-term memory was gone. I had a lot of nightmares that I see, like, hundreds of shoes and I don’t know what shoes to put on, because I don’t know who I am! And them I’m, like, asking people ‘Who am I today? Who am I?’ Like, screaming WHO AM I?!’”
Let me help: Noomi Rapace is the 37-year-old daughter of a Swedish actress and a Spanish flamenco singer who become internationally famous in 2009, when she played — with apologies to Rooney Mara — the definitive riot grrrl cyberhacker, Lisbeth Salander, in the original Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She has since appeared in Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus and alongside Tom Hardy in the 2014 crime thriller, The Drop, but it was in 2011 that Rapace began her Hollywood ascent, with the female lead in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It was her first English-speaking role, but Rapace apparently learned the language en route to set, with the same ease as one might pick up a plug adaptor at an airport.
“I did Prometheus right after, so I was shooting in London for a year, back-to-back and I just fell in love with the city and the people,” she says. It sounds like a typical tourist’s pleasantry but, as soon becomes clear, Rapace’s love for her adopted home town goes deeper. Some years ago she bought a converted blacksmith’s stables in Kensal Rise, which she now shares with her 14-year-old son, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. “Me and my son go to the corner store in pyjamas, looking like shit and nobody gives a shit! So you can do everything here.” Today, Rapace has forgone the hoodie in favour of an all-black ensemble of Chanel logo earrings and over-the-knee boots. After our interview, she’ll replace her movie-star-requisite shades (even though we’re indoors) and request a “red eye” from hotel room service: “That’s a coffee with an extra shot of espresso in it.” Hungover, perhaps?
Rapace is a woman of extremes, who lives like a nun when she’s working (“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t see anyone. It’s almost like I’m logging out”), then parties till dawn once the shoot has wrapped. The naturally dark-haired and dark-humoured Rapace has never come across like a stereotypical Scandi starlet: “My dad was Spanish. I think I’m very European.” Her given surname was the typically Swedish Norén, until, aged 21, she married actor Ola Norell, and together they chose Rapace, meaning “bird of prey”. Though the couple divorced in 2011, she has not been tempted to change her name a second time. Because it would complicate her professional life? “ I don’t care about that actually!” she laughs. “My son said to me, ‘I’m the first-born Rapace in the world’ and I realised, ‘Oh, but that was the purpose!’ It was more him than my marriage. Because he’s the love-child who came out of something really beautiful, and I didn’t want my past and all the stains, and all the broken dreams…”
So while most European women are named for their fathers, Rapace, in her boldly idiosyncratic fashion, is named after her son. “Yeah! And I love that.” Rapace’s unusual level of comfort with change is combined with a genuine flair for reinvention. “That is my only skill, actually,” she says. “I’m really bad at most things, but when I need to change, I’ve always changed.” This skill has kept her immune to the usual actors’ curse of age-related panic and led her on to some rewarding professional decisions. “You know, a movie like What Happened to Monday? could have turned out a disaster and it would be 100 per cent on me. But I’d rather take the risk.” Part of the risk is trusting her work to Netflix’s new cinema-bypassing mode of release. Many are wary of this seismic industry change, but Rapace, ever the trailblazer, isn’t one of them. “I want to protect the cinematic language, but Netflix, Amazon, Hulu; most of them are film-lovers, so I think something good is coming.”
That includes Bright, another Rapace/Netflix collaboration, co-starring Will Smith and set in a fantasy Los Angeles where humans co-exist with elves and orcs. Then there’s her upcoming lead in the Maria Callas biopic and even rumours that she’ll play Amy Winehouse on screen. So despite Rapace’s part in creating What Happened to Monday’s nightmarish vision, she continues to feel good about the future. “I had a conversation with the director, and he was like, I don’t know, is it responsible to have kids with what’s going on with the world? But I kind of have hope for the human race… I’m romantic.”
What Happened to Monday? is on Netflix now.