Noomi Rapace: "It’s time for an equal film industry"
The Bright actress talks about gender pay gap, sexual violence and the black-dress protest
Actor Noomi Rapace is no stranger to kicking ass. The Swedish actress is known for her breakout performance as Lisbeth Salander in the original film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as well as the subsequent films adapted from the Stieg Larsson trilogy. She has mastered complex characters with films like the Norwegian thriller, Babycall and more recently Netflix’s What Happened To Monday, where she played seven identical sisters. This month, she portrays a powerhouse villain elf (Leilah), in Netflix’s Bright, which stars Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, and is a film set in a fantastical world inhabited by orcs, fairies and humans. The actress talks to Vogue about why women, not just in Hollywood, need to raise their voice. Excerpts from the interview:
How is Mumbai treating you so far?
It’s been nice, we arrived this morning and we fly to Tokyo at night, so I’ve just been in my hotel room. But I’d love to come back and shoot a movie here—the city is very cinematic and comes with extreme contrasts. I recently watched an Indian movie, Dangal – which is really good. The actors are amazing, their body language is so interesting. It was also really important for me as a woman because the film is about this father who is waiting for a son and he gets disappointed every time. Then he decides to embrace the fact that he has daughters and help them become wrestlers and live his dream through them. It was completely different from what we see in Sweden (where I’m from) or London (where I now live). To see countries where they only want boys—it’s like a strange thing for the girls there because they are growing up in a society where boys are more valuable.
What part of the movie did you identify with the most?
Was it the action bits when they train to be wrestlers? Yes, I started doing martial arts when I was 11. That was my way of dealing with becoming a woman, and of being in my body. It was also a way of expressing my rage as a teenager. I was really rebellious and to get that out of your system through sport, or fight training was great. It’s such a stupid thing to think that women don’t have the same aggression—we just deal with it differently, so that kind of brought me back because while growing up I looked very boyish, had short hair and always hung with the boys, so I could really relate to the two sisters.
You’ve consistently played the role of a woman who can kick ass and most of your roles are complex to say the least. How different was it to play an anti-hero in Bright?
I’m not the anti-hero, I am the hero! (laughs). Strangely enough, I fell in love with Leilah while shooting Bright. There’s a lot to her that doesn’t really come out [in the film], but you can see that she’s deeply religious and wants to bring back this old order to the world. She worships the Dark Lord but she also wants to be with her sister, who breaks free. So she’s caught between her religion and the love for her sister which is super painful. She’s a creature [elf] so I had to work in a different way with all the fight scenes. To just fight in a tight suit and high heels is hard, but to be an elf, you need to be flawless, and no mistakes.
Leilah doesn’t have too many dialogues—was all your prepping focused on the action scenes?
I did a lot of fight training and gun training. I had to fight with two knifes so that needed rehearsing. Sometimes I’d just sleep with the knife with me, just playing and just to get used to them. I also had to learn Elvish, and I remember running on Venice beach in the morning, going through my Elvish prayer like a crazy person!
You’ve played a character like Lisbeth Salander who has been a victim of abuse. In this world of Weinsteins and male toxicity, what’s your take on its prevalence in the European film industry?
I think, you can see it in most industries, it’s a structure that if someone sits on too much power, you start using it. You can see it in the fashion industry, in the music industry and even politics. It’s a bit like corruption, only this is emotional corruption and physical corruption. It’s good that it’s starting to change and makes it harder for people to abuse and use their positions. But it’s a very old structure. If you look back, the Hitchcock stories were horrendous but now it’s starting to come out. All the female filmmakers, producers, writers and actresses are questioning why should we live like this? It’s time for an equal film industry.
What are your thoughts on the Black-Dress Protest at the Golden Globes?
Instead of that, I think you should speak up. The voice is very important—if you see something that isn’t right or if you see someone else get mistreated, step in and speak up!
Another topic of debate has been the gender pay gap in the film industry. Have you been at the receiving end of a bad deal?
I think I’ve been very fortunate because in most of my films, I’ve been the central character. This role in Bright is quite unusual for me—to not be the lead but someone chasing the boys. But through my career, I have been avoiding doing the pretty cute sexy girl—it’s not something I want to do. But for my generation and the ones to come, it is slowly changing. We are aware of it [pay gap] but we need to fight for it as well.
On a lighter note, you just modelled for Andersen and are now launching your perfume line – where do you find the time?
I guess I have a lot of energy! I started making my own clothes when I was 16 so I was making bags and clothes then. But I’ve always loved fashion. I’m very excited about my perfume. We launched it in Scandinavia, and will launch it in the UK in May, then the US in October, and then maybe Asia, so I can come back here for that.