Noomi Rapace’s first trip to NYC didn’t go as planned
Noomi Rapace’s first trip to New York City was not the stuff of tourism campaigns.
The Scandinavian actress visited nearly two decades ago when she was just 21. She was traveling with her now-ex-husband, Ola Rapace, and his now-defunct band, Sissy Prozac. Due to a mix-up, Ola’s credit card was suddenly frozen, leaving them without funds. To make matters worse, the couple returned to their hotel at 4 a.m., after a long night out (bailing on a taxi they suddenly couldn’t pay for), to discover the hotel’s front door was inexplicably locked. They were forced to wander the streets for hours, waiting for the doors to reopen. “That taught me a lesson: That was how it felt to not be trusted,” Rapace says, while sitting in a Manhattan photo studio overlooking the Hudson River. “I felt how it was to be poor in the city. I realized I never wanted to come back here without money, because everyone was so hostile.”
These days, the Big Apple’s doors are wide open to the 39-year-old international film star, who now travels with so much stuff that her assistant must follow an exacting system to unpack it. “You’d laugh if you saw my hotel room,” she says. “My dad was half-Gypsy. I think I might have that in me.” Much of the gear is clothing. “I love the power of dressing,” she says. “You can change your own mood and have a huge impact on others depending on what colors you wear. If I come into a room with high heels, my power is slightly different compared to if I come in boots.” As a young teen, she dressed similarly to her most famous character, the androgynous, black-clad hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
“I didn’t want to wear colors or be feminine,” she recalls. “At one point I thought, ‘This makes me really sad.’ I started changing things up a bit.” These days, Rapace has a quirky, colorful style that’s a bit more playful than that of the average Hollywood star. She’s especially fond of hats. She travels with a vintage Louis Vuitton box full of baseball caps, Stetsons, beanies and other head coverings. She never checks it when she flies for fear it will be lost. “I think hats make me feel protected and stronger,” the actor says. “Also, my energy is so free-flowing, a hat is almost like a roof. ‘This is where you stop, Noomi.’ ”
True enough. In person, Rapace is far sunnier and more impish than her on-screen personas would suggest. She broke through in her native Sweden, often playing intense, dark parts, including headlining 2007’s “Daisy Diamond,” about a wannabe actress who murders her own baby and falls into prostitution. But it was the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” film trilogy, based on the best-selling books by Stieg Larsson, that first brought her to America’s attention in 2009. She was praised for a head-turning performance that allowed “an under-the-radar actor [to] bloom into a critical-mass phenomenon,” as Time Out New York wrote. (Her role was later portrayed by Rooney Mara in the American version of the films.) Hollywood soon came calling. Rapace landed a supporting role in 2011’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” opposite Robert Downey Jr., and the lead in “Prometheus,” the 2012 “Alien” prequel directed by Ridley Scott.
Her latest is “Close,” currently streaming on Netflix. Rapace plays Sam, a no-nonsense bodyguard-for-hire who’s been hardened in war zones. She’s tasked to protect a spoiled oil heiress (Sophie Nélisse) and ends up on the run through Morocco, evading enemies. Rapace trained for a few weeks with real bodyguards and says the experience changed her. “I walk different,” she says. While recently strolling the streets of London (where she lives) with her sister, Rapace saw two men walking toward them. She automatically put her body between the men and her sister. “It’s a lot of physical knowledge and information that has stayed in my body,” she says. A few weeks ago, she was hoofing it home from Brooklyn Heights at 6 a.m. to where she’s staying on the Bowery. As she began to cross the mostly empty Manhattan Bridge in the darkness, she started thinking about what would happen if someone suddenly attacked her.
“I picked up a piece of glass,” she says. “I took my earphones off. I woke up all my senses.” That reaction isn’t surprising for an actress who handles many of her own stunts — including a memorable scene in “Close” where she fights off a violent attacker with her hands cuffed behind her. “When we started working on it, I was like, ‘I’m gonna break my nose. How can you fight back if your hands are tied?’” she recalls. “The stunt coordinator said I was limiting myself by thinking I can’t fight. I realized that you need to empower the mind. ‘What would you do if your hands were cuffed? What would be your second choice if you couldn’t use your hands?’ ” It’s scenes like this and others, including a wince-inducing twist in “Prometheus,” in which she gives herself a Caesarean to remove an alien hatching inside her, that have given Rapace a reputation as an action star.
“I’m not specifically looking for characters that are fighting,” she says. “It’s not that. I’m not drawn to the action genre. I’ve always been fighting in my life. Everything I’ve reached and achieved has come with a fight. Physical fight is just an extension of what I’ve always been feeling and living in a way.” She barely knew her father growing up and was raised by her mother and stepfather. When she was 5, they moved to a small Icelandic town populated largely by people with Down syndrome. Rapace says she felt like an outsider growing up — and still does. She left home at 15 to pursue acting in Stockholm, and landed parts in forgettable TV series. Still, she threw herself completely into each role, sometimes making herself physically sick from immersing herself so thoroughly in a character. “Everyone has their own method and I’ve always been this way in whatever I do, 110 percent,” she says. “I have no middle or gray zones. I’m married to [acting] and I love it and I’m ready to do pretty much anything.”
Her intense method is certainly paying dividends. She’ll be seen in the upcoming second season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” playing a German intelligence officer who partners with the CIA’s Ryan (John Krasinski) in South America. Krasinski has described her character as a villain, but Rapace is coy. “She’s on the edge of light and dark, and she’s not sure herself what side she’s playing,” she says. “She’s more layered than what you might see in that genre.” When she’s not working, Rapace spends time with Lev, her 15-year-old son with Ola. The couple divorced in 2011, but she is mum on her current romantic life.
“I’m not remarried, but I have a lot of beautiful people around me,” she says, laughing.
Here’s hoping they all have working credit cards.