Noomi Rapace Talks Breaking Her Nose on the Set of ‘Black Crab,’ How the Film Shows the ‘Human Side’ of War
When it comes to acting roles, few compare to Noomi Rapace’s history of switching things up. Rapace is fluent in five languages, and the last two years have seen her acting in Icelandic (“Lamb”), Norwegian (“The Trip”), English (“The Secrets We Keep”), and even without any speaking at all, as her shape-shifting witch character does in the recent release “You Won’t Be Alone.”
Now, Rapace is celebrating a homecoming with Adam Berg’s “Black Crab,” releasing on Netflix this Friday. The film marks her return to Swedish cinema, more than 10 years after her groundbreaking success as Lisbeth in the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy.
“Black Crab” takes place in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, where resources are scarce and an unexplained war seems to only get more unbearable. Rapace plays the impenetrable Caroline Edh, whose young daughter is stolen from her by insurgent forces at the start of the conflict.
Seven years later, she’s still searching for her. Edh and a ragtag group of civilian soldiers are sent on a mission to deliver a mysterious package, which they’re told will end the war once and for all. But the journey is treacherous, and involves ice skating across a frozen sea, through enemy territory, in the dark and unseen. Not everyone will survive, but Edh is told her daughter is waiting for her on the other side, and she will do whatever it takes to complete the mission.
Rapace, too, did whatever it took to accomplish the “brutal” challenge, including learning how to ice skate, nursing a broken nose and enduring extreme weather conditions as they shot on a real lake near Kiruna, in the north of Sweden. In an interview with Variety, Rapace discussed returning to her roots, what the film means to her in the context of current global conflict and why she’d love to shoot her next film on a beach.
Before I talk to you about any of the characters, I really want to ask you about what the training was like for ice skating.
First of all, I’ve never really ice skated before. I said yes like six years ago, when [director] Adam Berg came to me. I was shooting a movie in Prague and he came with the book and he was like, “Do you want to come aboard and develop this character with me?” She was a man in the book, and we changed it into a woman. And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” We started working on the script, and the closer we came to starting prep, I was like, “I need to learn to ice skate … Like … really well.” I’ve never been on ice and I hate the cold.
The training period was quite difficult. Learning to be comfortable on the skates and then adding on all the equipment and learning how to shoot, then to fall and to stand up. And that is all on a smooth ice rink. Then we got up to the real ice — we shot it up in Kiruna, up in the north of Sweden — and it’s all wobbly. The ice is not smooth and nice the way we’d been training. Then you’re hit with other difficulties like, you know, finding your flow. It was way harder than I imagined. And just the winds and the cold — after like an hour on the ice, you can’t feel your feet. So I just felt like I wanted to do a film on a beach. Like, who came up with this terrible idea?
Were you regretting it after you had started?
Oh my God, I was so grumpy. I was like, “Can someone just save me from this misery? I don’t want to be a soldier on ice!”
How did you handle the safety, too? Was there a concern that something would happen to an actor, like what happened to the characters in the film? Were you sure that it was thick enough and everything?
Oh yeah, they had a whole team checking the ice, you know, obviously. But there was an accident. On the ninth day of shooting, I got the camera in my face and I broke my nose in two places. It was a total disaster, and it was during COVID. They drove me to the hospital and I was not allowed in with my team. So they rolled me in on the wheelchair and there was blood everywhere. I was still in the wig and the character’s clothes. It was chaos, and they stitched me up and when I came out, it was so surreal.
We had to pause the production for three weeks. I looked like an Avatar, my nose was so wide. I was blue and black, and it was very intense. And it was this weird moment when I found myself in the bed and I had to just be there and heal because I had a concussion as well. And then I was caught between two worlds because I was not Noomi, I was Caroline, and all my dreams were about finding my daughter and I was screaming my daughter’s name in my sleep. Then I had to use all that desperation and anger. It made me feel so small and it was so painful. So when I came back out on the ice, I had this massive emotional and psychological wall to climb over and overcome my fears. The work with the character became even more intense and even deeper. When I came to the end of the film, I really felt like I lived through probably one of the hardest times in my life.
What drew you to the character in the first place and what made you want to play her?
I was interested in asking myself, who are you when nothing that you normally would rely on exists? When everything has fallen, when there’s no electricity, there is no news, you can’t charge your phone, you can’t reach anyone. It’s just you and you only have yourself. Who are you? And I found that question in the end was just so important, and it was something I wanted to investigate. And then the motherhood in the center of all that, I just felt like it was a beautiful combination of the complications of a society that has fallen and a human in the midst of that and to make her really real and not to try to be tough. She’s not a professional soldier. She’s just a human. And then, how far will you get with your willpower and really find the nuances and the vulnerability in it?
Throughout the film, there are a few things that we see that are not fully explained, like Caroline has these flashbacks that seem to aid her in her survival skills and the conflict, which they never really explain. How did you interpret all of those things that are happening in the world of the character?
I worked closely with [director] Adam Berg in building a backstory. When she is separated from her daughter, she’s trying to escape the city where the war has broken out. They’re hit by rebels and she gets knocked out. That’s the last time she sees her daughter, and she’s basically been trying to find her daughter for the last seven years. Do you remember the [Bosnian War], where it was kind of neighbor against neighbor? It felt like it was that kind of situation, where you don’t even know who the enemy is anymore. It doesn’t really matter because it’s just an ongoing, relentless war. And you don’t know. I’m a white woman. I’m so privileged. I’m so safe, you know, I have everything. You can watch the news and you feel things, but you have no idea. I tried to listen to real stories and did a lot of research, watching documentaries, listening to female soldiers and real stories and then using that in our backstory.
I know that this was obviously filmed a while ago, but I couldn’t help but think of the war in Ukraine right now. And obviously there were a lot of aspects of this that also tied to the pandemic. How did you interpret the film for what it means to people currently alive today and the things happening around the world?
It’s scary and a really weird coincidence that [the film is] coming out now on the 18th of March, and a couple of weeks ago, war breaks out in our neighboring country. It just feels surreal. It’s heartbreaking. I’m trying to send money, I have friends that are living in neighboring countries that are doing everything they can. It just feels like it’s unreal. And then I think why I was drawn to “Black Crab” is that it’s not glorifying war. There’s no winners and losers, and that’s what I liked. We tried to show the human side of it.
I’ve been reading a lot about the war now. And, you know, Russian young boys are thrown into the war and forced to fight. It doesn’t matter what side you are on when you have leaders that are breaking all the human rules. It breaks my heart. I don’t think that in movies we can ever say that we know. We’re pretending and I’m trying to put myself in an emotional and psychological state of trying to understand a character that’s put in in some extreme circumstances. But I have no idea what it’s like to be in a war zone. I feel like our movie shows the inside of people trying to survive in a war situation, and we did our best to bring our honesty to it.
I know this is a return to Swedish film for you. How long has it been?
I believe it’s been maybe 10 years.
What was that like?
Oh, I’ve been wanting to come back and work in Scandinavia for quite some time. I shot “Lamb” in Iceland, and I got to get back to my Icelandic roots, and then I got to do “Black Crab” with some of the finest and most amazing Scandinavian actors. It was beautiful to be reunited with the best of Scandinavia, and we had so much fun. And it really felt like a perfect combination of like the big scale of this movie and that it is a kind of poetic war drama on the ice. It just ticked a lot of boxes for what I was looking for. I shot “The Trip” in Norway, “Lamb” and “Black Crab” so all of a sudden I found myself surrounded by Scandinavians and Icelandic people. And it just felt like coming home, you know? Being surrounded with voices and sounds that are very familiar to me. At the same time, Adam has been working in L.A. most of his career, so it still felt very much like an international film in that sense, even though the voices were more Scandinavian.
This, in some ways, feels like a return to form. In some of your past interviews, you had said that you didn’t want to play a “badass” anymore after the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. This character, to some, could appear very badass. So what was that dynamic like and did it feel like a return to the “Girl” series, especially being in Sweden?
Well, I think that was why it was really important for me to build a strong relationship with the daughter [through] the flashbacks and show a different side of Caroline. Also, when we created her look, I wanted her to have this kind of curly ginger hair because I was like, “I don’t want to have short dark hair, I want to have a softness to her.” And then the girl we cast as my daughter, we just had a divine chemistry and we had so much fun. She was written as way younger and I wanted to cast a slightly older person so we could bounce off each other more. We could improvise and really kind of go into the relationship, [whereas] if you work with a five- or six-year-old, you have to kind of trick them a bit more. And [Caroline] became tough because she had to. She’s not a tough person. But yeah, I try to not repeat myself and I think me not loving the word “badass” so much is because it feels like an easy shortcut to describe it. Like, I got so many characters pitched to me that were like, “Oh my god, she’s so badass. She’s just like you.” And I’m like, “No way.”
Did you have a stunt double? Were you doing a lot of that stuff on your own?
I did have a stunt double and especially after my injury, she had to do it because I just didn’t have balance. It was just difficult for me to do what I normally would do. I did a lot myself, but she had to do certain things.
What did the metaphor of the black crab and the ice mean to you? What did that communicate to you in the story?
We see this image with all the frozen bodies under the ice, and it’s like something under the ice and the fear. The ice is your worst enemy if it breaks, but it can also be the bridge. It can be the ticket out of this situation. So it’s way more than just the ice. And it’s everything, you know, it’s nature. When I did “Lamb,” it was like man against nature. Me up on a mountain with all the animals and here, [it’s] against nature again in a different setting. You just hope that nature will be on your side and carry you and not swallow you. How far can you go, and if you keep on trying to live in sync with nature and with your surroundings, maybe you can overcome and get further somehow.
Those bodies you mentioned under the ice. Was that done in CGI, or did they use special effects?
Yeah, it was [special effects]. It was so creepy. We had an amazing team and they just put the dummies, the prosthetic arms and feet on the ice, and then they poured water over and then it froze overnight. So when we came the next morning, it was very emotional and very disturbing.
It was one of the most striking images I think I’ve ever seen in a film. I can’t imagine what it was like.
Also because Caroline is looking for her daughter, so obviously when she starts to see all these children and small hands and stuff, you know, she just loses herself. It’s almost like time stands still. The mission is kind of just paused in her. And that kind of happened to me. I was skating around and had to navigate to not like, hit a body part. It was brutal to shoot that scene.
And just because I don’t want to end on that note, it’s just so hard…
Yes, let’s end on something else.
If you could pick any beach to film your next movie on, what beach would you pick?
Ooooh. I do love Malibu, to be honest. One of my good friends has a house there and I always go there in my dreams when I have to create a beautiful image for me to relax. It’s like, I’m on the beach, her house is behind me, I can feel the waves hit my toes. I’m a little bit afraid of waves and I’m a little bit afraid of water. I want to stay on the beach. I’m not going to go in!
This interview has been edited and condensed.