Sunday Express (2012)
Nordic but Nice
May 13, 2012 | Written by Simon Button
She came to fame as the girl with the dragon tattoo, but Noomi Rapace has no intention of doing an Angelina Jolie and having her skin inked for real.

"How does she do that?" the Swedish actress muses. "I mean, if sheís playing somebody from the Second World War, do they cover them all up? I canít tattoo myself Ė I must be a chameleon. I have to change the way I look for different characters." Sheís not kidding. When we meet, the 32 year old is almost unrecognisable from the role that made her name Ė stick-thin, hard-faced hacker Lisbeth Salander. Noomi (who never even considered starring in the recent Hollywood remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, saying, "Iíve already played her and I want to do other things") is back to a healthy weight, with curves in all the right places. And sheís looking rather more photogenic with the long dark locks that define her recent role, as gypsy fortune teller Madame Simza in Sherlock Holmes: A Games of Shadows.

If sheís playing somebody from the Second World War, do they cover them all up? I canít tattoo myself Ė I must be a chameleon. I have to change the way I look for different characters. "I was really nervous before," says Noomi, who had little time to research the role. Apparently, a brief meeting with Robert Downey Jr and his producer wife Susan sealed the deal just six weeks before filming. "It was a good, quick meeting in LA," recalls Noomi. "I walked out of it, called my manager and I was like, ĎWow, those two are amazing. I would love to work with them.í"

Given the current craze for all things Scandinavian (Danish drama The Bridge has had rave reviews, and even the Duchess of Cornwall is a fan of The Killing, with a Sarah Lund sweater to prove it), Rapace is on a roll right now. After Guy Ritchie snapped her up for the second Holmes and Watson adventure, Brian De Palma signed the star for a new drama called Passion and she recently wrapped Ridley Scottís sci-fi thriller Prometheus opposite man of the moment Michael Fassbender. "I just came back from space and it feels really weird to return to Earth again," Noomi smiles, but then her life has been a bit of a blur since the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Having worked steadily in Swedish productions until her 2009 breakthrough, Noomi admits that the switch to Hollywood has been a little hectic. "It was super intense and so much fun," she says of her Sherlock Holmes experience.

"But Iíve done a lot of preparation for most of the movies Iíve worked on before. Iíve known about them long before filming started Ė Iíve prepped and Iíve changed my body and done research." She certainly went that extra mile to play crime-fighting hacker Lisbeth Salander. For one thing, she was prepared to get proper piercings. "Those were real," she confirms of the rings through her nose and ears. "They said I could have fake ones, but I didnít want to. I wanted to feel those piercings." She also embarked on a hard-core physical programme for the role.

"I did a lot of training for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Ė a lot of martial arts, kick boxing and Thai boxing Ė and it was pretty hard," she admits. "But Lisbethís athletic, so I wanted to be more like a boy in my appearance." Luckily, Noomi loves a good fight, at least when sheís acting. "I always enjoy that," she smiles. "And I try to do as much of the stunt work as they will allow me to do. You just have to sort of crack on and do it. Of course, youíre bruised and your body is aching and you hurt yourself sometimes, but thatís part of it." Not surprisingly, Madame Simza was a far more sedentary role. "Itís a period piece and you donít want to look like youíve just stepped out of the gym," says Noomi. But the actress wasnít content to rest on her laurels, and got to work researching how gypsies lived back in the 1890s.

This was of particular interest to Rapace, who believes she has Romany blood from her fatherís side (the daughter of a Swedish actress and a Spanish flamenco dancer, Noomi left home at 15 and enrolled at theatre school in Stockholm). "When everyone else went wild, I was sober," explains Noomi, whose parents split when she was young. "I was acting in a soap opera when I was 16, so I suddenly grew up." The soap meant she could be self-sufficient, which Ė after a ten-year marriage to actor Ola Rapace that ended last year Ė she still is: "I think of myself as a survivor and Iím pretty stubborn." No wonder Noomi was drawn to Sigourney Weaverís tough-cookie Ripley in Alien.

"It was the first time I saw a woman doing things that men had always done before," she says of the sci-fi action heroine who outlasts her male colleagues. As an Alien fan, Noomi was thrilled to join the cast of its forthcoming prequel Prometheus. She plays a scientist named Elizabeth Shaw who has a lot of Ripleyís toughness, and being in a Ridley Scott film should bring other big-name directors and well-paid projects calling. Thatís good news for Noomi, who has an eight-year-old son, Lev, to take care of. But sheís not sure if sheíll ever settle in Hollywood, or indeed anywhere.

"Iím always travelling and moving around," she says. "Iíve always felt like an outsider in Sweden. I havenít really found Ďhomeí yet. Iím half Spanish but I donít speak it. I speak a bit of Danish, a bit of Norwegian, Icelandic and English. Iím something in between."

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is out on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow. Prometheus opens on June 1.

© 2012 Sunday Express