The actor at the center of the Millennium Trilogy talks about Lisbeth Salander and what's next on her career agenda.
In real life, Noomi Rapace looks nothing like Lisbeth Salander, the mohawked, pierced protagonist she plays in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (the third film in the the Millennium trilogy), so she can still move around relatively anonymously in most places outside of Sweden. However, with an awards campaign to come, a major role in the Sherlock Holmes sequel, and her name bandied about for roles in high-profile projects like the Alien prequel, there's a slim chance she will be able to fly under the radar much longer.
Before flying back to the Sherlock Holmes 2 set, Rapace recently met with Tribeca in New York City to discuss the last of the three Salander movies, her feelings on the David Fincher remake, and much more.
Tribeca: A lot of women look to Lisbeth as a feminist icon and heroine, and that especially comes up in discussions maybe in America more than other places. Does that have any sort of attraction to you? Does that resonate?
Noomi Rapace: I think it's a bit dangerous to see her like a heroine, that people should just join her army and do it the Lisbeth way. But [even though] she's so aggressive and she's actually using a lot of [violence], she stands for something that is really refreshing and good… because she fights back, and I think that's healthy.
I know people who have been raped, and most of them turn it against themselves, and that's so wrong. It's like, when somebody does something bad against you, it's very typical for girls and for women [to think], "It's something wrong with me." It's like, "Oh, I'm the ugly one, I'm disgusting; otherwise he wouldn't have done it." And if you turn it inside, I think then you will never get rid of it. It will grow inside you like some kind of cancer, and that's very destructive.
So I think it's much better to do it the way Lisbeth does: she actually hates the one who did it, and she goes after him and she fights back. She tortures him and she rapes him—I don't know if you have to go that far—but I think that it's healthy to actually fight back and to be angry at the right person.
Tribeca: Those scenes are very difficult to watch, even in the third one, but necessary to the story.
Noomi Rapace: I asked myself, do we need those rape scenes? Is it necessary? Because I think you have to be like 100% sure that, yeah, it's an important puzzle piece to understand her and to understand something about the world that Stieg Larsson is trying to show us. So my answer was yes.
And then my way of approaching the scenes and doing them is that, okay, then we have to try to make it as realistic as possible and not do it for entertainment or do it for flirting with the audience. Because I hate—sometimes I've seen rape scenes that are a bit sexy or you feel like, oh, that's maybe somebody's fantasy—and I hate that, because my only way is trying to do it as credibly as possible, and go all the way.
And then it's so much about trust. I think that you have to trust the director, all the way, and the actor you're doing the scene [with]. You are actually stepping into some kind of darkness in some area, and you can't be really sure where it will lead you to and where you will end up and what it actually will do to you. And you can't really prepare—we talked through the scenes and we came to some agreements, and how far did we want to go. And we had some checkpoints and some steps: okay, we go from the bed to that, and then you take off my shoes. And then we had a stop sign: if I yell my name, if I yell “Noomi,” then they have to cut it. Otherwise I'm okay, even though I scream like I'm dying.
So for me it was really important to have this story with the lawyer, with Bjurman, because it tells something so important about Lisbeth. After this horrible rape scene, she goes home. She doesn't take a taxi… She doesn't call anyone, she doesn't go to the police. She's totally alone, and she goes home and she takes up the camera and looks at the video, and she knows that she has him. She has evidence and she can win the war. So that's her way of surviving; she becomes practical and she makes a decision: okay, it's war. I'm going to track you down. So that was so important for me. And then it's okay to go into those scenes.
Tribeca: Is it strange to see all the hubbub over this American actress Rooney Mara, who's going to play Lisbeth in the David Fincher version? I know that you've said you have no interest in revisiting her, even if there was a fourth book, but do you feel some sort of ownership of Lisbeth?
Noomi Rapace: No. None at all. I felt pretty clearly that I was done with her after the third film, and so I don't think about it so much. It's not a big thing for me… I think David Fincher is a great filmmaker; he will probably do something completely different and create his own universe, and Rooney Mara will probably do something very far away from my Lisbeth, so—it's quite interesting to see what they [will] do, but I'm not really thinking about it so much.
Tribeca: I understand that there's talk of an Oscar campaign for you. How do you feel about that?
Noomi Rapace: That's so weird. [laughs] I always expect people to—not hate me, but—I'm always very surprised when people say, “Oh, I loved your performance.” It's like, Oh.
I was in this Q&A the other day in L.A., and the audience was standing and applauding, and they were standing for minutes. And I'm not a person—I'm never crying. I'm used to controlling my feelings in a way, when I am in public situations. But I was almost crying, because that's so incredible for me that people all over the world and in the U.S. have embraced my performance the way they've done, so that's enough for me.
It's very weird for me to think that people even are thinking of me in a kind of Oscar situation, because when I'm working… I can't think about [the fact that] people are going to judge it [or…] will people like this or not, will they understand this or not. I have to go into some kind of reality with the people I'm working with and not look at it from the outside. Just stay inside.
So everything that happens afterwards, it's just a new chapter, in a way. And I'm happy to be here, that's all, and if—I can't really go there. I can't think about the Oscars and all that kind of award thing.
Tribeca: Your name is being thrown about with so many different projects. Do you feel right now that you're pretty anonymous still in America? I mean, not anonymous, but you're not bothered in public like you would be in Sweden.
Noomi Rapace: No. I don't think people recognize me, really.
Tribeca: But they're going to soon.
Noomi Rapace: Yeah, probably. I would love to work more in the U.S., and I think most of the filmmakers and the actors that I admire and really respect are actually making movies in this country, or they're maybe not making them here because that's so expensive, so they do it in Serbia or Hungary or Canada or whatever. But they are actually from this country and working here… I've read so many things in the papers also that I'm attached to, and it's not so much that it's true, but I've met some amazing directors and producers and actors, and it would be amazing to be able to be able to work with some of them, but we'll see.
I try to focus more on what I'm doing. I'm not a person who can plan my career: “Oh, now it's good to do like a romantic comedy, so everybody can see that I can be funny and charming and all that.” So—I just want to be in this situation, and now I'm working in Sherlock and I'm going back early tomorrow, and that's my world.
Tribeca: Are you still researching for Sherlock Holmes, or are you filming already?
Noomi Rapace: Both, actually, because I came in like three weeks before they were supposed to start the shoot, so I didn't really have the time to do all the preparation that I want to do. So now I'm doing a lot of research on gypsies. I'm going to Paris to visit some gypsy camps outside Paris, and I'm going to Transylvania because I want to spend some time with gypsies, and I'm learning to speak some Romanian. So I'm working on it, and I'm shooting and working.
Tribeca: And do you have any action scenes?
Noomi Rapace: Yeah. I have. [laughs] It's very fun. Yeah, I have.