In her first English-speaking role, Noomi Rapace, who gained international fame for her role in the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, plays a mysterious Gypsy fortuneteller who aids Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) as they attempt to stop Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) from destroying Western civilization in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
In an exclusive interview with Movies.com, the Swedish actress reflects about her off-screen friendship with Robert Downey Jr., her favorite weapon of choice, and being the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Movies.com: A few years ago when you promoted the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you didn’t speak any English. Now you’re fluent in it!
Rapace: I like talking about my movies. I did so many interviews for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I think we counted at one point and I did over 1,000 interviews. I panicked when I had my first press conference for GWTDT. I think that was almost three years ago. I couldn’t express myself, I didn’t have the words, I couldn’t speak English and it was horrible. I felt like a monkey in a suit so I decided that day that I needed to make this language mine and be able to be free in it, live in it, and think in it.
Movies.com: You dove into this project without really knowing Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Did the boys give you a hard time, was there a hazing process?
Rapace: I felt very much like one of the boys. They’re so easygoing, playful and funny. I was laughing the entire time. They have such a great, rough sense of humor. They embraced me, welcomed me into the Sherlock Holmes family and really listened to my ideas. I had a great influence over my character. Going into it I was really nervous because it was my first English-language film, I just learned it, I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. After a week into filming I [forgot] about it because they were so sweet and supportive. Robert would always come over and hug me. Every time I voiced my opinion Robert would say, “Hey, everyone, Noomi has an idea. I think we should try it. It’s really good.”
Movies.com: You get to seriously kick some butt in this film with intense fight sequences. Is it always a treat to get to play a strong character?
Rapace: I like to fight. [Laughs] I trained a lot. I did kickboxing and Thai boxing five days a week for seven months for Lisbeth [in GWTDT]. It was very intense but it woke up my fighting spirit and I continue to enjoy it. The tricky part about this movie was finding a way to do the fight scenes in the corset and costume. I don’t think people can imagine how hard it is. It’s really painful, the corset squeezes your ribs together and after a couple of hours you can’t bend forward or breathe. I remember when it was lunch time I used to say, “Can you release me so I can eat something?” [Laughs] So to be able to kick, jump and roll around is quite hard. I remember early on when I started rehearsing with the stunt team I requested my costume so I could be fully dressed for rehearsals.
Movies.com: Over the course of your career you’ve been able to handle an arsenal of weapons. What’s your favorite weapon of choice at the moment?
Rapace: I like knives. I became quite good at throwing them. You need to have a really good technique and it’s almost like in darts, the way you throw, you need to have the whole body in it. I do like weapons [Laughs]. I remember one scene where we were running through the woods to get to a train. We were running and hiding and shooting and we had rehearsed the scene a couple of times. We were all ready to go, I had this heavy rifle and the stunt guys came to me and asked me to put in ear plugs. I kept refusing but eventually I put them in. I see the sign for action and I run. Robert and Jude were supposed to scream things to me and we were supposed to talk. There was dialogue written in it and I couldn’t hear a thing. I was running so fast, shooting and screaming and then I realized nobody was around me. It was only me and it was so embarrassing. I took the ear plugs out and I was really angry. Robert came up to me and said, “I love your temperament. I really understand you.” He turns and says, “Don’t give Noomi those f*cking ear plugs again.” [Laughs]
Movies: Seems like people have this preconceived notion of you based on your previous work but they don’t realize that there’s a softer side to you.
Rapace: When I came to L.A. almost a year ago everybody was so surprised by the way I looked. I think they expected me to look like Lisbeth and be dark, aggressive and angry. I keep hearing, “Oh, you’re so feminine.”
About a year ago I ran into the director of GWTDT [Niels Arden Oplev] with my manager and he turned to talk to my manager and totally ignored me. I kept thinking, “What have I done? What’s wrong?” He didn’t recognize me. We worked together for eight months and he didn’t recognize me. When my manager turned to me and said Noomi that’s when he realized it was me. He looked at me and gasped. [Laughs].
Movies.com: In a few weeks David Fincher’s version of GWTDT will be hitting theaters. Are you curious to see what they did with Lisbeth?
Rapace: I will definitely see it. I’m interested in seeing what they did and I’m sure they’ve done something that is really personally to them and that it’s quite different to what we did. I think David Fincher is a fantastic filmmaker.
Movies.com: Is Lisbeth still in you?
Rapace: When I finished the third movie she was living in me. She was in control. She took over my life for one and a half years. It was brutal. I remember my friends asking me when I was going to come back and how deep was I going to go so I felt like I changed a lot when she was in me. I felt like I was occupied by her.
When I was finished, I remember the last day of the last take, the producers and everybody wanted to celebrate. We had been shooting for a year and we were finally at the end and I just remember needing to go to the restroom. I went in and starting vomiting for like 45 minutes. I couldn’t stop and I’m never sick. I didn’t know what was going on but I just remember telling people to toast without me. It was almost like my body was throwing Lisbeth out of my system. I remember it vividly-- like an exorcism, thinking, “I’m done, you need to leave me now.”
Movies: Did people still approach you about continuing to play Lisbeth?
Rapace: Later, everyone came to me to ask about the fourth book and if I was interested in doing a fourth film, I said, “No. I’m done.” I did everything I could in three movies and I’m finished. And then when rumors about a remake came up people asked me about that one and my response was it’s up to someone else. I wasn’t the one to do it. I didn’t want to repeat myself so it’s not for me. When news broke that David Fincher would be directing everyone asked me again if I would consider it. I think he’s amazing but I was really done with it. It was never an option because it was never something I wanted to do. I don’t feel like I own her. She’s the character from a book that I gave my soul and life to for one and a half years. She’s not mine.