NOToomi Rapace is never one to conform to Hollywood’s notion of what a prominent woman should look like. From its steamy international breakthrough in The girl with the dragon tattoo, the first in a violent and vengeful trilogy, headlining by Ridley Scott Extraterrestrial prequel Prometheus, and now with his new horror Lamb, the 41-year-old Swedish actor challenged femininity by opting for robust, often radical roles over traditional ideals.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a human rather than a woman,” she says. NME via video call from an empty whitewashed studio in central London. “I always felt alienated when they wanted to put me in a box or when people expected me to behave a certain way just because my gender is female. “
In Lamb, a surreal Icelandic folk tale that Rapace describes as “a beautiful and strange adventure”, she plays María, a grieving mother who finds a new zest for life when Ada, a strange but innocent sheep-human hybrid, is born on the farm that ‘she runs with her husband. For the actor, taking on the role was instinctive, and not just because she herself had grown up on a farm in her native Sweden. “I felt like I had no choice, as if my body, my mind and my heart were waiting for this,” she says. “Maria found me and I got lost in her. “
“I have always considered myself to be a human rather than a woman”
If the notion of Lamb sounds appropriately batshit, the way the film was presented to Raptor was just as odd. She was in London to complete another project when one of the film’s producers came to visit her with a mysterious package. Inside, along with the film’s script, was a collection of photographs of the Icelandic countryside and dark, twisted children’s illustrations, as well as a book of selected poems by film co-writer Sjón. “I was waiting for the producer to start the pitch, but he just went out for a cigarette and left me with this strange package,” Rapace remembers happily. “I started to search and I was won over. It was like an invitation to another universe. She would continue to act and produce the film.
His full commitment was crucial – the shoot would prove to be sustainable even with his farming experience. First, its co-star was a CGI humanoid sheep, which meant playing the role of a series of real babies and lambs, which were swapped out during production. On Noomi’s first day of filming, shortly after finishing another gig and with no time for rehearsals, she was hastily summoned from her trailer to an on-site barn to deliver a newborn lamb by hand to a first scene from the film. “There was something really powerful about seeing him take his first breath,” she recalls. “I was helping to remove the mucus from his face. It was that truly beautiful and brutal moment of life and death.
Rapace is no stranger to hard work. She left the farm to join Stockholm Theater School when she was only 15, after which she worked on the stage for a decade. A significant number of Swedish TV credits followed, before she got her big shot in the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s film. Millennium novels, which follow the investigations of rebellious goth hacker Lisbeth Salander. The crime thriller trilogy – which was repackaged in the United States and earned it an Emmy nomination – saw Rapace play a woman who suffers horrific sexual abuse, not to mention a gunshot to the head and death. ‘institutionalization on two occasions. It was a daunting task to undertake something that involved such difficult material – the assault scene alone took a full week to film – and thanks to the popularity of the books, a large audience built in. Still, Rapace, who was in love with the survivor in Lisbeth, was more than up to the challenge. She took up kickboxing, shaved her head, pierced her ears and eyebrows, and got a motorcycle license.
“I feel like I was building my own method over these years, which was to mirror the things of my life into the character,” she explains. “Whether it’s a crazy sci-fi movie, a big Hollywood production, or a little Icelandic independent film, I’m always looking for who I am in the right place. I’m not trying to be someone else.
Rapace goes on to describe the “passionate love stories” she indulges in with her characters, which would explain her rejection of passive and overtly female roles on screen. She faced Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini – her last movie role – in the Brooklyn Mafia drama drop. She pulled off a high-octane action in petticoats alongside Robert Downey Jr. for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and joined John Krasinski as a trained secret agent in Amazon’s fast-paced Jack Ryan series. In dystopian science fiction What happened to monday, she simultaneously plays seven sisters pretending to be one in order to avoid persecution from a shady organization led by Glenn Close.
Blockbusters barely fit into his work, but the film Rapace speaks most fondly of is probably his biggest work. nowadays: Prometheus. Although Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway were in the frame, Scott saw Rapace in The girl with the dragon tattoo, and saw in her a strength similar to that of Ellen Ripley. She didn’t even have to audition, although she’s only done one English film before. Rapace is still grateful to the powerful filmmaker, now in his 80s. “He has such a beautiful and powerful personality with this childish desire to discover,” she says. “I hope to become an old woman and also be turned on by the movies and the actors [as he is]. “
“I have a deep love for Bruce Springsteen”
Along with his vigorous physical approach to getting into character, Rapace builds a specific playlist for each character, often with input from the director. “Sometimes the songs are horrible, I really don’t like them,” she laughs. “But I surround myself with music. I listen to it constantly.
Hip-hop and British artists feature high on the Swedish star’s roster – British rap hub Giggs is a favorite – but no one can match The Boss. “I have a deep love for Bruce Springsteen, he’s still there,” she says.
His current character playlist is a collection of country music and old slave songs, for a role in a serial adaptation of the spaghetti western. Django. In the 10-part Sky series, which shares the same creative team as the hugely popular Italian crime show Gomorrah. Rapace plays the nemesis of the famous gunslinger Django in the 19th century Old West. The project was born at the end of an incessant period of filming. “I wasn’t going to do it,” she admits. “I had been working nonstop for almost a year and I just needed to be home and not in front of a camera. However, a Zoom call with the directors later, Rapace realized she couldn’t say no. “I was falling in love again,” she says of her character. “She is this broken romantic, this violent, fragile and dangerous villain. I am obsessed with it. She’s one of my favorite characters so far.
There is a fearlessness about Rapace that is inspiring, even if she doesn’t want to be outspoken. When we speak, she is friendly and open, sitting cross-legged in her chair and at ease, as if we are resuming a conversation from earlier rather than meeting for the first time. She lets her roles show her steel side – and her willingness to leap into the unknown.
The arrival of Lamb feels like a critical moment for Rapace. She even refers to her career in two halves: her time before Lamb, and its time after. “It feels like a conscious decision to go back to arthouse films and come back to where I started,” she explains. “I feel like I’ve been on a weird diet and a little hungry, and now with Lamb it is as if I had landed. I returned.”
Apart from Lamb, she has a number of suitably branded irons in the fire: You will not be alone, an 1800s horror from a director-first, Netflix’s post-apocalyptic thriller Black crab, and Assassins Club, which sees her enter the world of contract murder with Henry Golding and Sam Neill.
Then there is his work behind the camera, with his own production company. “I have things coming out a little too early for me to talk about,” she teases. “But I am fascinated by the imperfections of people. This is where the magic happens. I like to listen to people, memorize points in their life and then reconnect with this emotional memory. They will be used in future projects.
As much as Rapace values past roles, she does not dwell on them for long. “I’m not sentimental,” she said. “[My characters are] as a survival tool; I don’t hold on to the good times or the bad times, and I think less. But I’m still grateful for the marriage we had.
Rapace therefore continues to move forward, on a path that it has mapped out for itself, continuing to defy expectations. “I’ve always been a bit strange,” she said, why change now?
‘Lamb’ is in theaters from December 10