Noomie Rapace Muses on "Dead Man Down"

The Swedish actress disappears again - literally - into a dark new role for her "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" director.

By Scott Huver
|  Friday, Mar 8, 2013  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Noomie Rapace in "Dead Man Down"

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First it was with a dragon tattoo and extreme punk paraphernalia, now it’s a facial scar. It seems like filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev just can’t get enough of disguising his favored leading lady, Noomi Rapace.

After headlining the first, Swedish film adaptation of Stig Larsson’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and its subsequent sequels, and then going on to star in Hollywood blockbuster fare (“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” “Prometheus”), Rapace reunited with Oplev for his first American feature film “Dead Man Down” playing a woman whose scarred face is gradually recovering from a brutal hit-and-run accident but whose spirit remains damaged, prompting her to try to blackmail a seeming mob enforcer (Colin Farrell) into exacting revenge on her behalf.

It’s another pitch-black role with a glimmer of something shinier for the 33-year-old actress, who admits that while she delighted in reconvening with the helmer who helped put her on the map, Hollywood’s been a much friendlier place than she originally imagined.

Why is your director always trying to hide you under something?

I don't know – I'll have to ask him! [Laughs] For me it was a process to find how much, because I wanted MORE scars. I always want more! Then Niels and the producers said, ‘We don't want her to look like a freak. We want people to be able to see her, but at the same time the scar needs to reflect what’s going on inside her and how much that she sees herself as a freak.’ The backstory that I figured out was that she was hit by the car a year ago and she almost died – she woke up in the hospital and was completely destroyed. She was not happy that she was alive. She wished she would have died instead, because this ruined her whole life.

And then she'd gone through all those steps of plastic surgery, but she can't see that it actually improved, that it doesn't look that bad anymore. It was almost like her life froze that moment when she woke up and saw what she looked like. That's the only thing she can see, and she's kind of convinced that nobody will ever love her. She won't be seen for what she is. She will only be kind of judged for being something destroyed.

Did you ever wear that makeup out in public?

Yeah, I went out once to buy coffee, and another day in Philadelphia I went out for lunch with Dominic Cooper, who was not working that day, so I came in as Beatrice in a pizzeria or something, and it was quite shocking how people stared at me and were really not hiding it – just, like, looking. I was really uncomfortable, like, ‘S**t, I don't know, shall we have take-away?’ Same thing with Lisbeth when I cut my hair: when I was prepping they dyed my hair black and I did all those piercings. It was like from one day to another when I was out, just doing something, post office, or a bank, or something, and they were so rude to me. It was like the woman at the desk was just ignoring me. I was just like, ‘Excuse me--.’ Then she looked up, and she was like, ‘Yeah, yeah – hold on!’ I was like, ‘What's going on?’ And I really think that she was just like, ‘She's this punk girl – I'll have time for you when I get to you.’ But there was no one else there. So I definitely think that people judge you more than I expected from what you look like and your face.

Describe your working relationship with Niels.

It's kind of interesting: I did an interview with Charlie Rose and in the end of the interview he says, ‘So you’re working with Niels again – I’m going to play this tape from the last time you were here,’ then Niels said that I was ‘like a hand grenade.’ Someone else asked me ‘Are you his muse?’ And I was like, ‘Oh god – I have to ask him about that!’ And I came to him the next day: ‘So am I your muse?’ And he was like ‘Muse? I have to look up that word.’ And later he was like ‘I think a muse is quite sexual, isn't it? And we don't have this sexual thing. We're more like brother and sister – we fight and we have a very honest thing.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, we don't have a sexual thing.’ And then he came to me a couple of days after that and he was like, ‘I looked it up: It doesn't need to be sexual. So maybe you ARE my muse.’

After ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ in Sweden with Niels, you got to make some big studio movies in Hollywood And now you get to make the Hollywood film with Niels. What was that hybrid experience like?

Good, but it's weird. People ask me what the difference is between European movies and indie movies and American studio movies, and to be honest, I don't really think about it that much because I have to do the same work. For me, the way I kind of prepare for the movie, when I'm inside the character, the way I work, I don't really care how big the circus around me is. Maybe I have a bigger trailer and it’s more people on the crew. A lot of people are working for you in a big studio movie, but it doesn't really change the real work. With Niels, it was fantastic to get the opportunity to work with him again and on this project, but I don't think I thought about that it was an American movie so much. It was just like, ‘This is the script. This is the story. These are the characters in it.’

After spending as much time here as you have, what have you come to love about American culture, and what still baffles you?

My manager came to Sweden after she saw 'The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo,’ when it was only released in Sweden. I didn't speak English. I could only say a few words, and I said with a mix of body language and a few English words, ‘I hate Hollywood – I don't want to go to Hollywood. I don't want to do those big, stupid films about action heroes, and the sweet, cute girl holding onto the strong man.’ Then she asked me, ‘But who do you like? What kind of filmmakers? What kind of films?’ And I mentioned films like I had been watching and films I love, my favorite movies.

And she said  ‘You know what? Those people live in LA, and those people work from this industry, and most of the movies are made out of studios.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I was quite judgmental. It's easy to kind of say things about countries or an industry when you don't know, because you just say, ‘Okay, it's that kind of thing, and yeah, yeah, yeah, that's not for me.’ Then now, the more time I spend here, I was so wrong. It's like so many amazing, creative people living here, working here. 

Same with American people in general. In Europe sometimes people say that Americans can be very, ‘Oh, how are you? So nice and you look lovely and you’re amazing,’ but they don't mean it. I, on the other side, feel like people are really quite open and honest in this country, from what I feel and what I get. For me, it's very liberating and I love that, because in Sweden everybody is really quite repressed. They would never say, ‘You look good today.’ ‘I love those shoes,’ or whatever. They don't say anything really – they're really quite polite and restricted and kind of holding everything back. So far I only have really good things to say about working in this country and the people that I’ve gotten to know in this country.

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