In 2009, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace drew notices in Hollywood as the star of her country’s wildly popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Since then, Rapace has steadily been building her career by working in blockbusters like Prometheus and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, to smaller, riskier fare like Brian De Palma’s Passion. Last week, Rapace was at the Toronto Film Festival in support of her supporting role in The Drop, the latest film from Oscar-winning director Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead), as the pragmatic girlfriend to Tom Hardy’s taciturn bartender. (The film also marks James Gandolfini’s final role.) At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Rapace sat down with us to discuss her directorial ambitions, the brilliance of James Gandolfini, and why she’s stays away from vanity.
What was it like to work with James Gandolfini?
I remember one day when I came to set and they were waiting for me in makeup. But I just wanted to go say hi to Michaël. Tom and James were doing a scene and they were in middle of a take. I came in (begins whispering) and everyone was quiet, you know. And I sat down next to Michaël and then I started to watch what was going on in the scene on the monitor. I was like, blown away.
Taken aback by how great he is.
So good. I was glued to the screen. I remember that my PA was standing and waving, saying “They need you in makeup.” And I said, “I can’t go. I have to see this.” His performance was so vulnerable, so human, so real. Going from strength to the most broken little person. Truly beautiful. He set a tone.
He set a bar for the rest of you.
Yeah, and we’d do our best.
That’s all you can do. So what drew you to the script?
I read the script before Michaël was attached to it. Before Tom was doing it. I think I was one of the first to read it, and I love the story. I love the characters and Denis Lehane’s writing is, you know, magic. And I said to Claudia Lewis at Fox Searchlight, “I want to do this.” And she said, “We need to find a director for it.” She later emailed me saying she was sending it to Michaël R. Roskam I was hoping that he wanted to do it because I had seen Bullhead. I loved it. It was one of the best films I’d seen in years. And then he wanted to do it and we met and we spoke for eight hours (laughs).
What did you talk about for eight hours?
Life. We started to talk about the script a little bit, and Nadia (her character in The Drop).
That’s how conversation should go: life, and then everything else.
It would actually be so much more interesting and better. I’m game. We were sitting at a bar in Brussels at 4 in the morning. Heading back to the hotel he was like, “Let’s make a film together.”
If only it could always be like that. Too much business to be done in Hollywood though.
Yeah there is.
But you seem to stay kind of away from that world.
I live in London.
Yeah it does. For me it’s extremely important for me to stay focused on the right things. I do stay away from a lot of celebrity events that don’t have anything to do with the work.
What are you focusing on?
I’m so 100% committed, when I step in, when I say “yes” to a character, I want to do everything. I need to ask myself, “How do I need to look? What do I need to do to transform myself? Do I need gain weight? Do I need to lose weight? Should I shave my head? Be blonde. Be dark.” I love the part when you’re searching for information and doing research. Learning what you need to do — different skills. And then when you start filming you have it in you. You know who this person is and then you can go in any direction. That’s why I don’t have a lot of time to do a lot of things that are vaguely connected to being that actress. I made deal with myself when I was 21 to never make decisions out of vanity. To never try to look good or sexy in a film. That can never be the goal. In our business there’s a lot of pressure on women to look good. To be beautiful. To be pretty.
It sounds like you’ve stuck by that declaration.
Yeah, to keep the focus on the right things is to work with people who I want to work with. To work with people who kind of want to go in the same direction as me, like Tom, whom I adore as a friend and an actor. I don’t know … I love when people don’t recognize me. Because then it’s like if you step in and see a film with me and you don’t know too much about me as a private person, there’s a bigger chance that you will be carried away by the character and forget that it’s me.
It’s probably easier for filmmakers, people not in front of the camera. Is that something you want to do, direct?
(Smiles) Yeah. One day.
Anything in particular?
No, I have like four projects. Two of them are my ideas, like original.
Are you writing?
No, I have a writer, but I’m reading everything and giving him notes. Like I wrote the synopsis and the treatment for it. I’m not a writer, but I know what I want. I’m moving toward that. I’m heading in that direction. But I’m not ready for it yet, but definitely. I always see whole … it’s almost like the movie living in me. Not only my character. Even for “Animal Rescue” (The Drop) I had ideas for scenes that I’m not even in.