Noomi Rapace on ‘Unlocked,’ Playing Septuplets, and Why She Wasn’t In ‘Alien: Covenant’
It’s too bad Daniel Craig is returning for Bond 25 because Noomi Rapace would make a stellar 007. If the Swedish actress’ alien abortion in Prometheus didn’t convince you of her action star prowess, her two new films this summer will. In What Happened to Monday, which hit Netflix earlier this month, Rapace plays seven identical sisters – seven! – in an Orphan Black-style dystopian action thriller. And in her latest film Unlocked, she’s a deadly CIA interrogator working to stop a terrorist attack.
From director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, Enough), Unlocked follows Rapace as Alice Racine, a woman who’s guilt-ridden over a terrorist attack she wasn’t able to prevent years before. Now she’s being recruited for a new mission to stop an impending biological attack in London with the help of an ex-soldier (Orlando Bloom), the head of MI5 (Toni Collette), a CIA chief (John Malkovich), and her mentor (Michael Douglas).
I spoke with Rapace over the phone earlier this summer about the grueling intensity of both roles – Rapace told me she broke bones and fractured her nose while filming Unlocked. The Swedish actress also cleared up why her Dr. Elizabeth Shaw only appeared in the prologue for Alien: Covenant and not the movie itself, and shared details on her elf villain in Netflix’s Bright.
I really enjoyed you in this! It’s so exciting to see a woman leading a spy thriller. Your character’s like a female version of Bond meets Jason Bourne.
I love that. Actually my son saw the film yesterday and he came out like, “Mom, you’re like Jason Bourne, but like a woman!” He loved the film so much and he’s very, very critical, so I was very happy.
What do you think this film brings to the genre of espionage thrillers that are often led by men?
Well first of all, especially that [she’s] a woman and it’s not like a sexy, hot, good-looking woman, you know? It’s a real woman that looks quite rough. I get beaten up and I get broken down and it’s very real. I really wanted it to feel authentic and raw and realistic. So it’s not polished. It’s not stylized. It’s very credible. The violence is real, the fight scenes are real. Throughout the whole journey I really wanted to feel like a real person going through all this, and that makes it quite fresh for me. It’s something I wanted to see.
But then also I think the story and the plot is a bit more complicated than I normally find in those movies. The bad guy is maybe not who you think it’s going to be. When I read the script there were so many twists and turns and layers to it. So I was surprised. When I was reading and I came to the end and I was like “Whoa, I did not see that coming! that was cool.” It’s not as simple as you think.
There is a sense of realism to this. It’s hard not to think about recent terrorist attacks when watching this. What was it like to film something so timely and close to our current reality?
I know, and I live in London. Unfortunately it f—ing breaks my heart, to be honest, that we live in a world with so much violence and so many disturbing and heart-breaking things happening. It was a time a couple of months ago, every week there was something in London. My boyfriend’s mom was in one of the attacks. She was like holding people that were bleeding. And a girl that I know was hit by the truck in Stockholm. Another friend was in the Bataclan club in Paris. Like I’ve been having friends, people in my close circle, being hit and kind of in the middle of these horrible terrorist strikes.
So it is very real. But what I do like about our film – I think it’s dangerous if we think that Muslims are bad, you know, “These are the bad people.” Because then the gaps will grow and grow and grow and worse things will happen, because when you divide people into religions or groups and countries like, “Oh the bad people are over there, let’s protect yourself against them.” It’s like not everyone is bad, and that’s what I like so much about our film. Sometimes it may be the one you think is the bad one, the one you think is the leader of destruction and violence might not be doing those things, you know what I mean? So it’s a very important film and I think it touches a subject that is really highly urgent. Those matters are so important today. We need to see all colors in it, we need to see all the angles and not make it, not simplify and judge too easily.
Completely. And your character doesn’t just mindlessly kill bad guys. There’s emotional depth to her as she struggles with PTSD and the guilt of her past.
Well I’m always kind of looking for that. That really attracted me because to do a straightforward spy movie action film, it doesn’t really give me so much. I really wanted her to go on a journey that you can feel from the first time you meet her in the film until the end. She changes, and it’s almost like a coming back to life through this violent and crazy ride when she’s fighting for her life and for other people’s lives. She’s starting to breathe again. She realizes that she was not responsible for a lot of these things she thought she was. It’s almost like, in the end even though she’s quite beaten up and gone through this craziness, she’s back and she’s relieved. All of a sudden she’s out of the emotional jail.
You also have so many action heavy moments. Were those intense to train for?
Yes. It was a lot of physical training. There was a stunt team, gun training. But I was so injured and beaten up the first week. I remember at the end of the first week I was so bruised and I had ice packs all over my body. I pulled a muscle in my stomach because a scene when I was like kicking someone, I was doing the kick so many times so I ripped the muscle in my stomach and then this Russian doctor had to come and give me shots and run a massive needle straight into my stomach and he was like, “Now you’re good for 4 hours.” You know so it was a mess. My nose was fractured. I broke a bone in my foot, it was a lot. It was full-on and very intense.
Is this the most physically intense role that you’ve had so far?
Physically, yeah because I [have] so many violent scenes. Two days a week it was a really intense physical battle for me. But when I did What Happened to Monday when I played seven sisters, that was physically and emotionally, psychologically way harder because I played seven characters. So I think those two films have probably been the hardest ones I’ve done physically. There were injuries and all kind of s—. [Laughs]
I totally loved What Happened to Monday. It’s so much fun to see you play seven different characters. How did you pull that off?
Oh thank you. Well first when I got the script, I was terrified. I was like, “Oh my god, how is this even possible? How are we going to pull this off?” I had no idea. And I base my acting – I didn’t go to any schools, I’ve been learning by working. I started working when I was 16 and I have my own method kind of created by myself and it’s based on the fact that I’m there with someone else, you know? It’s not about me, it’s me and other actors creating something together. And this one it’s me alone in a room with six doubles sometimes, but most of the time it’s a green screen and tennis balls. I had my own pre-recorded dialogue in an earpiece, so I was listening to myself and answering myself. It was so trippy.
But it was interesting because at first I was terrified when I saw the version of the script with Tommy [Wirkola], the director and writer. After a couple of months when I started to get to know the girls, when we were doing the script work before we started filming, I realized that they are actually all me. It’s just different sides of me and it’s almost like, at different times in my life I’ve been these girls. When I was like 14, 15 I was very much like Thursday, I was very punk and rebellious and angry, very outspoken and fearless. And then when I was 17, 18 I was very much like Wednesday. I was cleaning a lot, washing a lot, very tomboyish. And then when I became a mom I was more like Sunday. Now I’m more like Saturday. I think Saturday stayed in me. I’m loving pink and I have kind of embraced a different side of myself. I realize that they’re actually me. So to find them wasn’t that hard. The technical aspect of shooting the movie was very difficult to be honest. But I love a challenge.
I want to ask about your Prometheus character. We see Elizabeth return in the prologue for Alien: Covenant. But I’m curious, did you shoot those scenes with the intention that they’d be in the actual movie, or was it always planned that they’d just be in the short film released on YouTube?
No, Ridley called me and asked me to come and shoot, do a couple of days with him for Covenant and I was like, “Yeah sure.” So I think he wrote it for this one. He’s a mysterious man, you don’t really know what’s going on in his head. I always loved being there with him and trying to follow what’s next in his head and what is he thinking and where is he going.
Were there other scenes you shot that were supposed to be in the movie that didn’t end up in it?
No, I was not supposed to be in it. That was not the plan. This was something that Ridley added as a lead-in to it, I think.
No, I know! I look very different. I’m blonde and I’m an elf, I have elf teeth, eyes, ears. It was extremely fun and it was very intense. I’m the villain. I fight with knives. I’m chasing Will [Smith] and Joel Edgerton and Lucy Fry. I’m tracking them down and it’s probably the most brutal, baddest girl I’ve ever done.
Unlocked hits theaters on September 1.