In the last few years, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace has been transitioning into a respected and in-demand actress in Hollywood after getting attention as the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in the Scandinavian “Millennium” thrillers before playing a gypsy in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, opposite Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.
Although Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is very much an ensemble piece, her Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is very much the central character as it’s her desire to find answers to where we came from that sends her and a crew of 17 on the exploration vessel Prometheus into the furthest reaches of space to answer an invitation found on ancient cave paintings.
ShockTillYouDrop attended the London junket for the movie and sat in on a roundtable with the actress alongside some of the internet’s crack journalists to hear her talk about working with Ridley and the influence of the original Alien‘s leading lady, Sigourney Weaver, among other things.
(You can read our previous interviews with Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender, and look for video interviews with all three later in the week.)
Q: How does it feel to finally be able to talk about a movie that’s been shrouded in secrecy up until now?
Noomi Rapace: It’s so good. I mean you’ve seen the movie, yeah? Because I’ve been doing interviews for a couple of months without being able to say anything because nobody’s seen it, and it’s so hard. It’s almost like you need to concentrate so much on what you can’t say, and now I can actually talk about it, so it’s really good.
Q: But you still have to think about some of the things that you still can’t say.
Rapace: Yeah, but it’s because you know you’ve seen it, and you would probably know what you can write and not write because some things you don’t want the audience to know before they step in there. So I think it’s in your hands to know to keep the secret.
Q: You were one of the first people cast, and I remember for a long time talking about your character being the Ripley character of the movie. You are driven to find answers, and you’re driven to survive. Can you talk about those parallels and whether they were something that was specifically mentioned by Ridley?
Rapace: Yeah, I think he mentioned that there are similarities between them. Elizabeth Shaw is the dreamer, she’s the one with the vision, she’s the one with passion and this is her dream. She’s been trying and struggling and fighting to convince people to do this, and to go on this journey with her, so this is her dream coming true. And then she realizes too late that it was a really bad idea. So it’s very personal for her, this whole journey. I think that in the first part of the movie, she’s maybe more naïve. She kind of steps into this whole thing with an open heart, and you get to know her a little bit more. With Ripley, I think it’s like in the second part of the movie you start to realize she’s the main character—in the beginning she’s just one of the crew members and it takes a while to kind of see that she’s the one we’re going to follow to the end. I think Elizabeth Shaw is more the heart and the engine. She’s the one, together with Doctor Holloway, that is the force and the engine behind this mission. Then in the second part there’s more similarities with Ripley, I would say. But yeah, we talked about it sometimes, but it was not like, “Oh, we should avoid it or we should go towards it.” It was more, we were aware of it, and it’s almost like flirting a little bit with her. And for me, I remember when I saw “Alien” the first time when I was thirteen, and Sigourney made a very strong impact on me. It was the first time I saw a woman fight like that and fight back—not posing, not trying to be sexy, not trying to be beautiful. Just being a human and she happened to be a woman in this extreme, disturbed, aggressive environment. And for me that changed a lot of things in me. It was the first movie I saw a woman doing all those things, and so she became like a bright star in my heaven.
Q: It was pretty exhausting watching you on film. Tell me about the physicality of making this movie including wearing that suit.
Rapace: Oh, my favorite costume. No, I hated it. It was so hot. And in Iceland, in that rubber suit, because it’s not breathing, so you’re really boiling in it but I don’t know. I’m really stubborn and I would never admit that I was tired or and I was in pain. My knees were completely messed up and this thing that I call my Prometheus elbow, because hit it once really hard and then I was continuing, in the same place, when I was filming. So when we finished the movie in Iceland, I almost had a size-of-a-ping-pong-ball thing, with some kind of fluid in it. It was really, really ugly. But I don’t know, it’s weird, because you never really feel it when you’re in there. You don’t feel tired, you don’t feel the pain. And then you get back home, and then you realize, “Oh my God, what’s that cut and what’s that big bruise? Where did that come from?” But I love it, and I want to do my own stunts, as much as they allow me to do, and I also try to prepare and change my body into whatever I need to be for the character.
Q: When did you see the film the first time and what was your reaction when you finally saw it?
Rapace: I saw it like six weeks ago in New York, so it’s quite recently. I always find it really hard to watch myself, but also, I was kind of watching it like this (puts hands over eyes), because when I’m working, when I’m stepping into the character, I have to force away my own vanity and my own issues, and clean myself from anything that can stand in the way between me and the character. I don’t care what I look like, so for me, it’s like, I always have to go back to what would this character do in this situation? Is she wearing makeup? If she’s not wearing makeup, why should I have mascara on and look pretty. She’s out on the planet, she’s trying to survive, why would you? So for me it’s like I always need to kind of find a way to make it as real and as close to reality as possible, but then when you see the movie, you kind of have to face what you look like. You always think it’s going to be something else and it’s not quite disappointing but it’s like, “Oh, that face again.” You always hope there’s going to be something else. So that’s hard, but even though it was me in it, I was blown away by the movie and the way Ridley managed to make this. It’s cruel and dangerous in a quite beautiful way that I was surprised by.
Q: You’d mentioned earlier that you’d kind of changed your body in preparation for the role. Could you talk about that?
Rapace: Yeah, I was prepping. I had like eight weeks. I finished “Sherlock Holmes” in January and then I had like eight weeks to prep. I remember I told me trainer that I wanted to change my body into like a cat. I want to be like an animal, be able to do whatever is necessary for me to do to survive. You know, if you throw a cat down from a tree they will land on their feet, and they can run if they need to and they can climb. So I wanted to make my body be ready for whatever she’s going to face, whatever she’s going to be confronting out in that, on this journey. Because I think that Elizabeth Shaw has been prepping. She’s been going through all those physical tests and prepping probably a couple of years before they went on this journey, and also because I want to be in a condition so I can do as much of my own stunts as they allow me to do.
Q: You and Charlize were two of the three women on the set, so did you form any sort of bond apart from the men?
Rapace: Not really no, but Charlize is mostly onboard the ship, and we have a lot of things outside on the planet, so I didn’t really have that many scenes with her. And they don’t really get along that well, the characters, and I always think that you get quite affected and influenced by your characters, so I think that it kind of became more natural to hang out with Logan and Idris, the people that my character connected with. It’s weird, always when I look back at my movies I can clearly see that my relationship to the actors, on set, are affected by the relationship in the film.
Q: How did you work with Ridley Scott to craft Elizabeth’s arc in the movie and keep track of where she was while shooting?
Rapace: I think that’s something we were kind of constantly working on. It’s almost like I have to go onboard and take off and kind of let go of control, and just trust him, that he’s going to navigate it. You can always feel like this line is not really working because the scene we did before, I didn’t do that, so we should probably change this line. So he was very open, and it was a very creative, collaborating way of working. I remember that I came to him at some point and I said, I think we might need a situation when she collects herself. That was something we added, that was not in the script, and me putting his ring on, that was my idea–to be close to him, to be kind of connected with Logan and with Holloway. Also the scene where I start to cry and there’s this short situation when she gives up, it’s like I can’t do it anymore, it’s too much. That was also something I felt like, “I think we need something, because she’s not a superhero. She’s a person, and she had gone through all this craziness. It’s just too much. I think everybody would feel in that situation, it’s like I can’t take it anymore. I just want to lay here and not move. Just let them kill me, let them do whatever. Because it’s too far out, it’s too many things. So I think when we were working, those things just come to you. I don’t remember always who had the idea, but it felt like we were searching and exploring every day. Quite ofte, Ridley said, “You know, I think you can start this scene with a little ad libbing and then you can go into the lines over here.” He’s very good at sharing what he wants, and making everybody search in the same direction but still give people freedom. So it was extremely joyful and open and he knows exactly what he wants, but you are in control. I absolutely love working with him because he’s so open and he loves actors, and he’s always open for ideas. He’s like “Hmm, yes.”
Q: They’ve talked about making this a trilogy and doing two more films, so have you singed on to do multiple films?
Rapace: Yeah, I think there’s an option to do that and I would love to do it. I would love to work with Ridley again and do this. This, kind of for giving the gift of playing and doing, giving life to Elizabeth Shaw, felt like the most beautiful thing I’ve been given. For me she’s very much a typical Ridley Scott heroine. Quite iconic in that sense that she has both, she’s quite fragile and vulnerable but still has that kind of, she can become this warrior, this fighter for survival and for protecting earth and all that. So I would love to.
Q: You’ve done a decent job transitioning from being a Swedish actress to being an actress who does big Hollywood movies. It’s often hard for actors from non-English-speaking countrie to make the transition but you’ve done it quite successfully, so can you talk about that?
Rapace: Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it so much. It’s so specific, it’s like every character and every movie I decide to do, it’s almost like I’m logging out. I’m saying goodbye to the world for a while and I’m stepping into something else. And then I’m so in that, and I don’t really reflect on that. I don’t look at myself from the outside. I try to not judge myself, and I never read anything about me. So for me, I don’t really think about it. For me it was a big step to act in English. That was the biggest change for me. And I don’t really care, to be honest, if it’s a big studio movie or it’s a small indie movie with an unknown director from the UK, or if it’s—I don’t see that. But for me acting in English was like the big step. I was terrified when I started to prep for “Sherlock Holmes” I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Robert. Because I know that he works in a very open, exploring, ad libbing way, and I didn’t want to be the one saying, “Hey, wait a minute, it’s not in the script. Robert, can you please stick to your lines?” After a couple of weeks I forgot that it was not my language, and I think the way they embraced me, just kind of took me into their hearts, and they took care of me really well. So weirdly enough, it was much easier than I thought.
Q: Was that experience, working with Robert and his specific process, the best way to jump into it?
Rapace: Yes, I think so. Because I forgot I was nervous because he was like “Hello, love, come on over here. What do think about this scene? It’s a crappy scene, what should we do with this scene?” Which is fun. So I forgot that I was nervous and that I was kind of the newcomer in the Sherlock Holmes family.
Prometheus opens nationwide on Friday, June 8th.
And as before, here’s a more spoilery qestion and answer, which we recommend reading only AFTER seeing the movie.
Q: There’s one scene in particular that I think everyone’s going to be talking about, so were you dreading shooting that really terrifying scene.
Rapace: I was a mess. I was dreaming really crazy disturbed dreams. I remember I dreamt that I woke up and I was touching my tummy and something was moving, and I saw something kind of coming out. I was like, “Oh my God. This can’t be happening, I have to call someone, I better call Ridley.” That was in my dream, and then I really woke up and I realized that it was just a dream and I was sweating, I was a mess. I felt so feverish. I’m losing it. And then I came that same morning, and I said to Ridley, “This is really getting into my head and my body,” and he said “Great. Okay, should we start?” But that whole sequence, I think we were kind of working on that sequence with me running around for four days or something, and he was quite tough and really kind of affected me a lot. What was amazing, in a weird way, was to do it with Ridley, because he felt that he was so much in it with me. I never thought about that I was a woman, half-naked, in front of him as a man. It felt like he was breathing, living, thinking the character with me, inside her. I think that Elizabeth Shaw is probably a little bit of Ridley too, because she’s sort of like the heart in the movie, the dreamer, the believer, and he is also that. It felt like even in the most kind of disturbed, crazy, extreme moments in the movie, I never felt alone. I always felt like we were sharing it together somehow, and he has this very dry humor, and he always came in like “Did that hurt?” “No, of course not.” He was like “Great, so you ready for another one?” I was like “Yes,” because I was like “I’m not going to show him, I’m not going to show him how much I hurt myself.” So I love working with him.