Noomi Rapace is best known to international audiences as the title character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels based on the popular novels by Stieg Larsson. As the original Lisbeth Salander, Rapace defined the heroine to great acclaim before making her Hollywood debut in 2011’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. On the set of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, in which Rapace plays scientist Elizabeth Shaw, she discusses stepping into her character, working in Hollywood and her preparations for the role.
Tell us about Elizabeth Shaw. She drives the movie, doesn’t she?
Yeah. In a way, I think she is the heart in the movie, as well, the one you read things through. So she’s probably the engine, in a way, and also the one who started everything. She approached Mr. Weyland. She convinced him to actually put all his money into this mission.
She lost her father when she was quite young. He was a missionary and he was Christian. I think if something dramatic happens at an early age, it’s like you have two options. You can lose faith and you can go quite dark and you can start to think that everything is a punishment in a way. The other way, because she was a loved kid and he gave her the gift of belief and faith, then you can hold onto that and believe that there’s a purpose for everything. At the end of the day, it’s all about what I choose to believe and who I am, and what I make out of things instead of seeing myself as a victim.
Is she as tough, for instance, as Ripley in Alien?
I think Shaw is more feminine, in a way. She’s a scientist. She’s an archeologist. Ripley was harder from the start: from the beginning she was alone. Shaw starts this journey to get together with Holloway, and she loves him. They’re a team, they’re doing this together. In the middle of the movie, something happens and she becomes harder and more like a warrior. She has to cut off some emotional things to be able to survive.
I think she goes from being quite innocent and full of hope and belief and going into something that is a bit darker. But she’s still a believer. She believes she has an angel watching over her all the time. But I think she’s related to Ripley in certain ways. You would probably see some kind of connection between them. I think that all Ridley Scott’s women are quite tough, or they can stand up for themselves and they’re quite good at fighting back.
He doesn’t do weak women, does he?
Not really, no. I remember when I saw Thelma and Louise and I was so young, I was like, “Oh, fuck, what is this?”. I’d never seen anything like it when I was 12 or something. I think it’s incredible how he works. He has a very clear vision but at the same time he’s very open and if I come up with a better idea, he’s like, “Well, yeah, let’s try that.” It’s like we are creating something together everyday and that’s just amazing to be part of. He surprises me everyday and he has so much energy. Wow, I just have to love this man.

Now you’re moving into Hollywood after success with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, has it been a struggle to find characters as strong as Lisbeth Salander and now Shaw?
No, actually not. Maybe I’m very lucky because of the scripts that people sent to me, most of them are not that good, but I have some diamonds that actually are really good and with strong characters. So maybe I’m just spoiled. I also think it’s changing slowly. There are more and more interesting parts for women, as well.
The crew of the ship is a real ensemble, how has that been to play?
Fantastic. The mix of people Ridley has found for this, I’m so happy and it’s pure joy to work with those people because there are so many amazing actors. Kate Dickie’s incredible. I just saw her in Red Road. Ridley talked about her; I’d never seen her. She’s the medic person on board and it’s a small part in the script, but as soon as we start to work and every scene comes to life, I think this group of people bring it to life together. I don’t really see myself as the lead at all. I think it’s very much what we all create together. Idris Elba is fantastic and so is Michael Fassbender. I’m really lucky. I think every scene, we are together finding the truth about the scene, so it’s very much teamwork. “What’s the best way to do this?” And, “maybe you and me should switch lines.” We all share some kind of vision in where we want to go. Ridley is the perfect leader because he gives everybody something and then when we bring it together. It’s like explosions.
Has it been quite a physical job?
My body’s all bruised up, scratches and cuts. It’s not fighting scenes and action in that sense, but it’s physical stuff because we are in a space storm and I’ve been dragged. It’s both physical and psychological: it’s pushed out to the edge. You have to cut the connection between your brain and your body and then when you get hurt a bit you don’t really feel it. You just discover different bruises when you get home!
Do you prefer to do as much of it yourself as you can?
Yeah, as much as they allow me. Sometimes they won’t allow me because if I break a leg then everything’s down for a while. I prefer to do as much as I can, also because I don’t want it to look too professional. Sometimes when stunt people come in and they do extremely perfect moves, you wonder if it’d be possible. It’s too slick, I like it more messy. I’m trying to strip it down to what’s possible for me to do and then I know that my character could do it.
Have you done much training for it?
I’ve been doing a lot of running, because I don’t want to build massive muscles. I don’t want to be big but I want to be fit. I think they would have been training before they went into outer space. I know that the Swedish guy who’d been out in space a couple of times, Christer Fuglesang, he did an interview for Swedish television and he said zero gravity is so hard for your body. It’s really hard being out there and you really have to practice so long before you go.
I think they’d be prepared. Really, they want to be ready for whatever’s coming. They don’t know what they’re going to meet or whatever is going to be out there. So, yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of running, five days a week or something.
When I did The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the other Millennium films, I did a lot of martial arts. I was doing kickboxing and Tae Bo because I wanted to be aggressive. I wanted to be able to fight. This has been different because now I’ve been doing more running to be able to go on for a long time instead of having quick energy. I was thinking, I want to be like an animal. You have to program your body to use as small amount of food as you possibly need. When a bear is sleeping in the winter, they plan it perfectly, so they’re really starving when they wake up but they last that long. I’ve been trying to train my body to make my body work for long so I can do long sessions instead of very quick and intense.
By Joe Utichi