Director Roskam, Rapace, & writer Lehane
Noomi Rapace is still something of mystery to American audiences. She had been a big star in Swedish cinema, but given that there’s only a 9 1/2 million audience who speaks the language, that limited her reach. It wasn’t until she played Lisbeth Salander the lead character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (and the subsequent sequels) that she stepped out of relative obscurity into the international spotlight. Once the English language version was released, the comparisons drawn between her performance and that of Rooney Mara shed light on Rapace’s talent.
Since that star turn, she appeared in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as a Gypsy fortune-teller as well as the more important part of Elizabeth Shaw, a key role in the prequel to the Alien series, Prometheus. Then she co starred with Colin Farrell in Dead Man Down and Rachel McAdams in Passion.
Now the 34-year-old plays opposite actor Tom Hardy in The Drop notable not only for the fact that Dennis Lehane penned the script (based on his short story) but that it showcases the last performance of actor James Gandolfini who died short after making this film. Hardy plays bartender Bob Saginowski who is both enmeshed in a bar robbery and an investigation that draws in crazed ex-con and ex-girlfriend (played by Rapace) whom he befriends.
Recently Rapace’s director Michael Roskam and writer Dennis Lehane made appearances at several events in New York to promote their film The Drop. This Q&A is excerpted from their appearance at the Apple store and from an earlier interview.
Q: This is the first full-length feature film you filmed in New York from start to finish, right?
Noomi Rapace: Yeah. I was here a little bit on Dead Man Down, but this is different, you know?
Q: You grew up watching New York on the big screen in Sweden. What was it like being here?
NR: I always dreamed of making a movie, or being a part of a movie. There's something very romantic about it, and I remember that I fell in love with the script immediately, when I read it, but I was kind of afraid I would be flown into a studio somewhere, and not into a city far away, pretending that I'm living in Brooklyn.
And when we met, Michael said it’s crucial for you to shoot it on location. And I'm like, "Fine." I've been watching it since I was a little kid. I knew that it would create its own playground. Brooklyn is its own playground. Brooklyn is its own character in the movie, and without that, it wouldn't be what it was forced to take the time for. We gauged a lot of the things that could work... I always like to do research, and read up, and watch and listen and absorb. It made me really happy, and I loved it.
Q: The film had the best puppy in the world. He did exactly what he needed to be: a dog.
NR: It felt so much more disciplined than the actors.
Q: Cute dogs aside, what was it like getting to meet James Gandolfini?
NR: Michael and I were having dinner at Weisenkopf in Brooklyn. We were both going, "Go talk to him!" Was that in the restaurant? It's funny, because he was like... I got really shy, and I'm not really shy normally. I remember that I stood up, and I shook his hand. His hands are like three times the size of mine. And then I just sat down. He was like... his charisma is so strong. I remember, we were just like smoking for the next day.
Q: Give us a glimpse into the experience of making this film especially since it’s the last film with Gandolfini.
NR: I remember the night that I came to Michael’s house, when he was shooting that scene [in the kitchen between Tom and James — a crucial one near the end of the film]. Michael had started — he was working with James in the morning, and I was going to come in after lunch. They were waiting for me in Makeup, and I just wanted to say hi to Michael, and Tom and Jimmy, and Michael were in the middle of the scene. I got to see. I sat down next to him, and I was looking at the monitor, and I was blown away. I couldn't go. They were waiting for me in Makeup, and my PA was like waving, they need you. And I was like, "No, no, no, I've got to stay."
I couldn't leave. I just felt that it was something happening in that scene that was pure. It was so real, and it was so alive, and every day was different. It was like, there's no way I can go into Makeup. I have to see this!
Q: What it's like when you're working on multiple projects, does that help you go from one to another?
NR: I met Tom maybe two years before we shot The Drop, and we connected straightaway. He said he was a great fan of my work, and I remember when I saw Bronson, and I was so blown away. It was like, "I've got to work with this guy." And we connected, and we were trying to find something to do, and then Fox Searchlight sent me Animal Rescue, as [this film] was called then, and I loved it. I remember I texted Tommy, and said, "This could be it." Really, this is the first thing that we should do together.
Then Child 44 [a film she stars in with Hardy that will be released next year] came along, and I think we had four weeks between The Drop [and that]. But the beauty with a working relationship, when you trust each other, you can allow self to take risks. And you don't know to pretend to know how you don't know. You can allow yourself to be stupid, and to do really bad takes, and I felt that in this whole ensemble, between Matthias [Schoenaerts who plays the crazy Eric Deeds] and Tom, that I didn't feel that I had to prove anything. That I could just come in and work, and explore, and see where it was going to lead us. And that I haven't thought very much - and I love that. That's the perfect work relationship for me.
Q: This film is based a story by author/screenwriter Dennis Lehane (Mystic River). Did you get to speak much with him about it?
NR: I remember Dennis said something beautiful the other day. It was like, “Turning a novel into a movie is like having a child, and then saying, ‘Should I take that arm, or should I take that arm.’” And I can understand that.
Q: Contrast the experience of working with Tom Hardy and with James Gandolfini on this film. They’re two very different actors, and they have two very different styles in the way they approach characters, and the way they express them. Maybe you have insight into them that we don't know.
NR: Well, let me start by saying that I didn't really have scenes with James. It was most directly with Tommy, and I had a little bit with Matthias. I met him on set, and he, what made me really happy, and that I still sort of carry with me, is that when I got to know him, I realized that he was, he'd been doing all those amazing films. He did so much great work, by being in the business so long. And managing to maintain a real person -- to be so grounded, and so loving, so respectful, and so real, and not getting carried away with the weirdness that can infect our business. That is something that I still think about, with him. So that is with me not really working with him, as a person.
Q: And working with Tom?
NR: Working with Tommy, for me - I adore him, and it's quite rare that you meet somebody who you feel like you could do pretty much anything with, because you say, he has my back, and we're on a journey together. And you give each other, and then you can grow.
Q: How this character is alike or different from some of the other characters you've played, because you've played some fairly dark characters, who've gone through some pretty difficult times. Some of them are more victims, and others less victims.
NR: I remember Michael said to me, once, that Nadia -- she is like a broken angel. And in a way, I think that describes her. She's a young woman with a troubled past. She had a relationship with Eric Deeds, Matthias' character, and he's quite a complicated and disturbed man. And I think that she's strong. She has a strength. She was living something bad, really destructive, but she managed to break it and move on. Like you’re kind of forcing yourself to find your own voice, even though she's fragile when we meet her. It can be hard to leave something, even if it's disruptive and not good for you. It's safety, and it's home base. So to leave that, and go into something that is unknown, it can be more scary than to live with something that is not good for you. So to me, she's a strong person. When we meet her, she's trying to find her new self.
Q: Talking about contrasting this character to some of the others you’ve played. like your character in Dragon Tattoo. Lisabeth Salander is a tough character who's been damaged. Even the character Prometheus has those elements in her past. You work with characters like that, and have an understanding of them and that's fascinating. You’re able to reveal the feeling behind those characters. How do you get behind the curtain with these characters.Talk more in depth about that?
NR: I guess I'm kind of drawn to contradictions. It's always more interesting to try and understand someone when they're complicated, in an inner landscape. It feels like most of my characters are a contradiction; they have souls that are like broken mirrors, you know? Depending on where you stand, you will see different reflections.
And I think that Nadia, maybe, she's a very good person. And she's a good soul — that's the angel thing that people see. She doesn't have aggression and violence in the same way as those other ones, and she's not as tough as the one in Prometheus. She has a faith; she's always connected to something that's bigger, to find strength in.
And Nadia only has herself. I think that she's the only person who can heal or cure or help someone like Bob, and start to mend something as broken as him. And I think the same goes with him and her. He's obviously, like, "I'm not going to ask. I'm not judging. If you don't want to tell me, or talk to me about it, it's fine."
And I think that's something. She’s a very normal — normal, what is that? She's also lonely, but for a girl to be lonely, sometimes your loneliness can be attractive to men, and they can find a way to use you. And I think when he was asking, and I remember thinking in the pet store, when he asks, "So are you a dancer?" And she was like...
Q: Did you do any research for this?
NR: I was doing a little bit of research on dancers in strip clubs in New York, to look into that world, because I had a feeling that she wanted to be a dancer, but then ended up in bad places, dancing for men, in situations like that. I like fighters, and I like people who are survivors, and people that are not really. I don't like this perfection, with people.
I try to use myself as much as I can, dig from myself and translate things from me into the character. With Dragon Tattoo, I can't just put on Lisbeth's clothes and now I'm Lisbeth so we can begin to work. It's more like I have to give her a place in me for the time we were shooting.
Q: Everyone is really excited about a Prometheus sequel. Can you talk about the movie? What are your feelings about it, and what do you think about it?
NR: I can't really! I can say that we are working on it, and we all want to do number two.