Noomi Rapace and Sally A. Edwards delve into personalities by creating six characters. They also discuss the art of being bored in a world of constant interruption.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 3 Nø 5 print edition in 2015.
Interview and Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Styling by Sally A. Edwards and Noomi Rapace
Hair by Lyndell Mansfield at CLM
Make Up by Kay Montano
Shot on location at Ham Yard Hotel, London
We met Noomi Rapace a few years ago for her infamous first cover shoot with us. Remember that bubble bath? We’ve been in touch ever since.
With so much coming up for Noomi and not only our mutual love of creativity and conversations about life, we wanted to collaborate on something special for you. What began as a few exchanged messages and then a whole lot of improvisation, became something unprecedented for all of us; something we hadn't initially expected: An adventure into style, personality and people.
The first gathering for the shoot took place in a hotel in Central London, neatly tucked just behind the world famous Piccadilly Circus. We spent less than a day creating six characters. Costume changes faster than the passing of batons in a relay race. Hair, wigs and make-up gradually becoming more high-fashion with each new look.
We meet again in London for the interview after the shoot. Sitting on sofas, I sip tea while Noomi drinks her smoothie and deshells pistachios.
You've lead several films since we first met, including Unlocked. What can you tell us about it, other than you getting a broken nose, burnt cheek and sore foot?
“I don’t know if it’s broken, I have to get it checked out, but they think so, but you can see that it changed a bit. [points and pulls at nose]. Errr... my foot is fucked! [laughs]. I ripped a muscle in my stomach, I pulled my hamstring, my knuckles were bleeding, my arms were completely bruised.”
What do you play, like a secretary? [laughs] Kidding.
So what’s the routine when those kind of things happen? Do you have physios, or numbing treatments, or...?
“Yeah, I had a doctor that came. It was this Czech doctor, who pulled out a syringe with a needle like [3” long] and he was feeling my stomach, pushing his fingers in quite deeply and he found the muscles and was like, ‘This is it, huh?’ and I was like, [Gasps] ‘Yeah.’ and he gave me this massive shot of I don’t know what, but I couldn’t feel any pain for a couple of hours and he was like, ‘You’re good for three hours,’ and I was like, ‘Ok, good.’ So I went and worked and when it started to get out of my system, then the pain came back, but, you know you just have to get through it, know that you can.”
Exactly, because I know it sounds like a really simple question, but what happens if you’re in the middle of something and you get flu?
“You don’t get flu... even if you have flu, you won’t admit it. I’m never sick and I think that you have to... I don’t know, it’s weird because your focus is so strong, you just have to get on.”
I guess it would arrive once you’ve finished, if...
“Yeah, there’s just no way you call in sick and say, ‘I need a couple of days of.’
“But, Unlocked, they describe it as a female Bourne Identity.”
And I guess you’re doing all the action...
“Yes. She’s a CIA agent...”
Oh, we were talking before, maybe at dinner and we said we wanted you to meet one of our contacts for training. Was it this role?
“Yes, exactly. So I did fight training for it and gun training. It’s me, Michael Douglas, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette and John Malkovich. So we have a great cast. My character Alice came to America when she was about 10 with her Mum... Something bad happened and she took off and she was on her own; a teen runaway, just surviving, but she was really good at sports. She got a scholarship and was sent to college and did really well. She was handpicked by the CIA. Michael Douglas was her mentor, guiding her, teaching her, helping her navigate. So she managed to turn all her rage and sorrows into strength, but she’s really good at reading people and she’s sort of like a chameleon. The title is Unlocked and it relates to how she is unlocking people, she’s interpreting them. For example, there’s a person they need to get information out of, so she will unlock him, she will question him. She’s good with manipulating people and making them talk. Then when the movie starts, she’s in a bad place because she thinks that she messed something up, that she failed on a mission a couple of years earlier. So she stopped working in the field and kind of reversed into a corner. She’s at a Community Centre in London, still working for the agency, just collecting information, listening to people, helping people in that community, picking up on rumours. She has a couple of people that are working and giving her information, but she’s a community worker, like a social worker. So she’s disguised, undercover you could say. Then she’s forced out on this mission and that’s where the movie takes off and nothing is what she thought. She goes through this mad journey.”
Sounds good, did you enjoy it?
“Yeah, I really did. I saw a three minute promo recently, I had a meeting with the producers and it looks cool. It’s very rare, you don’t see female driven action films with a complicated multi- layered character like her. You see male driven ones, or you see the ones that are really stylised and sexy - more like graphic novels, but this is very real, it’s very raw. The DP said to me, ‘Wow, Noomi. I’ve never see a leading lady look so fucked up by a film.’ [laughs] So it’s not polished, it’s not posing. It’s not a beautiful woman fighting men. It’s a person who happens to be a woman and she’s a CIA agent and she’s out in the field, surviving. Trying to save whoever she can. But it’s a real as I could do it."
Brilliant, good for you...
You were talking earlier about TV and you probably can’t discuss it yet, but as a generalisation, would you consider doing TV? Because, with regards to this aspect of the industry, you can go in and commit to one season, then suddenly it can go massive and you’ve got yourself a job for five years, how do you feel about that kind of thing?
“Well, I’ve been having a conversation with a director I really love that I’ve been working with and he’s writing something for TV. I read a first draft and it’s amazing. We’ve been talking about it and he said, he’s going to do it, if it comes to that. I think it’s like 10 episodes or something and because I love him so much, I think this could be his masterpiece. That’s the way he talks about it. And I would probably do it then... but limited, I wouldn’t go off and sign up for six years. I don’t think so, but I love the idea of having time to develop a character and it’s like what we did on Millennium because I knew I had three films and then you can slowly reveal who the character is, where she came from, why she’s doing what she’s doing and how she became the person she is now when you meet her.”
Yeah that’s true, because what’s it like now, going from how you did Millennium and say, Unlocked where you’re in and out of that character very quickly in comparison. How do you feel, because we talked before about how Lisbeth affected you in certain ways...
“Unlocked did that too. They all do.”
“It’s always like a really weird... week or weeks 51after you finish a shoot. I’m quite lost and I don’t
really know who I became and what it did to me. Now for example, [holds hands up and bends right forefinger over as you would with a fist] this finger, I can do this with, [and same with left hand, but it doesn’t reach as far] this I can’t. [laughs] It’s because there was a scene when I was boxing, hitting a sandbag, it was from the 70s. It looked beautiful, really nice, like vintage nice, but it was very hard and I wrapped my hand, but not all the way, so my knuckles were protected, but not my fingers. So then I was hitting it for an hour, just going for it until my hands were bleeding. I don’t know I must have messed up a nerve or something, because the finger doesn’t work properly and it was swollen for about a month. So you’re sort of left on your own with injuries [laughs] and now I have this thing where I can’t really walk in high heels, I’ve been struggling a bit, but it’s getting better now. So you kind of feel like this limp, slightly injured, basic person.”
And you blame the character! [laughs]
“Yeah! Then you have to find a way to get on with your life and and reconnect with people, which is sometimes really weird and really strange. Sometimes it takes a bit more time and sometimes you manage to let go of it quite quickly. It depends, it’s been very different for me.”
That’s interesting, I understand that, but you don’t really hear about that kind of stuff – I don’t know if I should say it, but a lot of media glamorises it, like you just breeze in and out and the red carpets are rolled out after.
“Yeah. Yeah. No, no, no. You know and there’s also something psychological and emotional about it, I’ve been lending myself to someone else and she’s been living in me and all of a sudden it’s back to me, well it’s not really me, because that character that you’ve been in kind of changed you. And it’s also the risk you take as an actor, you have to kind of slightly lose yourself into it and let go of control."
And when you come out of it, you’re not really allowed to discuss it and you’re sort of holding onto a secret as well — even though you’ve been through so much.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s almost like... a friend of mine works for the secret service and once when I met him, he was injured and I hugged him and he was like, ‘Oow!’ [winces] I was like, ‘What?’ and he was like, ‘I got shot.’ and I was like, ‘Oh...'
Just at the range...
“Yeah and he can’t tell me and I was like, I’m not going to ask him, because he can’t tell me. It’s that kind of thing, it’s like a loneliness, you know that sometimes it can be quite brutal, but even if you have friends and you have family and you can try to explain it to people, nobody will really understand what you went through. Not even the other actors that you’ve been working with, because they’ve been on different journeys....”
That’s why you have Jazzy. (Noomi's wig mannequin as seen in the photoshoot)
“Yeah! [giggles, pretends to give her a kiss and laughs.]
People will be like, ‘Who’s Jazzy?!’ You’ll see!
You know it's been a few years since your last interview with us and life has become so much more exposed and voyeuristic with social media. I wanted to talk about how it's affecting and changing people, because as an actress you have to be on top of social changes for character development. I think social media is breaking down barriers but making people more vulnerable, it's quite catch 22. You know, people will "follow" each other but I've heard of awkward in the flesh encounters or people won’t talk if they bump into each other in real life. So I don’t know, I think it’s a funny world, it’s so new, people don’t really know how to deal with it.
“No, and they don’t know what the hangover is going to be and I think it’s like a mass hysteria of discovering a new drink, like ‘Oh wow!’ Like Red Bull, but with Instagram or Twitter or FaceBook and everybody is drinking it, they love the newness and the kick of it, but nobody knows the effect and the attention...Nobody knows what it’s going to be like tomorrow, when you wake up and I think it’s dangerous. What I think you sort of lose a bit, is to be in yourself. You know the ability to fall in love, to love, to be present to create love. The more you see yourself from the outside, the more you correct yourself and you’re constantly aware of how you look. How would other people judge this? How many likes will I get? Do I look successful? Do I look good? Do I look cool? Am I a loser or a winner? So, I think it’s really dangerous if you always have this, almost like a camera recording you with the outside perspective on yourself. You won’t be completely in the moment...”
“And I think for children and for love and for living, it’s extremely important to be in the moments and for me, acting is all about being inside to find that focus and concentration. So I think to be on your phone constantly, to always be in touch with a huge amount of people that you don’t speak to, communicating in a weird way, it’s a one way communication. I think it’s quite draining and you don’t really stay. You don’t read a book, you don’t watch a whole film, you don’t stay in one situation long enough, because I think with your thoughts and as a person, you need that. I think it’s important to be bored and sometimes be in a situation where nothing is happening, but the danger with the phone is that you're always filling up your time and how many people will see a film without being on their phones?”
I get pretty mad about it, I put mine away as much as I can.
“Yeah, and myself, you know I’m a victim of this too, though I’m not on social media much. I think it’s really... it’s almost like it’s carving you out from the inside slowly, but you don’t really realise... I think my biggest fear is that you will stop evolving as a person, you’re personality will be put on hold because you only live through what other people are seeing...”
Or you won’t develop the way you’re meant to because you’re protecting / showing yourself off through a mirror that isn’t a real one, if that makes sense?
“Yeah, yeah exactly and you’ve learnt how to take the perfect selfie where you look as good as anything...”
[Whispers] I can’t take selfies. [laughs] You’re good at them, but I can’t take them.
“No, it’s the same with retouching or you can have a body double in a film and what that will create is when you meet me in real life you will get really disappointed because I don’t look like that. For me, it’s been really important, like I don’t know how to retouch a picture. I don’t have body doubles, I have a stunt double for the situations they won’t allow me to do, but I do as much as I can because I want it to be me. And only then will I be able to, maybe not be proud, because I’m not really proud of myself, but then I can find some sort of satisfaction for a brief moment of, ‘I did everything I could and at least that is real’.
“I think the lack of realness and the gap between what’s actually going on, you know how we actually feel, what we actually look like and what you manage to sell is... It’s almost like you become your own promoter or your own manager and you’re always putting the best of you out there. I think it’s dangerous because that’s not life and you don’t need to be happy all the time. Like, there’s also this weird idea that you need to be happy to be successful, you need to be good looking and for me, sadness and sorrow and struggle, you know fighting with stuff and your overwhelming fears – that is as important as the happiness and the good moments. I think it’s like yin and yang and you need both to grow as a person and to find happiness and feel happiness, to feel love to grow and to find your own path. You need both. I think it’s a bit scary if you try to avoid or ignore, delete or not acknowledge everything that’s complicated.”
Yeah, it’s true. It’s really, really true. I wanted to talk to you about how pictorial social media is putting a lot of pressure on girls and the rise of the new hair and make-up techniques. Do you know about contouring?
“No, I don’t...”
Hhmmm, I don’t really understand it, but it’s a very complicated way to apply make-up with shading and light to essentially restructure the face.
“I didn’t know that.”
There are loads of how to videos about it. It’s the most incredible amount of make-up.
“But I think that’s something they’ve been doing since back in the 1700s...with shading. That’s what we do in theatre for example, you know back in Shakespearian time, on stage for example, they do shading, because otherwise you’d look like a marshmallow. You know you don’t see a face when you sit way back in the theatre. I’m quite used to that to be honest from doing lots of theatre. So, the shading I don’t mind as much as plastic surgery and things that you can’t reverse, like you can’t take it back. I find that’s more – for me, questionable.”
The thing is it goes back to what we were talking about before, do you think people are showing who they truly are by covering up so much?
Do you think they’re doing it for confidence?
“You know this mass hysteria that you need to look a certain way to be loved or get attention — it’s not sexy anyway, because I think what’s sexy and attractive and what will catch people and make them fall in love with you or see you, is what you send out and what’s going on inside you. You might be able to fool someone for a short time, with putting on or correcting yourself to look a certain way, but it doesn’t stay, it’s a very short plan and it’s quite stupid. You can do it, but know it’s not real and I think the real beauty, sexiness and strength and what will blow people away is what’s going on inside you. So I think, I’m afraid that this whole obsession with the surface will slow everything else down and then I think there will be a big backlash and...”
Don’t you think you can inspire by the things you’ve done with Unlocked for example where it’s really real?
“Yeah and I think I’m fighting my own battle and I want to do things real, but of course I want to be beautiful, I want to be all that too, but I’m in for the long run, I want to be doing films when I’m 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, whatever and I don’t want people to be disappointed when they see me, you know what I mean? And I don’t want to correct my body into something that’s not me, because I know that it wouldn’t cure the main problem, like what’s going on inside me and my insecurity and my doubt in myself. You know whatever I put on and adjust...”
It’s just a band-aid really.
“Yeah and it won’t heal, the scar will be there you know, but I know that I’m trying to do something that not a lot of people will do. I don’t think it’s about beauty. For me, if you’re a model and if you’re in the fashion world, yes, that’s selling and that’s the world you’re working in. For me, movies are the opposite, it’s life and it’s showing life. There, anyone can be extremely beautiful. If you see a film and you believe in the character, you get carried away and you start to sympathise and live with that character, any face can be beautiful and that’s strength, that’s the power with film. I just think it’s very important to stay true to what you believe in and not listen too much to other people. I have a bigger plan and you’ll see. Maybe my way takes a bit longer and my journey... maybe what I want to do, I could've done a quick way and risen really quickly to a very famous position if I’d gone with other choices, but I also know that’s a short way, my time at the top would be very fast. So, I’d rather be doing it my way and hit to where I want to be and stay there rather than going on someone else’s big exclusive yacht, you know what I mean!"
Noomi Rapace as...
Sally: [Going back to the shoot,] we created a lot of characters in one day! What was it like doing this? I know it was very improvised because we talked about three character traits in the first place and it took on a life of its own...
Noomi: Yeah! [laughs] It’s funny because it always reflects on who you are when you do interviews. Especially when you do interviews with people you know and you like, and respect, not only professionally. So you let your guard down and you will allow yourself to be more searching in the process and see where it’s going to take you. I had no idea. That same morning as I was going to go to you for the shoot, I just saw lots of things in the house and I was like, ‘Oh, I like that colour today,’ ‘Oh, let’s bring the wig and I think I need those shoes.’ So my sister and my PA were helping me and I was just pulling stuff together. ‘Oh! I need that!’ ‘Oh, can you get that?’ It was very impulsive, it’s probably a reflection of the different sides of me that very day, but also characters or sides of me that I’m exploring or playing with at the moment without me actually planning it. It just went that way, but I think we all have different personalities. Depending on who you’re with, how you’re feeling that day or what you’re doing and where you are in your life. You know, the different ‘you’s will come out. It was just full speed, everything came out that day! It’s also something I can constantly feel and reflect on, you know depending on how you dress and how you approach people, the way you talk and your behaviour. People will treat you in different ways, they’ll speak to you in different ways too. You can achieve different things, depending on how you look and how you behave. It’s interesting — the connection between how powerful your own approach is and how much you can change how other people will treat you. That’s something I discovered when I did The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I had this mohican and I put all the piercings in. I remember I had to go to the bank or the post office or something and people were so rude to me, and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ because people didn’t know I was doing the film and I was like, ‘What happened? Why are they so rude to me?’ I guess it’s because I wasn't feminine, I was not a person that was easy to like straight away — just by the way I looked. So it’s something I find quite interesting, how much we’re victims of first impressions.
Sally: It’s interesting, we meet so many people from all over the world in places so far away from where they’re from. They bring influence and subconscious trends and you obviously study characters very intensely too. There are most definitely types, but I think modern behaviour is debunking stereotypical personalities and so it’s interesting to create characters taking these experiences into account.
Let’s meet the characters we created...
Sally: Elsa is somewhat insular, has everything she needs financially, yet is lonely. her backstory is fascinating, having met and married a handsome, successful man who wooed her off her feet, her life has changed dramatically. With no financial worries, she no longer has to find the energy to achieve the same level of life she had before. Her compromise is an exchange of grafting for some boredom.
I think how we concluded this was the layering of styles, the improvisation with belongings, the jewellery, styling and the shy, playful nature she exudes.
Noomi: She kind of developed a relationship with the doll called Jazzy and doesn’t really know how to interact with people anymore. She’s gone into her own bubble and created her own reality with things you can buy. So it’s kind of easier to have a conversation with a doll!
Sally: She's mysterious, edgy, hard to distinguish and read. Her personality is like poker. When she smiles, it radically changes the perception of her personality. If it’s in your direction you’ve been given some rare energy from her.
I think you tend to experience people like this who have lived and don’t suffer fools gladly. They have a tough shell, yet are warm and open when they find comfort and trust in someone.
Hiro St. John
Sally: We came up with this name coincidentally when you look into the meanings: First name: generosity, last name: the patron saint of love, loyalty, friendships, art dealers, editors. It’s funny how some things just appear or fall into place.
Noomi: She’s changing herself, becoming someone else in disguise, breaking up with her old persona.
Sally: We talked about her being on the run on the shoot. She could be running away from unhappiness. perhaps, she’s been let down or had her viewpoints misaligned.
Noomi: I think she’s finding her new self and enjoying that. She’s been living quite a serious life with a lot of complications and now she’s become more playful. The only way she could come out from where she was, was to distance herself from her own chaos and take life easier. Be more playful. That’s why she’s so colourful and she’s going into this new self where she’ll over-do everything. If it’s pink. It’s pink! Pink! Pink! If it’s red. It’s red! Red! Red! If she falls in love, she falls in love like heaven and earth is coming together in collation. But I think she’s doing everything full-on nowadays and she’s not looking back, she’s looking to speed into the future.
Sunny and Evie Vincent
Sally: The twins! Sunny is the quieter of the two, more guarded yet surprisingly different once disarmed. Evie is more confident, stronger on the outside. But, you know what? It’s tough for me to work these two out! I’m keen to hear what you think. Really from being a twin myself and purely from my perspective, there are so many differences, but you are a unit and there are no two ways about it. However, I do believe pretty much everyone you meet will want to find differences, so they have a firm knowledge of which is which. There's also a natural fascination of the bond, because really you can scream the hardest yet have the best, most fun times and not hold grudges.
Noomi: I think what’s interesting with them is they’re each others' strongest strength and weakest weakness. There's a very strong bond and a very strong connection between them. It’s also what they know could bring them down, because they’re so independent towards the world that they don’t really need anything else. They survive on their own and I think that can create a lot of tension between them.
Sally: We were talking to Les Twins about this kind of thing. There were things they thought they experienced from being famous, that we get too. Laurent was saying that so many are looking for something in others and other things. Yet, I think perhaps with twins you have this bond, you don’t necessarily have to bring a particular emotional aspect into a relationship.
Noomi: Yeah, it’s a very beautiful and nice thing to be understood. What a lot of people are struggling with is loneliness and the constant battle of being interpreted; trying to find words and explanations that describe you and connect what you’re thinking and who you are. Then connect that with other people who understand what you mean or feel, or what you want. Yet so often it comes out wrong, you’re like, ‘Fuck! Nobody understands me,' and if you have someone that actually understands you where you don’t need to use that many words – that’s such a nice and good place to be in, because you have a short cut to a lot of things.
Sally: Your favourite! She’s very strong. She absolutely reminds me of a lead character from a classic 90s film. Tough and delivers through energy and considered, intelligent vocabulary.
Noomi: She’s quite stable in herself, she's not afraid. I think she’s a risk taker and she’d expect people around her to go on journey’s with her and not hold back. Instead of running away, I think she’s in a place where she’s quite happy. She doesn’t need anyone to come and save her or to make her become something else, but she wants to give and she wants to interact with other people. She’s quite a constructive person. She’s probably as much a boy as a girl!
Sally: She could probably be the unrelated solo version of the twins. It’s rare to be like that.
Noomi: Yeah, very. She’s sexy, but not for someone else, she’s just has it in her. It’s enjoying being yourself, it’s a very rare thing.