Actor Noomi Rapace: ‘I came from a poor farm, I’m not educated, no one opened doors for me’

<span>Noomi Rapace: ‘Being an astronaut has some similarities with acting: you are living a nomadic life.’</span><span>Photograph: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP</span>
Noomi Rapace: ‘Being an astronaut has some similarities with acting: you are living a nomadic life.’Photograph: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

Born Noomi Norén, the 44-year-old Swedish actor Noomi Rapace left home aged 15 to study acting in Stockholm. She broke through globally in 2009 when she starred in the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She has since appeared in films including Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus and the Icelandic folk horror Lamb. Rapace can currently be seen in Constellation, an eight-part Apple TV+ thriller in which she plays an astronaut, Jo Ericsson, who returns to Earth after a disaster in space to find parts of her life and her family subtly upturned. Rapace lives between London and Lisbon and has a 21-year-old son.

In Constellation, you’re often not sure, as a viewer, whether what you’re watching is real or not. How would you describe the show?
It’s all real… some sort of real. And that’s what Jo is trying to figure out: has she lost her mind? Is she psychotic? Is it a huge conspiracy? That’s what is so brilliant about Peter Harness’s writing: he doesn’t feed us easy solutions or truths. It feels like looking into a broken mirror. And I like watching films and shows that have that complexity, because it doesn’t treat me like I’m stupid.

Ridley Scott was just the kindest. He was like: 'I don’t want you to change, I want you to be you'

You are known for going very deep with your characters. Did that happen with Jo in Constellation?
It was weird, when I first read the script, it was almost scary. The character was so close to home. And being an astronaut has some similarities with acting: you are living a nomadic life, always being on a new mission and learning new skills, and constantly transforming. Also for me, being a working mother who loves my job … I leave, I say goodbye, I’m away shooting in remote places, and then I come back. And you do your best to reunite with your child, but he has always changed, and I have changed. So I really tried to dig into myself and allow my own questions and doubt: “How high is the price I paid? If I had another chance would I do things differently?”

How did you answer that?
It’s a constant battle and internal conflict. My son is everything to me, but I couldn’t just be home and be a mother, that would drive me nuts. That’s not me. And I want to live by example: be someone who fights for my dream, who stands up for my beliefs and who says everything is possible. I came from a poor farm, I’m not educated, no one opened doors for me, I don’t come from money. So I’ve just been working my way through life and my son has been my partner in crime. We’ve been side by side through all the different chapters, but I’ve been away and it’s painful.

Did you have any hesitation about going back into space? In the sci-fi horror Prometheus, as the archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, you had a pretty torrid experience…
Yeah, I mean, it didn’t really work out great last time, did it? But I love space, because it’s so full of possibilities. Space is dreams and nightmares. And Elizabeth Shaw and Jo Ericsson, I’d say there is a sisterhood there. They both have this appetite to learn more, to find out more. They’re scientists, they have this obsessive drive to find answers and to turn stones. And I can relate to that.

Prometheus was one of your first roles in English, and a lot of big-name actors were considered for Shaw. Were you particularly pleased to have landed the part?
Of course, it was major. That was the second time I came to LA ever, but Ridley was just the kindest and so respectful, so fucking cool. He was like: “I love you, dude, I love your work. I don’t want you to change, I want you to be you.”

Did you always want to break into Hollywood films?
It’s hard to explain because I grew up on this farm, and we didn’t have a TV for many years. There was no radio, there was no newspaper, there was no information coming in, only me sitting in the pickup truck playing my CDs. I had four CDs: Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Dolly Parton, and a weird Icelandic band called KK. So I was obsessed with Bruce Springsteen when I was little, and just dreaming of connecting with the world.

Did you suspect The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would be your breakthrough?
Well, in a way. Because the books were huge, so obviously, there was this massive pressure when I got it. And I remember thinking: it’s going to be a suicide mission, everyone loved that character so much, it’s impossible. I can only fail. So I was like: “I’m starting from the worst, I’m in a shithole, so anything will be better than what I expected.”

Is it true that Orlando Bloom broke your nose?
Haha! I mean, he fractured my nose. It was a total accident and, bless him, he was devastated. But he elbowed me in a fight scene [on the 2017 film Unlocked]. He was like: “Fuck, fuck, fuck, I hit her!” And I was just like: “Keep on going!”

I hadn’t realised your surname – meaning “bird of prey” in French and Italian – was created by you and your ex-husband when you married in 2001. Did you pick well?
I’m very spontaneous. I don’t overthink stuff: “Let’s go! Let’s do it.” And there was something in me that very strongly connected with the name. But my son said once, when we just moved to London, he was eating breakfast, and I was shooting Sherlock Holmes with Guy Ritchie, and getting ready, running my lines as Simza, my fortune-teller character, and he looked up at me and was like: “Mummy, do you know I’m the first-born Rapace in the world?” So yeah, I think I picked pretty well.

  • Constellation is on Apple TV+ with new episodes on Wednesdays