After their mutually beneficial collaboration on the Swedish production of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, director Niels Arden Oplev and actress Noomi Rapace have reunited for a stylish, star-studded crack at the Hollywood big time with DEAD MAN DOWN. Of course, Rapace is already well known to American audiences thanks to the blockbuster duo of SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS and PROMETHEUS, but her latest offers up a role that returns her to the neo-noirish trappings of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. The scrappy, wounded quality of her character, Beatrice, agrees with her; she's a physically/emotionally scarred survivor of a hit-and-run DUI who's all but given up on life. All she wants is to end the life of the man who ruined hers - and, in a rare stroke of luck, she finds her agent of vengeance brooding about in the apartment across the way.
DEAD MAN DOWN is at its best when dealing with the sorrow of Beatrice's life, and the potential of salvation she finds in the equally desperate Victor (Colin Farrell). Rapace and Farrell make a nice pairing, and their scenes together get an added pop when Isabelle Huppert turns up as Beatrice's adoring, but inadvertently hurtful mother. A fascinating melodrama could be built around these three uniquely fucked-up characters. Whatever becomes of DEAD MAN DOWN at the box office, here's hoping this isn't the last time these fine actors work together.
Rapace also has Brian De Palma's erotic thriller PASSION on the way, and the sequel to Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS in the early stages of development. By the time I sat down to talk with Rapace at the DEAD MAN DOWN press day in Los Angeles, she had already dished on the latter: a script is in the works (sans talkback hero Damon Lindelof), with Scott still committed to direct. As for PASSION, I think I'll wait until I see my favorite living filmmaker's latest until I go asking questions about it.
So here is a brief, but pleasant and interesting chat with the very talented Noomi Rapace about DEAD MAN DOWN.
Mr. Beaks: How was it reuniting with Niels on a Hollywood production? Did anything about your working relationship change?
Noomi Rapace: It felt like no time had passed really. You just go straight back into work; you can skip all the politeness, and go straight into what's important. On this one, I came straight from the shoot of a movie in Berlin. I did PASSION with Brian De Palma, and I had five days to switch and prep and jump into this one. But because it was Niels, it was doable. We talked on the phone, and then we met for four days before I started the PASSION shoot. I came to L.A., and worked with [Niels] and Colin for a couple of days. I love working with Niels: he's so passionate and strong-minded; he knows what he wants, but he loves actors who come with ideas, and he kind of embraces that. I know that if I work with him, he's going to create an environment for me to work in, and that I can come with ideas and find the character and make changes if needed. He likes that kind of collaboration.
Beaks: You get a nice line early in the film about how it "hurts to smile". From that point forward, I was completely aware of every time you smiled. As an actor, that's a nice thing to build around.
Rapace: Absolutely. I also wanted... I had lots of ideas. (Laughs) At some point, I came to Niels because I did some research about this man who was in a car accident and his face was kind of destroyed. His right or left eye was damaged, so whenever he got stressed it would start to flutter. He couldn't see. It would go in and out of focus because of the nerve system or something. At the end... when she is in the car and gets stressed, I wanted it to be like she can't see. Niels was like, "Yeah, but how should we do that? Do you want me to just pull the focus in and out?" *(Laughs)* I had a lot of ideas, but that thing that it hurts to smile was something we could actually use; it's something that works onscreen because you can see it.
But Beatrice kind of built her whole life around beauty and being beautiful. She worked as a beautician before, and she lives with her mother. It was this whole world of being liked, and being able to bring joy and beauty to the world. Then this thing happens, and it's almost like her life was put on hold. She loses everything that was important for her. She doesn't look that horrible in the movie, but she can't see that. She's gone through lots of plastic surgery, but she can't see that it's improved. It's like her life stopped the day she woke up in the hospital.
Beaks: Her life's been on pause. She's still living with her mother, who's played by Isabelle Huppert. You two have a very easy onscreen relationship. It's genuine. Did you have much time to rehearse or get to know each other beforehand?
Rapace: When they sent her the script, it was tricky. She was shooting something else, so it was a while where they weren't sure they were going to work it out with her schedule. Then I wrote her an email, saying how much I adore her, respect her, and what a great honor it would be if she did this with me. I so much hoped it would work out. Then I never heard back from her. But then she said yes, and she came over and she was like, "Thank you for that email. It meant a lot." It started from that. I loved working with her. She's a very strong person, but very generous at the same time. We had dinner when she got to Philadelphia, and we just talked a lot. But it's weird. Some people you don't need to spend that much time with. It just clicks. Same with Colin actually. The first time I met him in L.A., we sat down and talked for an hour and I thought, "God, it feels like I know him."
Beaks: I know what you mean. Whenever I've talked to him, it's familiar. It feels like you're talking to someone you've known for years. He's also very generous.
Rapace: He is. And it comes from a very honest place in him. He treats everybody with respect, the whole team. One day, the camera was on me for ten hours, and he was off-camera [present in the scene, but being shot]. Then they turned around, did two takes on him, and it was a wrap. Most actors wouldn't do that, but he didn't even mention it. He's such an amazing team player, and so committed, so passionate and so driven. He's always working and always bringing new ideas. It's fire and an explosive kind of energy in him. I'm kind of the same, so the whole journey with him and Niels was kind of incredible.
Beaks: There's a definite comfort level. One more thing I wanted to bring up with regards to Isabelle, is how your characters share the space to the point where they even smoke the same cigarette. That was a sweet little touch.
Rapace: That was my idea. But people who really know each other, they don't need to look at each other all the time. It's like, "I know. I know. Don't look at me like that. Just please stop!" It's that kind of thing. They know each other. They almost live in this symbiotic bubble; they're almost more friends in a way than mother and daughter. I think that also because her mother is so beautiful and so petite and old-school classy, that makes it even harder. You can see that the mother is hiding the scar when she is showing Victor pictures of Beatrice. It's like, "Look how beautiful she was." That's so heartbreaking. She wants her daughter to be happy, she wants her to go out and have fun, but at the same time she's not helping her. She's kind of saying, "It's hard to see you now with this."
There was a line in the end of the movie, when Colin and I are on the train after we kiss. My mom calls me, and I take the call. I say, "Yeah, we're coming home. What's for dinner?" Then we talk a little bit, and I say, "Yes, I'll say 'Hi' to him." Then I felt like, "I want to take this line out." I feel like [Beatrice] moves out. She takes off and leaves her mother. She breaks the spell and takes off and starts her own life with him. The relationship with the mother was really important even though she's not really in the movie that much. It says a lot about Beatrice.
DEAD MAN DOWN opens theatrically March 8, 2013. Noomi Rapace will return later this year in PASSION. Looking forward to it.