In her native Sweden, actress Noomi Rapace has, as she says, lost her freedom.
"Everybody knows me. If I was sitting like this," she said, glancing around the dimly lighted lobby of the Chateau Marmont during a recent trip to Hollywood, "people would be looking and somebody would come and ask for an autograph and people would probably be listening to us and what we're saying. I can't really just go out in Stockholm. I have to have a car waiting. I can't take the bus. It's not possible anymore."
That Rapace might soon lose her anonymity in the United States — where her star is rapidly rising after her turn in the movie adaptations of novelist Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy — is, not surprisingly, a prospect she finds somewhat terrifying. But as the popular Swedish-language franchise's final film, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," hits theaters here Friday, the 30-year-old actress is facing an entirely new reality.
This year alone, she's visited Hollywood three times, in August doing the rounds while meeting with studio executives and A-list directors such as Ridley Scott (her name has been mentioned as a possible star of the new "Alien" prequel Fox has in development). And she's been asked by distributor Music Box Films if she'd be prepared to be at the center of an awards campaign, on the chance it decides to promote her for lead actress honors for her role in the trilogy as hard-edged computer hacker Lisbeth Salander.
"I've said, 'I can talk about the film,' of course," said Rapace. "But I don't want to — I can't really see myself trying to convince people to nominate me. Should I be standing there and say I'm good? Like, no, I can't do that. I don't consider myself — I don't look at myself in that way."
In town, the way that people seem to look at her — at least initially — is as a tough, somewhat manly actress primed to take on action roles. But Rapace, who in person looks considerably more feminine than her most famous screen counterpart, is delighted to upend those sorts of expectations.
"I think people expect me to be a punk, aggressive, angry person with a lot of black makeup and really not be able to communicate and all that," said Rapace, referring to Salander's trademark characteristics. "And a lot of people actually called my managers and my agents and said, 'She's so nice.' But what did you expect? That I would come in and say '… you?'" she laughed, interjecting an obscenity. "It's pretty interesting."
American audiences will likely see a softer side of Rapace in the sequel to Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," which is currently in production in London. Though she wouldn't reveal much about her role, she said she plays a Gypsy and plans to visit some Gypsy camps outside of Paris and in Transylvania for research purposes in the coming months.
She was offered the part only weeks after her last L.A. jaunt, when she first met star Robert Downey Jr.
"We met for half an hour, talking about 'What kind of films do you want to do and how do you want to work?'" she recalled, smoothing down the long hair extensions she had for her role in the "Sherlock Holmes" follow-up. "Once we started to talk about the work, then it doesn't matter if it's a big movie star or not. With actors, when you take away all of the things around, like the whole entourage and celebrity thing and the whole circus, it's about something much deeper. You can talk with an open heart, and I totally forgot that he was a big, famous movie star. Then it's like, this is a real actor and I really like to talk to him."
Meanwhile, she continues to work on her English — which she barely spoke at all only a little more than a year ago. It was only then, when "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" was about to be released, that she realized she'd have to hone her foreign-language skills.
"I almost panicked when the first film was at the opening night in Stockholm, because it was like, the producers called me in the morning and said, 'We have hundreds of journalists from Europe, can we do like two extra press conferences tomorrow?'" she said, laughing. "I was like, 'Ah, no, I just want to go and hide somewhere!'"
Nowadays, she's nearly fluent — and has even developed an affinity for some English-language television programs.
"For me, acting is my job, and I'm supposed to be travelling around talking about it. So to not have the words — I just decided that it couldn't be like that," she said. "I've started watching some kind of channel called Starz, and a show called '[Inside the] Actors Studio.' It's very interesting."