Swede smell of success

Noomi Rapace stars in the final adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s millennium trilogy and, as she tells Paul Byrne, the role has opened quite a few doors for her in the acting world

Paul Byrne

It was clear from the start that Noomi Rapace wanted to make the role of the tattooed, bisexual, computer-hacking tomboy Lisbeth Salander her own. This was, after all, Sweden's most-loved tattooed, bisexual, computer-hacking tomboy ever.

"I told the director, okay, I will do anything to make this character come alive," explains the 30-year-old actress. "The very next day, I cut out bread, pasta, potatoes, sweets and alcohol, and began training, because I wanted to do all the fights in the movie, too. It was incredibly hard, but I was determined. Characters like this only come along every once in a very blue moon."

Lisbeth Salander's creator, the late Stieg Larsson, had tapped into his country's troubled psyche when he wrote The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first of three books that would become known as the Millennium Trilogy -- which has now sold in excess of 27 million copies in more than 40 countries.

A political activist who spent much of his time combating right-wing extremism in Sweden, Larsson had written the three Millennium novels in the evenings after work as a way to unwind. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was first, being published a year after the author's death on November 9, 2004.

In 2009, the first of the three novels was released as a film in Scandinavia and, when The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo proved to be a box-office sensation, the Swedish production company Yellow Bird got behind the adaptations. The third, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, hits Irish cinemas on Friday.

In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, Lisbeth Salander spends most of her time laid up in intensive care under police guard, recovering from some unfortunate gunshot wounds.

Both she and her erstwhile partner-in-fighting-crime, acclaimed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), are seeking clues to link Lisbeth's father Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) with the Swedish secret service. Blomkvist is also trying to prove Salander is innocent of the murder charges brought against her. And then, well, it gets complicated.

Truth be told, only the first of Larsson's three books -- and the first film -- have proven to be something special. After that, it's all gone a little Da Vinci Code-shaped.

Larsson's long-time partner, Eva Gabrielsson, claims she has a fourth novel that was almost completed before his death, and there's even talk of the author having outlined 10 books in total for the series. Which, given the money involved, may just see the light of day, in all their Frankenstein glory.

Still, lying around in bed for almost the entire time in an action thriller -- that's got to be a first.

"It brought out a whole new acting muscle," laughs Rapace. "There's plenty going on for Lisbeth this time out, it's just that she doesn't get to use her fighting skills quite so much.

"It was a great challenge, to channel all that frustration into such a confined space. Like soccer practice with a tennis ball."

Once again, Hollywood is about to take a sacred cow and turn it into hamburgers. Or, maybe not. The man behind the camera for the American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is David Fincher, who proved he was here for more than just severed heads and fight clubs in the basement by showing subtlety in both his true-life serial-killer drama Zodiac and his hugely enjoyable take on the founding of Facebook in The Social Network.

Taking on the role of pioneering journalist Mikael Blomkvist is resting Bond representative Daniel Craig while America's answer to Noomi Rapace turns out to be Rooney Mara (who made such a lasting impression in The Social Network).

That Rapace doesn't want to talk about such a prickly pronouncement is understandable -- America has plenty of other roles they want her to play, including Rapace's first English-speaking role, in the new Sherlock Holmes outing, shooting with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. There's also talk of a role in Ridley Scott's Alien prequel.

"It's a very good time for me right now," nods Rapace. "I am working at home, which is always something I enjoy, but there's also this other world opening up to me. And it's all down to Lisbeth. I owe her so much."

Of course, the fine acting on Rapace's part helped, too. It's a talent that no doubt has more than a little to do with her mum, noted Swedish actress Nina Noren -- who popped up, fittingly enough, as Agneta Salander in the Dragon movie.

"It's in my blood, yeah," says Rapace. "I became hooked very early on. When I was seven I got a non-speaking part in a movie. It just made me think, this would be amazing to do for a living. So, I left home when I was 15 and headed to Stockholm, where I studied theatre.

"And now I've been lucky enough to star in this incredible franchise. I have nothing to complain about. Except, of course, the violence against women in this country that gets ignored, how we treat immigrants, the old Nazis who hide here. Stieg has taught us all to complain about such things."

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is out this Friday