MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
She's a screen icon, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," who also "Played with Fire" and "Kicked the Hornet's Nest." - the fierce character Lisbeth Salander from the trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. As he described Lisbeth, she looked as though she had just emerged from a weeklong orgy with a gang of hard rockers: skinny with spiky black hair, black lipstick, lots of piercings and tattoos.
In the Swedish movie versions, Lisbeth Salander is played by the actress Noomi Rapace, who easily disables torturers and psychopaths with tasers, nail guns and her own two feet.
(Soundbite of film)
Ms. NOOMI RAPACE (Actor): (As Lisbeth Salander) (Speaking foreign language)
(Soundbite of fighting)
Ms. RAPACE: It's kind of beautiful the way she's fighting for freedom. And I felt like I knew something about her when I read the first book.
BLOCK: Actress Noomi Rapace told me she drew on her own independent streak to find the character of Lisbeth Salander.
Ms. RAPACE: I moved from my family when I was quite young and I went to drama high school and I always been taking care of myself pretty much. And of course my childhood and my life have been much better than Lisbeth's.
BLOCK: I hope so.
Ms. RAPACE: Yeah, definitely. But I've always been very stubborn and very, you know, had a very clear will of what I want to do and then nothing can stop me. And I think that Lisbeth's pretty much the same. When she decides to do something she does it. And it's, like, nobody can stand in her way. And it's up to you, you know, if I don't see myself as a victim, then I'm not a victim.
BLOCK: Well, this character, Lisbeth Salander, is tiny, but she is this coiled spring of a fierceness and almost sort of a feral quality to her. I wonder what you did physically to transform yourself into her.
Ms. RAPACE: I put myself on a diet because I wanted to be more masculine, a bit flatter, a bit more, maybe not skinny, but more boyish in my body. And then I cut my hair and I colored it black and I did all those piercings. And I started to train - a mix between kick boxing and Thai boxing for, like, four, five days a week for seven months before we started to shoot the movie. Because I wanted to do my stunt scenes and I wanted also to wake up some kind of aggressive side in me. I think that everybody in a way has some kind of animal inside and it's sometimes good to let it out.
BLOCK: In the first movie, your character of course endures a terrifying and extremely brutal rape. And you were talking about preparing for a role and preparing for a part. I wonder how you can possibly prepare for something like that, which is so graphic.
Ms. RAPACE: First, you have to, you know, ask yourself, do we need this scene? Is this necessary for the movie? For - because I don't think you should ever have, like, a rape scene just because it will make people talk about it. And I - when I ask myself, do we need those scenes? And my answer was a strong yes, because it's, like, the thing is you get to see and the way Lisbeth handled the situation and how she turns his rape and the things he has done to her into, you know, into strength.
And she managed to stand up and collect herself and fight back. She starts a war against him instead of against herself. So I knew that we need those scenes. And then you just have to jump into it and try to put away your vanity and all the things that can stand in the way, because it's always, of course it's very - nobody likes to be naked. It's no fun at all. And you have your own issues and all the things that actually can stand in the way for the scene and for the character. And that - I have to just push that away and go into the situation and do it.
BLOCK: Do you remember how long it took to shoot that scene?
Ms. RAPACE: I think it was one week. So it felt like we were down in hell, to say it, in a war. It felt like we were down in some darker side of humanity for a week. But it's quite interesting because in a strange way, I felt calm when we were done with those scenes. I knew that I've done everything I could and then it's possible to let it go.
BLOCK: When your character goes back to her rapist's apartment and gets her revenge in a very graphic way, what was that like for you?
Ms. RAPACE: I enjoyed it in a very strange way. And that I didn't expect it to be like that, but it felt kind of good to come back and to be the one in charge and to force him into all those things that she does to him. And I was a bit surprised by myself that I didn't - I didn't know that I had it in me, you know. But I think that's pretty much, you know, when you're working with a character, I go so far into her, it's like her universe and mine almost melts together. So if she enjoys this situation, it will color me and then actually affect me as well.
Peter Andersson, who played the lawyer, you know, we like each other and we respect each other, so we had a good go and we were out smoking in the breaks and just talking about other things and having a coffee and just, you know, hugged each other and say, okay, shall we go back in? Yeah, let's do it.
BLOCK: I'm about to hurt you badly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RAPACE: So, yeah.
BLOCK: You filmed these three movies in this trilogy back to back over the course of about a year. Were you able to leave Lisbeth Salander behind when you weren't shooting? I think you'd have to. I know you have a child, you would have to go home and be a completely different person.
Ms. RAPACE: Yeah. Well, it's not - I can't really leave her, but I can put her to sleep. It's like when I'm going home, I have learned to put the character aside, you know, so it's, like, now it's time for you to go to sleep and rest until tomorrow. And then I will wake you up. But she's in me. I always carry around my character, but she - of course - but I have a kid and I have a life so I have to find a way to put it aside and go home and cook meatballs and spaghetti. That's what we eat in Sweden.
So it's, like, and actually, I'm getting better. You know, when I was younger, it was really difficult for me to leave and to step out of the character. But now it's, you know, I have my way of doing it.
BLOCK: Do you find that even now there are still moments when she's back, when all of a sudden you have turned yourself again, maybe just for a moment when you're angry or something happens and you're right back there? You're Lisbeth Salander again.
Ms. RAPACE: No, not really. I'm not so sentimental, you know. I think it's good to leave things and to go on and to say, this is it, I'm done now.
Actually, my, it was kind of strange because when we were done, you know, the last day, after the last scene, all the producers came with champagne and, you know, everybody wanted to celebrate. And I just said, you know, I have to go to the bathroom. And I just started to throw up and it was like my body was physically just throwing Lisbeth out of my whole element. So I couldn't stand for an hour or something. And I'm never sick, you know, I'm not a person that is sick. So it was kind of strange. So I think I left her there.
BLOCK: You purged her in a very physical way.
Ms. RAPACE: Yeah. Yeah.
BLOCK: Well, Noomi Rapace, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much.
Ms. RAPACE: Thank you so much.
BLOCK: Noomi Rapace plays the title character in all three Swedish movies of the Stieg Larsson trilogy. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the last movie, opens in the U.S. today.
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.