Move aside, Richard Madden, Ryan Reynolds, and, uhh, Kevin Costner: Noomi Rapace's self-possessed heroine Sam in the Netflix thriller Close (out Jan. 18) might just be the most intense cinematic bodyguard ever. Then again, she's simply the latest in a long line of tough-gal roles the Swedish actress, 39, has tackled in her career. Ahead, she revisits five of her most powerful characters.
As soon as Rapace landed the iconic role of anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, she began prepping vigorously, practicing kickboxing and getting piercings—lots of piercings—on her nose and eyebrows. After all, she explains, she needed it. "I remember the director [Niels Arden Oplev] said, 'You're too girly,'" she recalls. "I was like, 'No, no, no, you don't understand!' I gave him a list of things I was doing to become her."
Ridley Scott's highly anticipated Alien prequel kept details so private, Rapace had only four hours to read the script before having to hand it back. When she got to the nauseating scene in which her character aborts her alien offspring, Rapace thought a language barrier prevented her from understanding it. "I was like, 'I must have gotten something wrong,'" Rapace says. "I reread it, like, four times." (We could only watch it once.)
In Brian De Palma's hypnotic drama, Rapace plays a woman who—six-year-old spoiler alert!—murders her boss. Production, the actress admits, was just as dramatic in some ways. "He's more old-school, so sometimes we clashed," Rapace says of working with De Palma. "It was an interesting, turbulent journey."
Playing septuplets living in a dystopian hellscape was "one of the hardest things I've ever done," Rapace says. "I had to learn every fight scene from basically six different angles," she explains, adding that acting opposite herself made the shoot a lonely experience. "I was so tired of myself," she says, laughing. "I was begging the director [Tommy Wirkola] to give me some scenes with [co-star] Willem [Dafoe], because I was dying to work with another actor."
For her latest turn as Sam, Rapace trained with "the circuit," a bodyguard collective on the outskirts of London, until she could pull off all of her own fight scenes. "My training covered firearms, evasive and advanced driving, unarmed combat, and surveillance," she says. Though she landed every stunt, one thing she couldn't beat was the weather in Morocco, where some production took place. "It was so hot some days," she says with a laugh. Good thing she doesn't sweat it on screen.