Noomi Rapace has lived under the formidable shadow of Lisbeth Salander for a couple of years now, but she's not entirely sick of the punk computer hacker yet.
"I've been traveling for a year, and the questions people ask me here are not the same as they ask in Europe," says the Swedish actress, who stars in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the final installment of the film trilogy based on the late Stieg Larsson's crime novels. "I think that people over here have another perspective, so it's not boring to talk about. This is a new situation, so that's fun."
Hornet's Nest, which opens Friday in South Florida, continues the story of the whip-smart, antisocial and often-lethal Lisbeth and her continued persecution at the hands of an evil faction of the Swedish government. The role is a dream for any actress -- Rooney Mara of The Social Network gets her chance in David Fincher's upcoming U.S. version -- and it has brought Rapace, 30, international attention and the opportunity to cross into Hollywood films. (She's shooting the sequel to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.)
But Rapace, who read and loved Larsson's novels long before she got the role, is fond of Lisbeth for other reasons.
"She's such a fighter; I love her," Rapace says. "She's so wounded inside. People have treated her so bad since she was a little girl. Almost everybody has pissed on her, but she doesn't feel sorry for herself or complain. She always finds a way to fight back and stand up. . . . I really think that's beautiful in a way, having the will to create a life. She stands for something, for living a better life."
Audiences around the world have responded enthusiastically to Lisbeth, although reaction to the brutal rape scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo differs from country to country. Some critics in Britain and the United States lambasted the violent, though not terribly graphic, scene in which Lisbeth is assaulted by her guardian. The violence is essential to the story line; Lisbeth's revenge plays a crucial part in Hornet's Nest.
"People in Scandinavia are a bit more used to those scenes," Rapace says. "In Europe, too." She says U.S. audiences are also more likely to ask her about sex scenes, in particular about the encounter between Lisbeth and her friend and sometime lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) in The Girl Who Played With Fire.
‘‘In Sweden we are pretty used to that kind of nudity," she says, "but in other countries, people were like, ‘Oh, how was that, to shoot that?' In Sweden it's not a big deal. It really puts the spotlight on a lot of cultural differences that I was not aware of before. But that makes it interesting."
Lisbeth is an extremely physical character in the first two films, but she spends much of Hornet's Nest stuck in a hospital bed, recuperating from her almost-fatal battle with fear-some Soviet defector Zalachenko -- her father.
"I couldn't move; I couldn't talk," Rapace says, laughing. "I felt like I was in a prison. I thought, ‘How should people even know what I'm thinking? I don't have any tools to work with.' I just had to put myself in her situation. . . . She's really damaged. She's been shot in the head and the shoulder and hip. I did a lot of research on how that affects you and what it does to your body and your brain. . . . Really, I
just put myself in her situation and let her body become mine. But I felt really lonely and so isolated sometimes."
Rapace, who lives in London now though she barely spoke English when she started work on the Millennium films, says she's enjoying the lighter tone of Sherlock Holmes, but "I'm very much a drama girl." Don't expect to see her in a romantic comedy anytime soon: ‘‘When I was a teenager everybody was so much into romantic comedies, but I was like, ‘Why? I don't get it.' I saw True Romance, Rag-
ing Bull and The Godfather, all those more complicated and crazy films about f - - - - - -up people, and that was much more me in a way."
Rapace doesn't believe watching Mara play the role she originated will bother her: "I'm not so sentimental. I'm pretty much like Lisbeth. When you're done, you're done. You leave it behind."
And she won't regret her decision, despite the Larsson family's announcement that a fin-
ished manuscript for a fourth book may exist.
"It was like one and a half years with her," Rapace says. "She really took over my life in a way. When people started to talk about an American remake, I said, ‘I don't want to do it. It doesn't matter who's going to do it or who plays Mikael.' It was so funny -- when it was released that David Fincher would be directing, people asked, ‘Did you change your mind?' And I said, ‘No, why should I change my mind?' I admire him. He's a really cool filmmaker. But I'm done. . . . It's better to leave things behind and move on."