EXCLUSIVE: How Noomi Rapace pulled off playing septuplets for her 'intense' new dystopian thriller

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Aug 14, 2017

Noomi Rapace was bleeding profusely.

“I had to go to the hospital — I was bleeding inside, they had to stitch me up from the inside and out,” she tells SYFY WIRE exclusively, recounting a grisly mishap while shooting her new futuristic dystopian thriller, What Happened to Monday. The scene in question called for Rapace to climb out of a rusty dumpster on the film’s rain-soaked set, but the 37-year-old actress slipped, gruesomely gashing her left leg.

“I was supposed to be in bed for three weeks but I was filming three days later,” she says, incredulous. “It was so weird, how your body reacts when you’re focused and concentrated. I go into this different headspace where I don’t feel pain … It was quite intense.”

Intense amply describes the Swedish-born actress and her brooding body of work. After breaking out in 2009’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Rapace — already a star in her homeland — catapulted into the mainstream with roles in 2011’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and 2012’s Prometheus, showcasing an unyielding grit and nimble physicality that have come to mark her performances.

That vigor is on full display in What Happened to Monday. In the film, which premieres on Aug. 18 on Netflix, Rapace plays secret septuplets born in an era where overpopulation and food shortage have forced authorities to enact a one-child-per-family law. To survive, the sisters — each named after a day of the week and under the watchful eye of their grandfather (Willem Dafoe) — take on the singular identity of Karen Settman, stepping outside once a week on their namesake day. Their cover, however, is threatened when one sister, Monday, suddenly disappears.

It was a role that immediately hooked Rapace — but also consumed her.

“It was extremely hard. Those seven sisters lived with me for five months,” says the actress, herself one of seven siblings, and a mother of one. “I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t socialize, I didn’t see anyone, I didn’t exist. Noomi was completely on hold.”

She also reveals that the role was originally written for a man, but that the film’s director, Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), had other ideas, and only one person in mind.

“The director said, ‘I can only imagine you, and you’re a woman, so I want to change the role to a woman,’” she recalls. “I felt very honored.”

It took a year for the retooled script to finally take shape, and Rapace was “very involved” in the collaborative process, working with the filmmakers, costume designer, and makeup artist.

The actress also says the gender swap brought a very different dynamic to the characters, who run the range from straitlaced to rebellious, tech-savvy to free-spirited. “Sisterhood can be so powerful, and also dangerous,” she notes. “And the drama between girls, the way girls operate ... it’s competitive, and they can play each other and manipulate each other” — she pauses for a hearty laugh. “So turning it into seven sisters gave it a lot more fire and explosive kind of danger, but also love. The way sisters can be insanely close and function as one.”

To juggle seven characters, Rapace created different music playlists for each one, and showed up on set wearing a distinct perfume for every sister — anything, she says, to “help me shorten down the transportation between the sisters, leaving one behind and entering a new one.”

Rapace also plunged into a grueling training regimen, waking up at 4 a.m. and hitting the gym before heading on-set. She’d close the day with another workout session and then catch five hours of sleep. “There was not much of me existing,” she quips with a laugh.

The film has inevitably drawn comparisons to another multi-character, double-take showcase — Orphan Black — but Rapace reveals that she has yet to see the series, which stars Tatiana Maslany and wrapped up its run this past weekend.

“I haven’t because Tommy actually said to me, ‘Let’s not watch anything. Let’s do it our way and not have anything else in our heads when we’re creating this,'” she says. “And I’m a big fan of Tatiana Maslany. She’s amazing. And actually, now I want to see it.”

We’re guessing a few things might ring familiar.

“I’ve lived a lot of different lives, and I’ve been different people in different situations,” she says, looking back at being in that headspace while working on her film. “And I would say seven sisters are almost like extreme versions of me in different situations of my life. So it’s very personal, and I felt very close to all of them.”