The Swedish-born actor established himself in television as a recurring character in the mystery horror hybrid Sjätte dagen (1999-2001). However, it was his role as Stefan Lindman in the first season of the adapted, best-selling Henning Mankell novels, Wallander (2005-2006), which launched his successful and growing career.
We spoke with Rapace about the new crime thriller Tommy, his diverse filmography in Scandinavian cinema, and what it was like to play James Bond’s antagonist in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (2012).
Can you tell me about your character Bobby in Tommy and what it was like to play a henchman?
Ola Rapace: Bobby is a tough guy; the toughest in Stockholm, which is not the toughest city but when Tommy is away Bobby is the toughest guy around.
There is a lot of suspense and intrigue surrounding the absent character of ‘Tommy’. How did this grab you when you first read the script?
OR: My first thought was that this is a brilliant script. The ‘Tommy’ character and the fact that that is the title role, is just a brilliant detail. The first thing I noticed is that the script was really well written and it is not every day that you read something that you find so intriguing.
Bobby is a very tempestuous character yet sensitive in his relationship with Bianca. How did this challenge you as an actor?
OR: The thing that challenged me was working with director Tarik [Saleh] and actresses Lykke Li and Moa Gammel. Working with all of these talented people was more fascinating than the characters themselves. With the characters I was thinking, “I know that guy”; I’ve been around that guy my whole life. Bobby is the guy who gets rich, is weak, and has a hunger for money.’
The story of Tommy was quite unique. Were you conscious about being part of a film that challenged the gangster genre?
OR: Yes, I thought it was a brilliant angle. The way that Tarik [Saleh] and the writer Anton Hagwall portrayed the Stockholm underworld was one of the best things about the story. The female perspective is something which audiences are not used to. The conflict is usually between men who instigate the violence. How we see it from another angle in Tommy is more interesting. I think it’s fresh and that is what’s beautiful.
What was it like working with the director Tarik Saleh?
OR: He’s a brilliant director and one of the brightest people I have ever met; intellectually and in terms of his directing style. It’s just a great experience to work with him and we became friends during the film. I’m very grateful to have worked with him and I think he is going to do so many great films in his career.
Are you a fan of gangster thrillers?
OR: My favourite is State of Grace (1990) and, of course The Godfather (1972-90) films. Little Odessa (1994) as well, if you can call that a gangster film; it’s brilliant.
When you starred in Crimes of Passion, did the combination of the period drama and comedy appeal to you?
OR: As an actor every story that gives you an opportunity to play an interesting character in an interesting group of actors really appeals to me. In regards to the genre, I don’t really care what style of film I am in. I just focus on the character and the relationships of that character.
What was it like playing Christer Wijk in Crimes of Passion?
OR: I think we shot six films in six months. It was really hard work! Then again, I met Tuva Novotny and it was the first time I had worked with her and she is such a great actress. Working alongside her is what mattered to me on the show. It was what made it worth enduring because it was hard work.
Have you been following this year’s Göteborg Film Festival? Have there been any entries you have been excited about?
OR: This year I haven’t because I’ve been working in France so I haven’t seen anything really. I’ve been working back-to-back with Section Zero and a French film Arès. I’m not really up-to-date!
Can you also tell me a bit about the Norwegian drama you recently starred in I Am Yours?
OR: When I met the director Iram Haq, I really wanted to work with her. It is a story about her own life when she met a sweet guy and she wanted me to play him. I thought it was very interesting and exciting to play a character that I have seen on screen at the Göteborg Film Festival in the Swedish film industry.
When growing up who were your main influences in pursuing an acting career?
OR: My all-time favourite icon growing up was Gary Oldman. He was the one who made me want to become an actor. I saw State of Grace and then I started following the rest of his films. Gary Oldman is absolutely wonderful and had the most influence on me as an actor, as a boy, as a man, and as an artist.
Have you had the pleasure of meeting him?
OR: No, I haven’t. Now that Noomi [Rapace] knows him she keeps saying ‘You have to meet him!’ I’m not sure if I want to meet him in real life. An icon is an icon and if you have dinner with an icon you may be disappointed.
What was it like working on the 50th anniversary James Bond film Skyfall? As with Tommy they are both quite physical roles.
OR: As you said, my role in Skyfall was a more physical part. It was more stunts than acting really. But it’s really different and I take great pleasure in physically demanding roles. If it’s fighting or driving motorbikes or stuff like that. I find it fun and I enjoyed every second of it but it is not really acting; it was more playing around.
Can you tell me what were your fondest memories working on the first season of Wallander now that the show has recently come to an end?
OR: To me, the fact that Johanna Sällström died during the filming of Wallander has taken over all of my memories working on the show. I don’t really remember anything else except Johanna from that whole period. It’s really hard for me to answer questions about Wallander. I really admired Johanna as an actress and it’s just a great shame that she’s not with us anymore.
What film projects will you be working in next?
OR: Arès will be coming out soon, which I think will be released in May or June and is my first big acting role in a French movie. I’m really excited about that but I haven’t watched it yet! [LAUGHS] I tend to be very awkward but I really enjoyed acting in French. It is one of the best choices I have ever made.
Tommy will be released on DVD on Monday 23rd February and is available to pre-order now.
Words and interview by Antony Smith