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Like the characters she plays, Prometheus’ Noomi Rapace is strong and endlessly fascinating.

Noomi Rapace has made a career of being tougher than the monsters she fights, whether they’re The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s abhorrent psychopaths (Rapace originated the role of Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish trilogy) or Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ diabolical Professor Moriarty. This month, the 32-year-old Swede faces off with an unknown alien life form in Ridley Scott’s hotly anticipated Prometheus, allegedly a prequel to his groundbreaking 1979 thriller Alien. “I’m most comfortable playing women a little bit on the edge,” Rapace says with a laugh. And audiences love her for it.

American Way: I’ve heard you were a troublemaker as a teenager.
Noomi Rapace: Oh my God, I was a disaster. [Laughs] I was probably really hard work for everybody around me. I always felt like an outsider. I was surrounded by people and things I didn’t really understand or enjoy. I just accepted that I’m a freak, and I’ve embraced that and made it my strength.

AW: How has fame changed you?
NR: I am able to embrace things and melt into situations and adapt. I’ve had to learn English to work in Hollywood, and now I’m dreaming in English. That’s a bit confusing. The biggest change is that I’m a people watcher, an observer, on the bus or on the street, and now that I’m more recognizable, that’s hard to do. People are watching me, so it’s more difficult to watch them.

AW: With your penchant for playing vulnerable but fierce women, it makes perfect sense to see you in a Ridley Scott film.
NR: I’ve been watching Ridley’s movies as long as I can remember, and I think he opened a door in me that I didn’t know existed. I saw Alien, and I was blown away. I’d never seen a character like that before — a woman like that before — and there was no comment on [Sigourney Weaver’s character] Ripley being a girl. That was so liberating, such a freedom.

AW: The character you play in Prometheus, Elizabeth Shaw, is a woman of faith thrown into some very extreme circumstances. How do you prepare for a role like that?
NR: I don’t like to pretend. I don’t like to fake. So you dig. And you have to face yourself. And you have to ask yourself the big questions: What do I believe in? What is faith to me? Sometimes that’s quite dark. Sometimes it’s fantastic. You wake up demons you didn’t know existed. It’s an endless, unstoppable journey. Definitely my kind of job.