How Noomi Rapace Transformed Into a Bodyguard for 'Close'

The star and director Vicky Jewson recall the unintended consequences of the intense preparation for the Netflix film.
Gareth Gatrell/Netflix
Director Vicky Jewson (right) with stars Noomi Rapace and Sophie Nelisse on the set of 'Close'

After telling a story that is inspired by one of the world’s first female bodyguards, Noomi Rapace found herself behaving like a bodyguard when cameras weren’t rolling on Netflix’s Close.

Close is loosely based on the life of one of the world’s leading bodyguards Jacquie Davis, whose client list has included Nicole Kidman, Diana Ross, J.K. Rowling and members of the British royal family. The film follows Rapace’s character, Sam, a bodyguard and counter-terrorism expert, who’s tasked with protecting a young heiress (Sophie Nelisse) whose life is being threatened by mysterious and powerful forces after a failed kidnapping attempt.

Fittingly, this story is brought to life by writer-director Vicky Jewson and Rapace, both of whom spent a great deal of time gathering insight from Davis in order to create as much authenticity as possible. The shoot felt so authentic that Rapace started reacting like a bodyguard off set. Rapace explains: ”I was basically living in Morocco to protect Sophie Nelisse. One day, we were walking back from set to base camp … in a dodgy neighborhood. Suddenly, I just realized that I was positioning myself and placing my body in between Sophie and the people coming towards us. There were two drunk guys approaching us, and I instantly put myself in between us so I would take the hit or in case someone tried to grab her.”

Rapace and Jewson recently spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about their conversations with Jacquie Davis, their working experience with Netflix and how they filmed a dangerous underwater sequence despite Rapace’s fear of water.

The film is based on the life Jacquie Davis, one of the world’s first female bodyguards. Vicky, as co-writer and director, did your story build on any of Jacquie’s real-life experiences?

Vicky Jewson: I read her book, The Circuit, about her life’s work. I also spent a lot of time talking to her and getting to know her, whereas the plot itself and the story is completely made up. What we wanted to make sure was all the incidences in it and all the action pieces were drawn from her authentic world. So, I would ask her questions like, “Someone’s going to get taken, how would they be taken? Why would they be taken?” And we tried to knit in all of that detail: how they would operate in the field; what they do if something goes wrong; how do they transport someone? Also, on a deeper level than that, we drew the character of Sam from Jacquie’s personality type and her experience in life through having this very varied, dangerous job, and how that has impacted on her as a person. Noomi also spent a lot with time with Jacquie, sort of soaking up the kind of person that she is.

Noomi, what insight did Jacquie provide that prepared you most for the role?

Noomi Rapace: Basically from the first time I met her, I felt that she’s a pretty tough cookie. She’s very professional. She would die for her clients; she would die for her principal. She’s so committed to her work, but as a person, to get under that surface, she’s taught and programmed to not be emotional, to not show emotion and to not let any personal opinions get in the way. It took a while to get under the surface and completely understand who she is, but what I learned is that her mind is super strong. She basically tells herself to not be scared; she tells herself to constantly look for a practical solution and not become emotional. That is something that is really interesting and intriguing to explore in myself. My first call is always to be emotional because I’m an actor. Her first call is to be practical; just put emotions to the side and read situations, read possible threats and find solutions –– always solution-driven. I also learned to have a plan B, C, D, etc. if the first one doesn’t work. From the very first meeting with her, I started studying her, but also, she was training me with the basics of being a bodyguard: weapons training, driving, protecting a principal, how you walk into a room and how you step into an elevator. So, it was everything from small things to major things.

Netflix is known for taking chances on movies that the major studios don’t make anymore. The creative freedom they allow their artists is also well-publicized. Even though they acquired your film after it was shot, has this been your experience so far, Vicky?

Jewson: They came on board while we were in post, and yes, creatively, it’s been a very positive experience. They understood the kind of movie we wanted to make and then they fully supported that right through the edit –– even giving me final cut. For a filmmaker, it’s kind of a dream come true because they really listen and engage with what you’re trying to do. I don’t know if they necessarily see it as a risk. They have a very wide view on the audience; it’s such a vast audience and they can see where each film will fit. So, they were very excited about Close and very supportive and personable. We have a whole team of people, and they’re all available 24/7 on text, email or phone. There really is no question too small to ask them. I’ve never had an experience like that before, and it really does cultivate this team feeling, which is very intoxicating as a filmmaker because you feel supported and you feel like your vision is being listened to.

Noomi, since Close is your third film with Netflix as an actor, has this also been your experience?

Rapace: Yeah, as an actor to be working with them, I was on a press tour and we were down in Mexico City where I was having dinner with [chief content officer] Ted Sarandos and two of the kids from Stranger Things. It was the five or six of us. They’re so sweet, down-to-earth and so interested in film. It feels like a small company; they make you feel like a family member. They’re very supportive. When they like a filmmaker or an actor, they start building a long-term relationship. If they trust you, they’re going to let you do your thing under their umbrella. That’s something I heard from several filmmakers before I worked with them.

There are several thrilling action sequences in this film. Can you talk about the process of filming the underwater sequence, as director and actor?

Jewson: When I conceived that scene on the writing front, I wanted to bring a very new and original scene to the screen. I was writing near some fishing boats, and I could see them pulling these live fish out of the water in this tank. I thought it’d be the worst thing in the world to fall into that tank. I wanted to intensify that claustrophobia that you get with an underwater scene. You’re instantly afraid because you’re holding your breath, hopefully, as an audience. You’re thinking that the characters can’t breathe. You throw in the peril of this guy trying to kill Sam, plus the fish, and you create something that we haven’t necessarily seen before. Also, I wanted it to be ugly and dark and for the fish to feel like a monster forth. It’s probably the most high-concept sequence in the film because the rest of the film is very much rooted in reality. It’s not a big spectacle, but this was the scene where I said we should push this a little bit. We felt like it would bring something fresh to the screen and a real sense of peril. It took a long time working on the fish to get them to feel right afterwards. We couldn’t do it with real fish for obvious reasons. Noomi was very inspirational because her greatest fear is being underwater, but she really committed to it. She wanted to make sure that it was her actually doing it in the tank. So, it felt as real as possible.

Rapace: I think you put in the underwater scene just because you knew I was afraid of water [Both laugh]. I think you read that somewhere and said, “She said she’s brave? Let’s see. I’m gonna test this one.” But it is one of my biggest fears; I hate being underwater. I’m scared of dark water; I’m terrified of being held underwater. So, it was me going into one of the worst things that I can imagine. But I’m also a firm believer that you should never run away from your fears. I needed to jump in, find a way to confront them and come out on the other side. And I did it. When I started training with a diver, I was quite traumatized at first because I thought was underwater for a minute. Then, I came up and the diver said it was 13 seconds. I said, “What? It can’t be!” So, it was a journey for me to overcome my fear. It’s interesting how since I became an actor, I don’t have a choice. When I sign up for something, whatever the character needs to do, I’ll just do it. I have an agreement with myself that my vanity or my fears can never stop me.

Jewson: That’s so true. When we shot those scenes, there was no drama around it at all; she just did them. No one else would’ve even known that she was literally facing one of her greatest fears. It’s a very tight time schedule when you’re shooting underwater because everything takes longer. Noomi also completely understood that so we were able to nail it because she was kick-ass at getting past her fear.

In the cold opening of the film, Sam suffers some cuts and bruises that remain with her the rest of the film. I appreciate the choice of not concealing these wounds since they represent cracks in Sam’s unyielding facade. Can you share your interpretation of this choice in terms of Sam’s character?

Rapace: When I started acting at 17 or 18, I said, “I want to look real.” Whatever happens to me should show on my face; it should show on my body. I don’t want to cover up or look pretty if I’m not supposed to be pretty. I don’t want to wake up with makeup. I’m not perfect; I’m real. I’m a human being and if someone hits me in my face, it will show. One of the first things Vicky said to me was, “I wanna show everything that happens to her; I want the audience to feel when she gets hit. If she gets cut on her face, it will stay throughout the movie because it takes place over 10 days.” So, I loved that. That’s one of the first things I remember Vicky saying. I said, “Finally, I’m not alone, fighting for reality and realism.”

Jewson: We really did just completely agree on that from the get-go. I wanted to bring real action to women in this genre. It’s a tricky thing seeing women hurt onscreen, but growing up on action movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s with all men, I really wanted to see a female version of that and for it to feel authentic and real. As an audience member, you can only get massively invested in an action sequence if you feel the jeopardy and tension. So I thought it was very important that we were with our characters and that we were experiencing the brutality of the experience with them. If she gets punched, she bleeds, and we took that approach throughout the whole film in order to bring something that feels more raw and honest to fight sequences than maybe we’re used to.

Like Sam in the movie, filmmakers and actors often move from job to job and destination to destination. You both spend extended periods of time away from your homes and families while hyper-focused on someone or something else, be it the character or story you’re bringing to life. Did you find yourselves relating to the lifestyle of a bodyguard on some level?

Rapace: Yes. 100 percent. I felt like I put my own life on hold, and that I was basically living in Morocco to protect Sophie Nelisse, who plays Zoe. One day, we were walking back from set to base camp, with security, but it was in a dodgy neighborhood. Suddenly, I just realized that I was positioning myself and placing my body in between Sophie and the people coming towards us. There were two drunk guys approaching us, and I instantly put myself in between us so I would take the hit or in case someone tried to grab her. She’s a blonde, beautiful young girl and I said, “I’ll protect you.” I felt it in my body, but my own personal life is far from that. It’s weird how you start existing in a different country, being someone else and sometimes that becomes more real than your actual life.

Jewson: This project has been a long process. It’s been about four years in the making. So it really is your passion, and you do give your entire life to it. I work with my husband [Rupert Whitaker]; he’s my co-writer and my producer so we both live, breathe, sleep and eat it all the time. The moment we delivered the movie and it was finished, there was this massive void in our lives where you do have to sort of ease yourself back into normality. I guess that is very similar for Jacquie and what she does as you completely commit to something. And then, when it’s over, you kinda crash back into your reality. It takes some getting used to.

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Close is available to stream on Netflix as of Friday.