'Stockholm': A Hostage Situation And How 'Stockholm Syndrome' Came To Be

Apr 14, 2019
Originally published on April 14, 2019 11:26 am
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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Let's go back to 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden. The country is gripped by a bank-heist-turned-hostage standoff. It's not just the crime that captivates the public but the surprising behavior of the victims. The hostages start to sympathize with their captors over the course of the six-day ordeal. The incident would later give rise to the term Stockholm syndrome. The story behind that expression is the basis of the new movie "Stockholm," starring Swedish actress Noomi Rapace. She plays Bianca, one of the bank clerks. And here she is in the film, talking to a TV reporter after being taken hostage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STOCKHOLM")

CHRISTOPHER WAGELIN: (As Vincent) All of Sweden would like to know, what is it like being stuck in there with those criminals?

NOOMI RAPACE: (As Bianca Lind) It's not too bad. We want to leave with them.

WAGELIN: (As Vincent) With the robbers?

RAPACE: (As Bianca Lind) That's correct.

WAGELIN: (As Vincent) But why? I don't understand.

RAPACE: (As Bianca Lind) Because we want to live.

WAGELIN: (As Vincent) Sure. But you trust them?

RAPACE: (As Bianca Lind) More than we trust our police.

PFEIFFER: Noomi Rapace joins me now.

Noomi, welcome to the show.

RAPACE: Thank you so much.

PFEIFFER: Noomi, you were born in Sweden. But I don't think you were alive yet when this news event happened. I think it took place about six years before you were born. Is that right?

RAPACE: That is correct. Yeah.

PFEIFFER: So growing up, how familiar were you with this incident?

RAPACE: I knew of it. And it was something that we - I remember we spoke about it in school when I was like 15, 16. And I remember thinking that this will make a great film one day (laughter). So that was...

PFEIFFER: You really think you were thinking about that...

RAPACE: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...Back as a teenager.

RAPACE: Hundred percent - and then this came to me, like, years later.

PFEIFFER: In the movie, the bank heist happens almost immediately. The main bank robber is Lars. He's played by Ethan Hawke. And here's a clip where he has walked into the bank and shot up the ceiling with a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STOCKHOLM")

LINZEE BARCLAY: (As character) Help.

ETHAN HAWKE: (As Lars Nystrom) Why? What? Why? Who said that? What's up? What's wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, screaming).

HAWKE: (As Lars Nystrom) Oh, come on. Where's the bank manager? Who's the bank manager?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Has she been shot?

HAWKE: (As Lars Nystrom) No, she hasn't been shot. She's obviously got a muscle cramp or something. Get her banana and get everybody out of here. Go. Go.

PFEIFFER: This bank robber seems like - I'm going to just call him a total yahoo. He seems bumbling and reckless.

RAPACE: (Laughter).

PFEIFFER: And meanwhile, your character comes across as kind of this prim and proper librarian, yet you, basically, fall for him. So as you were putting yourself in your character's mind, what did you have to believe in order to think you were being drawn to him?

RAPACE: I mean, he is almost like a child. He has this kind of naive way of doing things that's quite clumsy, and he's quite endearing. And he's not cool, but he really wants to be cool. And I think she sees, you know, the child in him. And she almost feels that she needs to, like, help him. And, you know - and also, I think they have some kind of chemistry between them straightaway, which also helps, obviously.

PFEIFFER: You know, not all films, as you know, are filmed chronologically. But I believe this one was filmed...

RAPACE: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...Chronologically. And I've heard you say in an interview that it helped you get into the mindset of a woman falling for her captor.

RAPACE: Oh, 100 percent. I remember in the beginning of the shoot that I felt like Ethan's character, Lars, was, like, just a bit too much and loud and aggressive. And it was just a lot for me to deal with. And then slowly, like after a couple of weeks, I felt like, you know, kind of merged into his world. And both me - Noomi - and Bianca slowly kind of just tipped over to the other side. And in the end, I was in there for six weeks shooting. And when I came out, it was like I saw daylight for the first time in a long time. And my perspective changed. It was a strange and very powerful experience.

PFEIFFER: For me, one of the funniest scenes in the film is when Bianca's husband can visit her for the first time in the bank. And of all the things they could possibly talk about in this crisis situation, they talk about something so mundane and domestic, right?

RAPACE: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: Was that a commentary on the practicalities of marriage? Or was it meant to help us understand why this bank robber might appeal to her because he's more appealing than the reality of her married life?

RAPACE: So it's a recipe. I'm telling my husband this recipe on how to cook the fish for our two kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STOCKHOLM")

RAPACE: (As Bianca Lind) You put a spoon of butter into the pan and heat it up until it gets brown.

THORBJORN HARR: (As Christopher Lind) The butter gets brown.

RAPACE: (As Bianca Lind) The butter gets brown. And then you put the fish in. And you fry it for four or five minutes - not more - on each side because Mia doesn't like when it's burnt.

And I think that's a quite common thing for people that the everyday routines becomes more important because that's where you think it will keep you sane. And it's something very heartbreaking and sweet but also comical of the whole scene. And I wanted - it was really important for me to make her as human as possible and really ground everything. And discovering her and all the nuances in her was a great privilege.

PFEIFFER: And I think that Stockholm syndrome is sometimes thought of as people who get brainwashed. They become psychological weaklings. They fall for the wrong people. But in this movie, Bianca seems grounded and like she's really making a deliberate decision. Do you think you were trying to change the idea that the captives are always the victims, in a sense?

RAPACE: Yeah. I mean, I wanted to show that you don't need to be a weak person to fall for a bad man, basically, or someone who's mistreating you. I mean, she falls for him even though she has a - she's strong. There's a strength to her and a bravery to her that I really - I found that really interesting. And there's a moment - there's a scene where he lets her go to the bathroom. And she chooses to come back because she doesn't want to leave her colleague behind. And she promised to come back. And it really shows that she has this kind of deep - a dignity and a loyalty. And she doesn't get easily scared. You know, something stronger kicks in.

PFEIFFER: The Bianca character is so different from the major role you played as Lisabeth Salander in the original "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" series. And they're both strong women but strong in very different ways. I guess how different did it feel to try to play this more restrained, prim Bianca character than this sort of wild Lisbeth Salander character?

RAPACE: It's strange. You know, I was very shy when I grew up. And I was - there was years when I just wanted to be normal. I came from a farm. We didn't have much. I was quite poor, far from, you know, civilization and education and money and everything that kind of makes you a strong citizen in a society. And so I kind of - for years, I tried to just not stick out and be like everyone else, be like a Bianca. You can feel like she's an intelligent woman. But it's also - she lives in a time when women - most of them were housewives, so, you know, you're not supposed to speak up. And all of a sudden, she's there and, you know, talking to the prime minister. And all of a sudden, they're listening to her.

And, you know, I can relate to a lot of that - you know, that you have these very strong emotions going on inside. And you repress it. You keep it down. I think it's kind of a Swedish thing because you want to fit in. And you want to be like the others. So it wasn't that far for me, strange enough. I think most people would think that I'm more like Lisbeth or, you know, a lot of my characters that are more explosive. But there's a lot of Bianca in me from my early teens.

PFEIFFER: That's Noomi Rapace, star of the new film "Stockholm." Noomi, thank you.

RAPACE: Thank you so much. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.