Icelandic Director on Herding Sheep, Growing Beards

The first Icelandic film to be selected for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in a decade, the poignant dramedy “Rams” is set in a remote valley where two brothers who haven’t spoken in 40 years must come together to save their sheep. It is the second narrative feature written and directed by Grimur Hakonarson, an experienced documentarian.

What inspired you to create this story? 

“Rams” is based on my acquaintance with rural people and rural culture in general. Both of my parents were raised in the countryside, and I was sent there to live and work most summers until I reached the age of 17. Most farmers I know have a stronger connection to sheep than to other domestic animals. This is partly because of the culture surrounding sheep, a culture very deeply rooted and closely connected to the Icelandic national spirit, and the pivotal role sheep have played in rural survival down the centuries.

Talk about the sheep in your film.

The sheep were great to work with, even easier than the actors. A local farmer from Bardardalur, Magnus Skarphedinsson, was our sheep trainer. He did a great job. I put the emphasis on getting the main actors into a farmer’s state of mind. They got acquainted with sheep farming through academic research as well as personal experience. We had “sheep rehearsal period” for several days, where we only rehearsed scenes with sheep. I found out in pre-production that sheep temperament varies greatly between farms. On one farm, where the farmer focused more on his horses, the sheep ran away from us when we tried approaching them. Then we went to a farm where the farmer treats her sheep with affection. The rams there came over and gave us a nudge if they wanted a scratch behind the ears. That’s where we found our cast of sheep.

Sigurdur Sigurjonsson and Theodor Juliusson (“Volcano”), the two leading actors that play the bachelor farmers, have a surprising number of nude scenes. 

They actually wanted to do more nudity; I was the one holding back. Theodor was my top choice for the role of Kiddi, but I had some other ideas for Gummi at the beginning. Then I saw Siggi at the Icelandic academy awards, and he had grown some hair and beard and he reminded me of a farmer. I thought Siggi would be a good fit for the role of Gummi, and he is very different type than Theodor. They don’t look alike, but when they grew beards they became more convincing as brothers.

There certainly is some impressive facial hair in the film.

Siggi started to grow a beard half a year before the shooting. He also tried to grow toenails but that was more difficult and annoying for him. Siggi still has some beard because he is playing an 18th century outlaw in the national theater. I am happy that he will have some beard in Cannes.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benedict Andrews (L) and US actress

    Kristen Stewart on the 'Insane Gall' of Directors as 'Seberg' Arrives in San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN – On Friday, Kristen Stewart and Benedict Andrews’ political thriller “Seberg” plays at the 67th San Sebastian Film Festival, where it opens Perlak, a section dedicated to the Spanish premieres of major international films. The star and her director addressed the media prior to the screening in the festival’s first high-profile press conference, [...]

  • Les Miserables

    Ladj Ly's Cannes Prize-Winner 'Les Miserables' Is France's Oscar Submission

    Ladj Ly’s politically charged drama “Les Miserables,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, has been chosen by France’s Oscar committee to enter the international feature film race. In one of the most competitive years for French movies, “Les Miserables” beat out Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” the 18th-century-set romance which won [...]

  • David Kehrl neuer Head of Acquisitions

    'Resident Evil's' Constantin Names Acquisitions, International Co-Production Chief

    David Kehrl is to join Constantin Film, Germany’s leading independent movie producer and distributor, as the head of acquisitions and international co-production. He will report to Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board at Constantin Film, which produces the “Resident Evil” movies. Starting in February, Kehrl will be responsible for the acquisition of international theatrical [...]

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has a Name: Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film finally has a name: Leonine. The company revealed its moniker Friday, saying that “Leonine” met its criteria of being associated with its home region of Bavaria and Munich, in southern Germany, and of [...]

  • Scattered Night

    San Sebastian New Directors Jihyoung Lee and Kim Sol Talk ‘Scattered Night’

    After taking the Korean Competition Grand Prize and the best acting award (Moon Seung-a) at the Jeonju Intl. Film Festival, “Scattered Night” now heads to San Sebastian’s New Directors selection. An intimate portrayal of a family whose members are deeply isolated from one another, the film follows two parents overwhelmed by their responsibilities, their own [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content