Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason star in Valdimar Jóhannsson’s A24 drama “Lamb” as a couple, Maria and Ingvar, who live on a remote farm in Iceland and discover that one of their sheep has given birth to a lamb that is half human. The two decide to raise the half-lamb half-human creature as their own child. Their life is disrupted when Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) unexpectedly shows up at their door.
I caught up with Rapace for this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast.
When people say to you, “What is ‘Lamb’ about?” what do you tell them?
It’s a love story. It’s the story about motherhood, grief, and how far you’ll go to heal and to protect your child, sort of. And what I love about the film is it has so many layers. People see different stories in it. And for me, it’s almost like two stories going on at the same time.
Is it horror? Is it a thriller? What is it?
I feel like it’s its own genre. It’s like light horror, drama, but it’s very Icelandic. And I grew up in Iceland and everything is kind of on the edge there. So I’m like, it’s just a film.
I’ve never been to Iceland, so is that how life is because that’s on the edge?
I moved to Iceland when I was five. I’d be out riding with my grandmother and she was like, “Yeah, we can’t cross that hill because that’s the elf hill.” They live very close to nature and with maybe creatures we don’t see. It’s like animals and humans and fairies and elves. They’re here. They’re around. You might not see them, but he’s standing right there behind you. That kind of 360 awareness of all kinds of life forms, some you might not see, I was very open for that idea as a child. …So I think in that sense, it’s very Icelandic because for Icelandic people, they wouldn’t even ask what kind of genre this is. It’s just like, “Oh, it’s a story.”
It’s a fairytale.
It’s a fairytale.
What I found fascinating are the details behind the couple. The kitchen is spotless. When you drive in the Jeep and you’re making coffee, the Jeep is spotless. Everything is so controlled.
Yeah, it’s like you create a spotless order around you because you’re so chaotic inside.
What did the script look like? Maria doesn’t speak much. There’s very little dialogue.
The script was like that. The producer came to London to my house to have a meeting with me. They brought me the script and this strange kind of moodboard with pictures and drawings and [they were] really quite disturbing. And I was so obsessed with this look book. I was like, “Well, I need to do this.” I’ve been waiting for this since as long as I can remember. And I read the script and it’s like they don’t talk. And then I have this crazy, imaginary, brutal and beautiful look book that is just so… it was almost like a weird trip. I was hallucinating looking at it. I was like, “I need to be brave and just jump into this universe.”
What was it like seeing the lamb baby for the first time?
It was in post, but also, we had Peter Hjorth, an amazing Danish man who was the puppet master. So there was a lamb head and he was walking this strange walk and looking at us in a certain way. So she was kind of coming to life while we were shooting. But obviously when I finally saw the movie or the first rough cut, it was with a lot of weird green screen effects still. But then I remember getting just goosebumps and I was like, “Oh, it’s actually going to work.” I was scared because I didn’t know if it was going to work. It could’ve really been weird and tacky if it was done the wrong way. People would be like, “Why did Noomi do this small Icelandic movie with this weird baby human lamb?
At one point, I thought the lamb was going to start talking.
That’s really interesting because she used to talk. She had a few lines in the script and it didn’t work because she broke the illusion. When I saw it, it was in the first cut. She had this weird little voice and then it was like, “Is she really there or no? Is she imagined by them?” And I think when she had lines and she was talking, all of a sudden she just became way more real in a way that broke the possibility for her to exist.
Is this the start of a franchise? Are we going to see a movie called “Puppy?”
Yeah, then “Kitten.” Oh my God, we can go so many places. Maybe the next one is my head on a sheep mama.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
You can listen to the full interview above or at Apple Podcasts. You can also find “Just for Variety” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.