The actress fills EW in on A24’s bonkers new horror-drama and why it was a “milestone” for her career.
Noomi Rapace had no time to be sheepish on the set of Lamb. On her first day of filming A24’s Icelandic horror-drama, she found herself in a barn helping deliver a baby lamb live on camera. “I didn’t have any time to practice,” the Swedish actress recalls with a laugh. “I had this rush of adrenaline right before we started. I was waiting in my trailer, and then all of a sudden I heard a knock, and they’re like, ‘Come on, it’s coming!’ I ran down to the barn, but as soon as I sat down in front of [the mother sheep] and saw this little head starting to come out, I got really calm. It was so magical, pulling out that little creature and seeing it stand up for the first time and take its first breaths. Life is so magical and brutal at the same time.”
That’s also a fitting description for Lamb, a surreal and hypnotic fable from first-time director Valdimar Jóhannsson. The film follows María (Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), a grieving couple in rural Iceland who discover a strange half-lamb, half-child creature in their sheep barn. Soon, they’ve named the lamb-child Ada and are raising it as their own, but the couple must eventually face consequences for defying the will of nature. Despite that bonkers premise, Rapace describes making the film as a strangely beautiful experience, and something of a watershed moment in her career. “I feel like Lamb is a milestone for me,” the Prometheus star tells EW. “It really reminded me of who I am and why I want to do things and how I want to do things.”
With Lamb now trotting into theaters, EW sat down with Rapace to discuss making the film, why she felt such a strong connection to it, and why her collaboration with Jóhannsson was a shear pleasure. (Sorry.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you first get involved with Lamb, and what was your initial reaction to it?
NOOMI RAPACE: I was sent the script, and I loved it, but I was also like, “What is this?” I didn’t know who Valdimar was, but he flew to London to meet me, and he brought his visual book, which was basically a mood board with collected images, paintings, drawings, and photographs from years of his kind of library of imagination. He gave me this package of the script and a book of poems from the other writer, [Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón]. I started looking at those, and the images that he collected, combined with the script, made the movie come to life in me. I just felt like I had to do this. It was so disturbing and so frightening, and so beautiful at the same time, and not like anything I’ve ever seen.
What was it that you connected with in the character and the material?
I loved María from the very first. She’s such an amazing combination of strength, fragility, and violence. She has this primal rage in her, and the way she deals with her grief and heartbreak and her desperation to be a mother again is such a beautiful contradiction. It wasn’t hard to find her, strangely enough. I grew up on a farm, so I’ve lived farm life. But I hadn’t delivered baby lambs, so that was new. [Laughs]
What was the shooting process like for this film?
We shot in this valley up in the north part of Iceland, which is super remote — there’s no signal on your phone; it’s like an hour drive to the nearest gas station. So we were kind of trapped in this environment, and I felt like I said goodbye to the world and moved into the Lamb world. I started to drift, and I was like, I’m not sure what’s María and what’s Noomi anymore. I just embraced it.
As you mentioned, this is Valdimar’s first feature. Was it difficult to put your trust in a first-time director?
Not at all. I always trust my intuition and gut feeling. And even though it was his first feature, he’d been working for 20 years, and he basically worked all the different departments; he was in the special effects team on Prometheus. So he knows cinema, he knows filmmaking. But it was very much a collaboration. We were building María together, and it felt like we had a shared responsibility. It felt easy, in a strange way, and it was playful and fun.
Tell us more about that collaboration — what was it like working with Valdimar on set?
He doesn’t talk much. I like talking. [Laughs] But I had to tap into this other way of communication with him, and also with the lambs and the babies. It became more of a nonverbal conversation. But I love Valdimar. He’s a total artist, and he knows exactly what he wants, but he doesn’t always know the way there. It was such an investigation to find the perfect balance between the surrealistic elements of Ada and the very normal, everyday life that María and Ingvar are living. I’ve never experienced anything like it, to be honest.
Speaking of Ada, what did she look like on set? How did that process work?
There were lambs and there were babies, and it was this endless waiting game for the babies to calm down and go to sleep or for the lamb to fall asleep. Finally, the lamb is sleeping, and then as soon as we get the “action” sign, the lamb opens his eyes and goes, “Baaaa!” It’s like, “F—! Everyone out, back to the waiting game.” I’m not a patient woman, but I had to work on that a lot. [Laughs] But weirdly enough, I just forgot that Ada wasn’t real. It was almost like my mind just melted the body of the child and the lamb’s head. I think I made her alive [in my mind], and she was in the room with us.
This is the first Scandinavian film you’ve done in a while. What was it like returning to your home culture after so many international projects?
Amazing. It was a great gift given to me, like the golden ticket to the chocolate factory, to come back to where everything started and where I found myself as a child. I feel like there’s a before and after Lamb for me. I recentered myself in the soil of Iceland, and it really reminded me of who I am and why I want to do things, and how I want to do things, and I’m so grateful. I want to be more in that field of arthouse films that are kind of braver and dig into complex subject matters that are not so comfortable. I love that, and I love those films.
Do you have any sense of how audiences will respond to Lamb? The trailer certainly provoked some strong reactions.
I think what’s kind of beautiful and surprising is that everyone has their own take on it. We had a screening last night, and a lot of my friends were there, and they all saw different things. There were kind of heated discussions after about what different things meant, and I love that. Also, I think the movie works really well because there’s not a lot of dialogue, so you don’t get stuck in reading subtitles. You can just allow yourself to go on a journey and be in it. And it’s a universal story; even though it’s very deeply rooted in the Icelandic nature, I think it could have taken place anywhere. It’s a family drama about grief and healing and motherhood, and I feel like it’s almost like a Greek tragedy — with a little bit of weirdness.
Lamb is now playing in theaters.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.