Noomi Rapace insists dark and twisted film Lamb will give you ‘both nightmares and dreams
Girl With A Dragon Tattoo actress Noomi Rapace, 41, on growing up in scary Iceland, honey badgers and sheep on set.
Your new film, Lamb, is a folk-horror…
It’s so many things. Our main little creature, Ada [a lamb raised as a human baby], doesn’t exist in folklore but she could do. Where I grew up in Iceland, there’s this witch called Gryla and if you’re not nice, you’re told, ‘Gryla will snatch you and cook you and eat you.’ Gryla has 13 sons. They are like the Icelandic Santa Clauses but they are evil and mean. And there’s a Yule Cat that’s also horrible and it eats people. So there are all these threats overhanging Christmas. In Iceland, parents like to scare the kids into behaving but it didn’t work with me.
How do you prepare for a movie like this?
I feel like I’ve been rehearsing for this film my whole life. I grew up on a farm and we had sheep. The lambing season starts in April and the mother sheep will reject any lambs they don’t like. So it was up to me and my sister to take care of them and bottle feed them. We had these lambs who came into our house and followed us everywhere, like a dog. But then, in September, it was slaughter time and we had to say goodbye. I was quite used to a farming life, where life and death is really present.
Are sheep good actors?
They are like babies, they don’t do what you want them to do. It was a constant waiting game. The crew would have to wait outside the set in silence until the lambs would finally go to sleep and one was carefully placed in my arms and then they would whisper, ‘Roll camera. Action.’ And the lamb would inevitably open his eyes and go ‘baaaa!’ and it was like, ‘Everyone out, we’re gonna start again!’ You just had to be very patient. It was a hard shoot.
Did the sheep spook you?
Totally, yes. I had this very strange connection with the mother sheep. I really felt that she didn’t like me. She tried to scare me by stomping at me and once she was outside of the house screaming until I went out and yelled, ‘Enough! Be quiet! You’re driving me mad.’ But it was humbling too. I realised that there’s not a huge difference between me and the mother sheep. We are part of something together, we are linked. It makes you humble. I came to Iceland as one Noomi and I left Iceland as another Noomi. Nature is really strong and we have forgotten that because we live this high tech life. We’re so ‘civilised’, so self-obsessed and greedy and arrogant. We need to wake up and humble up a bit.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress when I was seven. I did my first film in Iceland when I was seven [In The Shadow Of The Raven]. And I always knew that I would leave Sweden too. I would probably be a bit surprised that I turned out so well, that I’m not more of a mess. I think I was expecting more chaos around me.
If you could choose, what animal would you be?
I love honey badgers. They are funny animals. They look cuddly and sweet but they are really quite badass.
Do you live a nomadic life?
Yes, recently I’ve been working pretty much non-stop in many different countries. I love travelling and I love exploring new characters, new situations, new projects. But I want to spend more time in my home in London and with my production company, developing and working on future things. Sjón, who wrote Lamb, is rewriting Hamlet for me.
You’re playing Hamlet?
Yes, it’s a character I’ve strangely identified with a lot. The director says we are going to claim back Hamlet [which is set in Denmark] and make it great again! We’re gonna do it in Danish and probably shoot it in a real castle outside of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Are you still doing an Amy Winehouse biopic?
No. I think that had its moment. It was an exciting idea and we kept trying to find a way but I don’t think we’ve found the right world for it and the right body for it. It’s a shame.
Which hobby do you wish you had more time for?
Growing up, I was always making things because we were quite poor so I got my own sewing machine when I was 15. Every evening and weekend until I was about 25 I was making bags and clothes and toiletry bags. I went to vintage stores and bought leather coats and denim and made big patchworks. I love making things with my hands.
What’s your all-time favourite movie?
My favourite films are the films you can’t really place. I remember when I saw Dogtooth the first time I was like, what is it? Where do we place this? Like Lamb, it’s kind of a family drama but it’s really dark and twisted and just taps into so many places in you. It gives you both nightmares and dreams.
Lamb is in cinemas now.