Arriving in theaters today is Lamb, the latest release from A24 that should surely have fans buzzing. Co-written and directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson (he penned the script alongside Sjón), Lamb stars Noomi Rapace and Himir Snær Guðnason as a couple living on a remote farm in Iceland who take in a miraculous creature born amongst their livestock and begin raising it as their own daughter (you can read my glowing review HERE).
Last week, while in attendance at the 2021 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Daily Dead had the opportunity to chat with both Jóhannsson and Rapace about Lamb, and they discussed some of the themes the film tackles, their experiences collaborating together, creating the titular creature who becomes the heart of this unexpected story, and more.
So great to speak with you both today and talk about this film because I loved it and I’m curious how the story came together. There was just something really interesting to me about how Lamb explores this concept of what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a family. But there is also, and I don't know if maybe I'm reading into this too much, but the religious iconography of the lamb itself, which I just thought was really fascinating.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: When we were writing the script and also when we were shooting, we were talking about so many elements, like acceptance, family, and how you don’t have to be blood-related to someone to find that kind of family connection with them.
Noomi Rapace: I mean, the connecting tissue between all the different subjects matters we've talked about was healing and love. And if your heart breaks, and if it cracks into pieces, can you mend it? Can you heal? Is it possible? There was also the theme of motherhood that comes into play between Maria and the other mother character in this story.
Speaking to that, there was this line that really struck me when I was watching. It was when Petur comes in, and he’s like, "What the hell is this?” Or, “What is going on?" And his brother simply responds, "Happiness." And I think I may have gasped slightly at that moment because it felt so powerful. And on paper, this sounds like such an outlandish concept, but as I was watching it, I completely fell in love with this story and so much of it feels relatable. How hard was it to make sure that you really were able to capture the heart of the themes that you were exploring here and ground it emotionally at the same time?
Noomi Rapace: I mean, we took it very seriously, but it was still a playful experience for all of us at the same time. I don't think we thought about how it was going to be perceived or received. I felt like you've [Valdinmar] been holding this idea and working on it for so long, and you knew exactly what you wanted. So when you invited me into your bubble, there wasn’t any hesitation on my part.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: But everybody in the crew, the producers and all the actors knew exactly what we wanted to do. We were all on the same page and I think that’s why we were successful.
Noomi Rapace: It was a very personal journey for me, and it became really personal over time. I felt like I let Maria hijack my body and my soul and guide me during production. I felt like I lost reality a bit, even.
So, Noomi what was the process like for you, to put yourself in the center of what her world was like and trying to find the emotional beats of her journey throughout this film?
Noomi Rapace: I am a mother myself, so when we started working, I had to fill myself with the trauma, with the broken pieces of Maria, who has experienced this huge loss where she's almost denying it or putting her life on hold, just so she can survive. And then I think when Ada is born, that's when she starts living again. Ada becomes almost like emotional oxygen to this family. She fills up Maria and Ingvar and allows them to slowly build a bridge to their real emotions, where they start discovering life again. And only when you admit the break inside, that's when you can start healing. So in a way, Ada became this bridge for healing and light and love.
Visually, this film is absolutely gorgeous, and maybe this was my interpretation, but it felt like once Ada arrives, the movie looks and feels different. It's a little lighter. It feels a little more open than it did before that. I was wondering if you could talk about working with your cinematographer Eli [Arenson], because I think how you framed everything visually just really heightens what's happening within the story really well.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: Eli Arenson and I worked together so closely on this. I think we had something like three months where we stayed out at the farm together planning everything. In the beginning, I did storyboards for the whole film, so when production began, we both knew nearly everything that we wanted to do and wanted to achieve. And we also knew what we wanted to hold back on. To me, it makes a bigger impression when a filmmaker doesn't show you everything. In the beginning, I had 200 different shots with Ada. That was the plan. But of course, it was very expensive, so we had to cut it down to 70 shots. And then in the editing, I think I went even lower. But then I realized that her character was even stronger when you have less of her somehow. So it was interesting to see just how more impactful her character became even when you weren’t seeing her.
How hard was it to get Ada right?
Valdimar Jóhannsson: I originally had drawn this creature a long time ago, even before we started writing the script. And it never really changed at all.
Noomi Rapace: You knew what she looked like from day one. When I first met Valdimar, he came to London, to my house, and presented this project. He had his visual book, and a mood board, with all different kinds of paintings, drawings, photographs. It was like a little universe that he created. And Ada was in there, and she looked pretty much like she does in the film. I was so completely drawn into this world. And also, it helped that we shot with babies and lambs. So in that sense, she was very real.
Oh wow, really?
Valdimar Jóhannsson: We had several babies, four lambs, and two puppets.
Noomi Rapace: For example, I was doing a scene when I was dancing with Ada. We started shooting me with a lamb, and then we switched to a baby and then back to the lamb. And it really works when you see it in the film.
Valdimar Jóhannsson: My actors were all so patient with me, because they had to do all the scenes, first just with the children, and then with the lamb after that, and sometimes there was the puppet. That was crazy to try and coordinate sometimes.
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