Arriving on VOD and various digital platforms today is Małgorzata Szumowska’s coming-of-age cult thriller, The Other Lamb, which follows a teenage woman named Selah (Raffey Cassidy), who comes to terms with her burgeoning womanhood and her devotion to a man she only knows as “Shepherd” (Michiel Huisman), the enigmatic and dangerous messianic leader who presides over a group of women who blindly follow him and his teachings.
Daily Dead recently spoke with Szumowska about what initially drew her to the script for The Other Lamb, as well as her approach to this story and how she wasn’t looking to vilify the decisions of the female characters in the film as well. Szumowska also discussed her organic casting process for The Other Lamb and the deep unspoken bond she shared with the film’s star, Raffey Cassidy.
I'd love to start off by talking a little bit about the story of The Other Lamb. Was this something that was brought to you then and was there something in particular that drew you into this world?
Małgorzata Szumowska: The script. The script arrived to me from producers David Lancaster and Stephanie Wilcox, who both produced Whiplash. I met them at a festival and they sent me the script afterwards. Before, I had read a number of scripts, but this one particularly felt like the best one for my first film that I was making where I didn’t write the story.
I found the story of The Other Lamb very, very interesting because it's a mostly all-female cast on the screen. There’s only one man in the middle of this interesting situation. But there was also the journey of a very young girl who is becoming a woman, where she's transforming, and from her perspective, she loves this guy who is like her father. At the same time, she begins to see him as this abusive, terrible monster and that causes her to question everything she knows. This whole process of her becoming a woman was so interesting to me.
We've seen plenty of movies where women in cults follow this singular male figure, but in many cases, those movies come down on the women, and in some ways, it feels like they’re judging them for falling victim to these manipulative figures. And yet, I don't feel like this film does that at all. And I was curious, was that conscientious in the back of your mind as you approached this story from a directorial standpoint?
Małgorzata Szumowska: I completely agree with you. Before we started filming, I watched some documentaries and also some stuff on YouTube about cults. A lot of the time, it felt like these projects were judging them, where it felt like they were saying that these women, or people in general, were stupid to follow this kind of authority figure. I really wanted to avoid that situation because I wanted this to be clear: I was so excited to have an opportunity to make a film only with a mostly female cast that was really about women and their experiences.
I was so open with my heart and soul to this story. I really liked these characters, and so I wanted to show them sympathy and compassion. From the bottom of my heart, from the moment I began working on The Other Lamb, I wanted to create a film that had a very organic female environment.
Absolutely, and I think you do it incredibly well. And I think what also really works exceedingly well in the film is the fact that these characters, even without a ton of backstory, feel like fully realized characters. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because I think this film has a very nuanced approach to developing characters, and I really enjoyed that. And I think it really works exceedingly well.
Małgorzata Szumowska: Oh, cool. Yeah, with all these women, I chose a personality for them. Not via any casting, but I just met them in person for a rehearsal, and I chose each of them personally. We didn't have a lot of time, but as we became a group during production, it was a more interesting process, because like in real life, they started to make these friendships and relationships between them, and it was amazing. It was something that was beyond the making of a film. And they were exceptional, which is maybe why you could feel it on the screen.
Every character is important here, but it’s the character of Selah that’s the driving force for this story. Was there something in particular about Raffey where you knew she could carry the weight of this journey on her very capable shoulders?
Małgorzata Szumowska: I mean, she's exceptional. I think more than half of the film is really focused on her. I saw Raffey in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and in Vox Lux, and I said, "Oh my God, this girl is striking. There is just something in her eyes." You can really easily trust Raffey and you believe in her feelings. I didn't use any rehearsal with Raffey either, just to keep things feeling fresh with her performance. When we met, there was an instant chemistry between us, but a lot of our communication came without words. In real life, she's a girl from Manchester and she speaks with such an accent that I often couldn't understand her.
So, I would show her what I wanted, and she just repeated all of it perfectly. Despite the communication issues, it was so easy for me to work with her, and we even did a short film together for Vimeo. I really want to make another film with her, too, because it’s really very rare to meet someone that you connect with on such a deep level like that. She’s a wonderful actress.
In case you missed it, read Sara Clements' review of The Other Lamb.
[Photo Credit: Above photo of Małgorzata Szumowska by Jacek Poremba.]