Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week.
Some babies come from the hospital. Others by way of the stork. But Ada, the half-sheep half-human star of A24’s Lamb, stumbled into existence as a collection of papers.
“I would say that you speak in images,” lead Noomi Rapace says of writer-director Valdimar Jóhannsson in a joint Zoom interview with Mashable. “I’m so used to directors coming in and really pitching a project. But he just gave me this packet.”
Drawings, paintings, photographs, a book of poems from Lamb’s co-writer Sjón, and an early draft of the film’s script: These are the fragments Rapace remembers first introducing her to her onscreen daughter. “He just left me with it, went out, and had a cigarette,” the actor recalls with a laugh, describing something akin to a cinematic waiting room.
“You know, I wasn’t trying to sell you something,” smirks Jóhannsson. “I think you just had to really want to do it.”
“Yeah, he was like, ‘It’s here if you want it,’” Rapace recalls. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I want it. I want it more than…anything.’”
To be sure, Lamb is an acquired taste, and its tricky premise made passion an essential onset.
Described in official press materials as a “dark and atmospheric folktale,” the ethereal horror experience follows a woman (Rapace) and her husband (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) after they discover a human-sheep hybrid in their Icelandic farmhouse. The delightful yet dread-filled dream that follows hinges on the couple’s decision to raise the baby as their own, despite sinister signs that suggest they should not.
In my head, she was already there.
Filming outside the fishing town of Akureyri in northern Iceland, Lamb’s cast and crew went about their work sans cellphone service. “No interruptions, no distractions, everyone just tapped into this strange lifeform,” Rapace explains, describing the shoot as the smallest production on which she has ever worked.
But the relative quiet offered by that remoteness was replaced by the chaos of a set packed with both animals and children. Rotating between livestock and kid actors in green caps, Rapace says she was almost always acting opposite “something living.” In addition to ten children, four lambs, countless more sheep, and a cat, the film also includes a sheepdog named “Panda,” who was runner-up in this year’s Palm Dog Award at Cannes.
Still, “[Ada] was probably the biggest challenge, because I hadn’t done anything like that before,” Jóhannsson says, noting the critical expertise of his special effects team. “It was just so, so important that she work for the film.”
“We just all had to surrender to this different way of working,” Rapace says, describing a rotating workflow. “Imagine, we’re shooting a scene when I’m dancing with Ada. So we start with a baby lamb. Then, when the baby lamb gets tired and they don’t want to play the game anymore, we switch to doing the baby shots. Then later, we go back to the lamb.”
“It was nice because, after a while, we found out all the children and animals had different talents,” Jóhannsson explains. You’ll notice in the final cut the director often lets his shots linger to capture the subtle moments from his more unpredictable stars.
“Kids and animals force you to be in the moment,” Rapace agrees. “You don’t need to play ten things at the same time. You could just embrace [the simplicity of] what was going on.”
The result onscreen is a stark and memorable allegory with countless interpretations, which we won’t spoil here. Regardless of your read, Lamb represents a phenomenal feat of character creation that won’t soon be forgotten.
“In my head, she was already there,” Rapace says.
Lamb is in theaters now.