In A24‘s latest, a couple’s lives get upended by the bizarre arrival of a lamb-human hybrid. Director Valdimar Jóhannsson, working from a script he co-wrote with Sjón, makes his feature debut with a strange yet earnest Icelandic folktale that tugs at your heartstrings. Especially thanks to its precious little lamb child, Ada.
Jóhannsson shared how this oddball folktale came together, “I knew Sjón’s work; he knew the Icelandic fairytale so well, and he used lots of elements in his books. We came up with the creature because there are no Icelandic folktales about that. We wanted to work in this, kind of a mythical world, but trying to have it as normal as possible, that you would believe it.”
Coming up with the look of Ada, the director would clip and paste various parts of lambs and humans together. “I did a few versions of that, and I thought it was so cute. I thought it was an amazing creature, but it was so funny when I was showing it to other people. They thought it was so creepy,” Jóhannsson laughed about his collage-like designs of Ada.
Lead actress Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) took to Jóhannsson and the mood book he’d designed for Lamb. It wasn’t just the more adult fairytale elements that spoke to her or the character of Maria, but the experience of growing up on a farm. She understood Ada immediately, explaining, “I grew up on a farm. We had sheep when I grew up. It was always the mother sheep; if she had four lambs, she would quite often reject one. So, we had one that my sister and I had to feed and was living with us. You know, we pretended that the lamb was our baby. We had to cause the mother didn’t want it. It was almost every summer; it was two or three lambs. They’re quite cruel, the mothers. If there’s one that is slightly weaker, they discard it. Or they pick their favorites.”
While Rapace had plenty of experience raising sheep, she had none when it came to their birth. The short window of lambing season coming to a close meant that Rapace barely had time to arrive on set before filming a live birth scene. “The farmer told me what to do. I saw him deliver one baby before it was my turn. I was like, okay, and I just put my hands in there.”
Rapace explains why she took to Maria, “In a lot of Icelandic families, the woman is the leader. I would say my grandmother in Iceland; she’s running the family. She raised like a lot of kids, including myself. When I was eight or nine, we had a female Icelandic president, and I started realizing out in the world that’s not the reality. She’s like the only one in the world. Maria is she’s a doer. She’s driving the tractor, pulling out the lamb, she’s marking the lambs. Her husband is sitting next to her and making notes in a book.
“It’s almost like when we first get introduced to her, she’s surviving, but she’s not living. It’s almost like her life is on hold. Then, you can feel she has so much pain inside and carrying this grief of losing her daughter. Then, throughout the story, she starts breathing again. For me, it’s very much a story about healing, motherhood, and a dream of life even though you lost the one thing you cannot lose.”
Lamb releases on October 8, 2021.