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Live sheep births were a top priority for Lamb director

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With only 10 pregnant sheep left, the crew had to hustle

ingvar holding ada and maria looking over her shoulder against the icelandic wilderness Image: A24

As one might expect based on the title, the eerie new drama Lamb finds many lambs and sheep taking center stage.

There is Ada, the mysterious half-lamb half-human child adopted by farmers María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). But the pair of farmers tend to a huge flock of sheep, and the movie kicks off in the spring, right when their sheep are giving birth. Even before the miraculous birth of Ada, María and Ingvar deliver two other sheep into the world. The process is intense, with the two farmers sticking their hands deep into the mama sheep to help bring out the wee lambs.

As it turns out, there were no special effects employed to make it easier on the actors assisting in their animals parturition. The birthing scenes were real, and the first scenes shot for the movie. The actors immediately got their hands dirty.

“This was Noomi’s first day and she had never done it before,” explains director Valdimar Jóhannsson. “She just came one day before we started shooting.”

a bunch of sheep with eerie yellow eyes just chilling Image: A24

The Lamb crew was under pressure to shoot the birthing sequences due to natural order. When production was set to start, only 10 pregnant sheep in the onscreen flock had yet to give birth.

“That was our only chance,” says Jóhannsson. “[Noomi] just watched the farmer two times ... and then she was just waiting. We called her when we saw that it was happening.”

Filming a sheep birth is not as easy as it sounds — and it doesn’t exactly sound easy. In addition to the actors reaching fist deep into an animal to pull out the baby, the filmmakers also had to plan their shoot around when and where the sheep decided to go into labor. Giving birth is hard, and as Jóhannsson says, they wanted the sheep to “feel good” and thus needed to pivot the camera to where the sheeps were instead of vice versa. And as someone who spent a lot of time with sheep, that was particularly important to Jóhannsson.

“My grandparents, they were sheep farmers. When I was a child, I spent so much time there and so I’m very used to working with sheep,” he says. “I’m also used to animals. We had very good people with us — some farmers and animal wranglers. I thought it would be more difficult.”

Lamb is out now in theaters.