The Secrets We Keep
Director/Co-Writer Yuval Adler and Actor Noomi Rapace Conversation: Transcription
QUESTION: Noomi, you’ve been involved with this project since very early on, and you’re an executive producer. How did you become involved?
Noomi Rapace: Joel [Kinnaman] and I were actively looking for a project to do together, and we were sitting with our manager at the time when they came with the script to us. So, Joel and I both got involved before there was a director and before it was set up. We both fell in love with the core of the story.
QUESTION: What drew you to Yuval as a filmmaker and how did you convince him to come on board the project? Yuval, what was the process like for you?
Noomi Rapace: I saw Bethlehem years ago and I remember that I was totally nailed to my seat. I was mesmerized by his interest in the characters and his investigation in the human condition, the good and bad (if that even exists) and the complexity of the situation in Israel that he explored. He just gave the characters so much life and they felt so complex and so layered, so I knew that he was a filmmaker that could see to all sides of a character. He's been one of the filmmakers that I wanted to work with ever since I saw that film.
Yuval Adler: I knew [producer] Greg Shapiro from other projects. He brought my name up to Noomi who was very actively involved in putting this whole thing together. She saw my previous films and called me. We immediately hit it off. We both had strong ideas on what needs to be done to the original script —there was a script in existence when I entered—to make this whole thing work. We didn’t have a lot of time, merely a couple of months before the scheduled production window. I met with Noomi regularly while she was in New York shooting Jack Ryan. And then I rewrote the script completely based on these conversations in a very short time.
QUESTION: Yuval, what was your writing process like? What did you draw from?
Yuval Adler: The original script was a holocaust story, a Jewish story. As an Israeli who grew up with that stuff around I wanted to explore other subject matters and learn from it to explore themes of trauma, memory and forgiveness. I was asking Noomi about her, her past, her experiences, her heritage and we talked about stuff that interested us, and we found out that we are both fascinated by the story of the Roma—their tragic genocide in WWII is rarely explored. Noomi is very connected to this story in many way and we started to research the subject and used some of her contacts to do so.
QUESTION: You both have personal ties to this story. How did that translate to the set environment?
Noomi Rapace: I think it became a quite personal journey for both me and Yuval. I've had a very strong relationship to the Roma people and that culture in Europe, for personal reasons. I felt that the Roma situation has received very little attention in Europe and what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Roma people is something not a lot of people know about. Therefore, the ability to tell Maja's story (who is of Roma descent) was very important and personal for me. It just kind of took over my mind and thoughts and dreams. On set I was totally in the grip of Maja and some days were really hard, yet I always felt that Yuval was right there with me and we were telling Maja's story together.
Yuval Adler: The script is interesting in that it’s set in ‘Anywhere,’ America but two of the three protagonists are foreigners. And in a way it is foreigners who have to deal with the past, where the American character becomes caught in their story. Well this film was directed by a foreigner (me) and two of the leads (Noomi and Joel) are foreigners, and we shot this film in the heart of Americana [New Orleans]. It was an interesting dynamic that most people on the set were Americans but the three of us were not.
QUESTION: Noomi, you’ve known Joel Kinnaman since high school. What was it like working opposite him, especially when your respective characters are enemies?
Noomi Rapace: We've been wanting to work together for a while, and it was incredible to finally be on set with him. We did Child 44 together, but we only had a few scenes together, and ever since then we've been wanting to get back on set together. When you know someone you can go deeper, you can allow yourself to be less polite and just jump straight into the uncomfortableness, knowing you have each other's back and you trust each other. It gives you more space to explore and to freely search for all the darker sides of the character and the situation.
QUESTION: Much of the film takes place in a single location: a basement. What was it like shooting in such a confined space and how did you approach keeping the film as visually arresting as it is, even with minimal locations?
Noomi Rapace: This is a question that I need to answer from two angles. As an actress, to be in a place like that, it helps in this story, because I truly felt like I was "trapped" in the basement. All of Maja's nightmares and unresolved, broken memories started to come up to the surface and it was almost like it was flooding into me. It took over and I felt really trapped and like I was drowning in that basement. I think Joel and I were both slowly going a bit insane and drowning in our own demons, emotions, old fears and hidden pasts that come in and take over the present—the persona that you fought so hard to create is cracking in front of you. Filming in a very narrow space, not moving that much and being trapped in a contained environment helped that journey I think, because there is no way to escape from yourself.
As a producer, you have to surround yourself with an amazing crew that are artists in every field, so every little detail that the camera will catch, everything from a hammer to a gun to candles and tools—everything needs to tell a story about that time and tell something specific about the people that live there. It's a combined responsibility, to give life to a story and to make it visually stunning and cinematic. We had an amazing cinematographer (Kolja Brandt) and I feel like everyone in the crew really did their best to lift the story and create something incredible.
Yuval Adler: Kolja Brandt, the director of photography, did a wonderful job finding ways to change the look even within this confined space, and keep things interesting. Staying so long in a single location—not having to spend energy on moves—allowed us to really focus on the acting, to dig and try stuff, to not move on until we felt we exhausted the dramatic possibilities of each scene.
QUESTION: The film is an intense psychological thriller. How did you prepare for the surprising physicality of the film?
Noomi Rapace: I did a lot of research and prepared myself by putting Maja's emotional trauma in my body. I then closed the door to that emotional room, so that was underlying in everything I did, it was like a ticking bomb of an old unresolved assault and the trauma that broke her. I feel like her body and physicality, how she moves in a room, walks down the street, what kind of shoes and dresses she wears, how she presents herself in the world all ties back to her past—what she wants to hide and what she wants to show. It all goes back to the breaking point of that trauma.
Yuval Adler: It was tough, especially since we were writing and rewriting the script well into shooting. Things work, and stay kinetic and exciting, when you are excited by the performances, by the look—and that certainly was the case. It was not hard at all to endure the hardship here. Every day you’d come to the set and look forward to what’s going to happen.
QUESTION: How did you keep up the intensity on set?
Yuval Adler: We were on a tight schedule, and we wanted to fit a lot of stuff in and also have the flexibility to try stuff, and make mistakes and correct them. Everyone had to be on point and give their all; there was no other choice. It was a fast moving train.
QUESTION: The film is set against the background of post-WWII suburbia, but it’s told from a perspective American audiences might not be familiar with. What sort of research went into developing the story and characters?
Noomi Rapace: It was very important for me and Yuval to give Maja a real, credible backstory. We did a lot of research and we built her together based on stories and the information we found about how the Roma people lived at the time, what conditions they were under, how they were treated. And I used myself, adding in a sister and letting that be the strongest love story between the two women. As I mentioned previously, I felt it was important to tell the story of a Roma woman, a story that is generally not given that much attention.
Yuval Adler: We did research into the history of the Romani people and their WWII tragedy. We had special advisors helping us on that. The costume designer, Christina Flannery, and the production designer, Nate Jones, did a lot of research and worked meticulously to recreate that period. They did an amazing job. I always looked at the monitor and I felt like we were going back in time. Some period films have this stuffy ‘old’ feel to them; they look anachronistic. We wanted a period film that looks ‘modern’, meaning that despite being period it doesn’t feel dated—if that makes any sense.
QUESTION: Landmark moviegoers will soon have a chance to see this film in cinemas across the country. Why is it important to see it on the big screen?
Noomi Rapace: Oh, I love the big screen, I love the theatre! I feel like we all need to come together to defend and stand up for the love of cinema. For me, the times movies have saved my life have been on the big screen, when I'm sitting there and letting that big wave hit me, filled with sound and visuals. It's almost like you get invited into a cinematic womb, it's the deepest heartbeat of film. I love being in that space—it’s magical and timeless—unforgettable moments happen in those rooms, moments that have forever changed my life. So, for every reason it's important! If you can, you should watch it in the theatre.
Yuval Adler: It is a completely different experience to see this film on a big screen. Brandt’s widescreen cinematography, how dark we went with some of the image, John Paesano’s score—everything has so much more impact on a big screen. You are in that world with them, and you feel the claustrophobia both physical and mental much more.
QUESTION: What do you hope will be audiences’ biggest takeaway from the film?
Noomi Rapace: Is forgiveness possible, can you forgive something unforgivable? What is revenge, does revenge work? Can you cure violence with violence? Can you set yourself free by hurting and harming someone as much as they did to you, to your family? These are some of the deepest questions in human history in a way. It's still relevant and if we look at today's world there is a lot of anger, frustration and hate towards other groups of people and those that are not like yourself. I think we all need to ask ourselves; what do we truly believe in? How can we together help build bridges between people that come from very different points of view? For me, violence, hate, punishment, vengeance—before I did this film, these were all questions I had in me that I wanted to answer—I wanted to go to that place within me. What I realized when Maja was living in me, was that all she wanted was for him to admit what he did. She just needed to get her memories back and understand what happened, to be able to heal and mend herself. The idea of revenge maybe isn't the right way. I find these topics so fascinating and relevant and urgent to discuss—the right and wrongs, and can you heal someone and mend someone with love? I believe so.
Yuval Adler: I hope that they love it. Enjoy it. Feel they experienced a story, and a story that makes them think. I got from many of our early viewers that the story stayed with them for days after they saw the film. That’s the most you can aspire to I feel.