Michiel Huisman may be used to playing some serious characters in dark stories with past projects like “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Game of Thrones,” but none quite like his latest dramatic venture.
In Malgorzata Szumowska’s latest film, “The Other Lamb,” Huisman had to be prepared to tap into parts of his acting abilities he never had to before to portray a manipulative and rapidly neurotic leader of an all-women cult in the middle of a desolate forest. However, being so separated and recluse from the outside world doesn’t hold, and what Huisman’s character slowly begins to realize is his grip on power is ceasing to exist and his followers are virtually becoming more powerful with his demise. It’s safe to say he doesn’t handle it very well.
Huisman sat down with Metro to discuss more about “The Other Lamb,” dive into how this visually intriguing story was made and delve into how he prepared himself to take on one of his most challenging roles yet.
What first intrigued you about playing the Shepherd?
Like many people, I’m always a bit intrigued by cults in general and how it’s possible for a group of people to so strongly believe in a leader like my character. Conceptually, to be playing more or less the only male character in the story was just very interesting and I also had seen some of the earlier movies that the director had made, and I absolutely loved them. On top of all that, I just thought there was a certain darkness in this character and this story that I don’t get to tap into very often. I just felt that it would be a really awesome opportunity to sort of spread my wings a little bit as an actor.
Is tapping into something you haven’t before something that normally draws you to your roles?
Ideally, yes. But you’re not always in a place where you can make that choice. This project was definitely something where I really had to stretch myself and get uncomfortable and also really surrender to the filmmaker. So much of this movie really came together when we were making it. It’s just very rare.
That sounds interesting—can you tell me more about the filming process?
It was so much fun to be in front of that lens. It was very easy to tell that every shot with this movie was almost going to be like a painting. In that regard, I’m very grateful that we have the streaming services we have now and everyone can see this next week—but the one thing is, this movie really is so beautifully shot, it just looks great on the big screen. It’s all shot very wide-angle and uses wide-angle lenses, I love it, it has a very specific kind of look.
Back to your character, what did you do to prepare yourself to get into that cult mindset? Did you research any cults or cult leaders in particular?
I did, when I first started talking to Malgo, at the time everybody was watching “Wild, Wild Country” and so was I. After that one, I watched another great cult documentary called “Holy Hell.” That one was very interesting because the cult leader, he looks completely different. He’s always wearing a speedo and Ray Bans, it’s amazing. It opened up my eyes a little to the fact that our cult leader, the Shepherd, can be whoever we want him to be as long as he holds control and power over his followers. You have to figure out the psyche of the other character for yourself. One thing I love about the movie, it’s not trying to explain how the cult works or overly explain the Shepherd’s philosophy. I, as an actor, have to know all of that of course, and I think that’s where most of my preparation went into—imagining this world that my character grew up in, and that he completely believes in. He truly believes he is doing the right thing and is saving these women.
I’m glad you brought that up, I personally always want to know what people’s motivations are, especially cult leaders.
Absolutely, it would be a missed opportunity to just approach this character as a bad guy, or that it’s all about manipulation. Although he is manipulating, that’s not how this cult started, I think it came from a bigger idea. When the movie starts, I feel like the cult is starting on its decline and the Shepherd is starting to lose his power. The cult has also become so big with so many women, it’s hard to remain self-sustainable too and it’s becoming difficult to keep the outside world away. I think that’s what’s starting to make him more erratic, forceful and violent in trying to stay on top of controlling this group.
When you were preparing, were there any of those dark scenes that you were hesitant or nervous to film?
The entire movie, the entire thing. There were a lot of scenes where I thought how am I going to do that and get there? I think that what happened once we started shooting though, I started to really feel like I could trust the director. I had so overly prepared because I knew that this would be such a new and challenging role for me, then I would come on set and have these two-page monologues and Malgo with her polish accent and very direct style would say to me, “No, I don’t like it. Why don’t you just kick her?” And I’m just like, “What?” It was just so unexpected and such a nasty thing for the Shepherd to do and lower himself to just kick one of his followers—but it’s also brilliant and exactly what I should be doing. It only got better and better after we started shooting. So, I was really grateful that I could dive into it and I also think it’s good that not every character I play is this demanding. I would probably go insane. But I loved every second of making this movie, and if Malgo called me for another film, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Overall what do you hope audiences take away from the film?
When I first read the script, I was a little hesitant of playing a character that was so dark and manipulative. But when I had my first conversation with Malgo, she convinced me that for her, this is a story about female empowerment. I hope that we succeeded in that and I think we did and I hope it’s a theme that shines through. The women in this movie, they really stand up for themselves.
‘The Other Lamb’ drops on video on demand April 3.