The Secrets We Keep may be about post-World War II, but its lessons echo just as loudly as today’s worlds. The thriller, which is out in theaters now and will be available On Demand starting October 16, tells the story of one woman’s struggle to violently close the door on her horrific past.
Noomi Rapace plays Maja, and aside from personally connecting to the material, she also helped shape it alongside director Yuval Adler. The actress spoke with Screen Rant about the research she did surrounding Romani history and how she and her costars fully immersed themselves in their roles.
I know this has been a passion project for you. Not only are you the star, but you were also one of the driving forces behind producing the project. What was it about the film that initially drew you in?
Noomi Rapace: The script was quite different, actually, when I came in. Me and Joel Kinnaman were looking for something to do together, and we were given the script by our management back then. There was something in the core relationship between two people that had been in a situation 15 years ago – maybe in the same situation. How you move on with your life if something broke in you; I find that question so interesting.
Then we started looking for a director. When Yuval Adler came in, me and Yuval started an intense period of rewriting the script and making it into something original and something slightly more personal for all of us involved.
I think he’s an amazing choice for a director. Can you talk to me about the collaboration process?
Noomi Rapace: I adore that man. He is so brave, so direct, so honest, so funny. When we first met, he was just so honest to the point that I was like, “Oh my God, I haven’t met anyone like this for ages. I’ve been waiting for you.” I was like, “Yeah! Let’s do this.”
We just became best friends and partners in crime; it became a partnership that I felt like I’ve always been waiting for and hoped for. Because I was a producer as well, we spent a lot of time doing the shoot together, sitting on weekends and solving problems. And then in the week, when we’re shooting, he was my director. So, he was my parent, my father, my brother, and my partner – and it was an incredible journey.
He’s fearless. But he has this tenderness as well, and he totally and truly identifies with all the characters; there’s no good and bad with him. Which is incredible, that even in a story like this, he really tries to see all the nuances in each one of us.
This is a thriller that’s born out of one of the most horrific episodes in human history. How does such a detailed historical backdrop help heighten the tension in the story?
Noomi Rapace: We could truly use that, because the film itself is almost like a play. It felt like I was going back to the days when I was doing a lot of theater. It was almost like having an audience there, and that it was happening right in that moment. Because we stepped in, and there’s no breaks; it totally felt like we were living in this universe.
And the fact that the audience and us have a real history behind us, in our bodies and in our consciousness – I was googling and reading so much about this time and what the Roma people experienced during those horrific times. Very few people knew what happened to the Roma people; we are way more educated in what happened to the Jewish people in Europe back then, but the Roma people also suffered great losses, and they are still being chased and harassed in Europe, and they have a really bad reputation.
We filled our minds and our bodies with all the information we could get from history, and it almost became memories in our bodies. Then we could go into this very intense, almost locked up, set of the house and the basement. And we didn’t need much else, because the history was in us, if that makes sense.
Romani have often been overlooked when remembering the horrors of the Holocaust. How do the details you learned make your character’s story more specific and perhaps more impactful?
Noomi Rapace: When Yuval and I were working on the script, we were spending a lot of nights and days reading and finding real stories; real destinies, and using that as a backdrop. Because it was really good to build credible characters that make sense, and also to try to understand what it is to be living in a war; to not know what’s going to happen in an hour from now.
Also, seeing it from a soldier’s perspective and from a victim’s. Almost from a slave’s perspective, because that was what the Nazis did to people. It really hit me hard; I had nightmares that were not my own. It was Maja’s life and Maja’s dreams and broken memories that got into my system. It was almost like she was living in my body, so it was very intense, to be honest.
While this is a straightforward story, the film had viewers questioning every character and their motives. Can you talk to me about the film’s attempt to keep the audience off balance?
Noomi Rapace: That makes me so happy that you say that, because that was our intention. In real life, if you watch a court case, most of the times you don’t know. If you’re trying to read the nuances in someone’s voice, the body language; how did they say that? Who’s lying? Maybe both parties think that it’s true, and that it happened or didn’t happen.
That is the interesting thing with humans and memories. Maybe you think it was a certain way, but 15 years ago, how correct is your memory? How can you know? Is there a small chance that you mixed this person up with somebody else? Love is maybe not the right word, but I very much enjoy watching films that are that complex and where you don’t know until the very end who is right and who is wrong, you know. I want the audience to sit and not know and question all of us, because there’s no simple answer.
Chris Messina does an amazing job as your husband. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but can you talk me about playing off him in scenes?
Noomi Rapace: He’s a blessing to work with. He’s just absolutely incredible. He’s so generous and so loving and so unprotected in his acting. He just goes right in, and I’ve never felt so loved by anyone in front of the camera. It felt like I was married to this man and that he knew me and that I knew him. And still I had my secret that I couldn’t tell him, because I was trying to protect him.
I wish I could work with Chris on every movie. I wish there were more Chris Messinas in the world. To be really honest, he’s an incredible person, and he surprised me with his choices as an actor.
It’s amazing to hear that you and Joel have been friends since high school, and you both appeared in Child 44. How did you get him onboard for this?
Noomi Rapace: Joel and I were attached to the movie way before Yuval, so it was actually the two of us that came on board and wanted to do this story. And then I started meeting different directors, I was set to meet Yuval, and straightaway I called Joel after the meeting and was like, “He’s incredible. He is the right one. He’s our director.”
We were working on making our schedules work, but it was always our project. We were trying to find something for years. Then this one landed on our table, and it was just a straight yes and a strange love story for both of us. We wanted to go into this dark and scary world of broken people.
I heard that initially Joel was cast to play your husband. How did that change happen, and how did that affect the film at all?
Noomi Rapace: When Yuval started working on the script, I remember quite early on that he was like, “I really see Joel as Thomas.” And then he had a conversation with Joel, who read the new script and was like, “Wow, I totally see that.” And he was just more drawn to that character.
Me and Joel, the way we got to play off each other and go into this specific battlefield between Maya and Thomas, was just more in line with what we wanted to investigate in ourselves and in each other. I think Joel used to do theater as well back in Sweden, and playing this character and going to that emotional place was almost a bit of a throwback for him. I think that was something he’d been wanting to do; he’s been doing all these really big movies and he’s this big movie star. This was kind of going back to his roots a little bit.
Typically, taking a look back at our past can help better prepare us for the future. What can people take away from this story that may resonate in such wild modern times?
Noomi Rapace: That you are responsible for your own actions, and you have the power to defend your happiness. I think that the truth needs to come out, and even if the truth is brutal and painful, when you let it out that is the beginning of healing and understanding and building a bridge into a new chapter of your life.
We see so many horrible things happen every day now. It’s just heartbreaking what’s going on in the world, and I believe in truth and in not looking away. I believe in letting it out and dealing with things, and not avoiding and not pretending that it’s not there. If you see someone do something wrong to someone else, despite the fear, go in and say, “This is not acceptable. This is not okay.” I believe in openness, and I believe that we together can create a better world by interacting with each other early on.