Following its Sundance premiere, You Won’t Be Alone released in theaters on April 1. The debut feature from writer-director Goran Stolevski follows a young witch in 19th-century Macedonia who accidentally kills a peasant and becomes interested in life as a human. She follows this curiosity by taking over and living in other human bodies. Among her victims is Bosilka, played by Noomi Rapace. Ahead of the film’s theatrical premiere, Rapace opened up to LA Confidential about why she stuck to listening to classical music while filming, our enduring fascination with witches and the beauty of horror films.
How did you get involved with You Won’t Be Alone?
I was shooting Lamb, actually, up in the north part of Iceland. It was one of the last days and my team said, “We just got this really kind of unique and strange project. Would you take a look?” And I was like, “No, no, I’m too deep into the Lamb world.” Then they were like, “I think you're gonna like this.” And then I started reading and You Won’t Be Alone was just like nothing I've ever seen before.
It was just so powerful how it was so well written, but it also tapped into all the difficulties of finding your place on earth and being allowed to be all you are and being a stranger and not fitting in. It just dealt with a lot of subject matters and issues and things I've been struggling with my whole life and feeling like I don't belong and I'm trying to copy what other people do. I guess this is how humans behave. You realize that you can ever do it right. You just have to find your own way. It beautifully grabbed an issue and an aspect and a perspective that I think I've been missing and that I wanted to be part of.
How would you describe Bosilka, and what sort of experience does Nevena get from occupying her body?
Well, I'm one of the first bodies she takes over. And she's almost like a toddler. She grows older for each body and each life she's been in, and she learns more about life. But I'm in the very beginning and it's kind of experiencing life for the first time: touching, feeling, tasting, smelling. She's really pretending— “how do women do it?”
There's a lot of innocence. She's really walking a minefield of new experiences. I'm almost closer to the primal, animalistic side, and I think the more she evolves and then towards the end of the story, she's kind of found her place more. My first day on set, a lot of things were improvised. I was just communicating and taking in the energy and the communication form that the animals were giving me, so I felt like I merged into something quite unhuman
You build playlists for when you take on new characters. What were you listening to this time around?
I did listen to a lot of classical music. I came from this Norwegian action comedy called The Trip. I listened to really bad ‘90s techno music and then I came into this and it just was a lot of heavy dark tones of classical music like Mahler, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky . I also liked Preisner a lot, who is a bit more new. I don't know if you are familiar with Kieślowski, he was a Polish filmmaker. He did a trilogy of films that I loved when I was younger: Three Colors: Blue, Red and White films. I listened to that soundtrack a lot and to Nick Cave. Nick Cave was the only one with words; everything else was just instrumental.
Why did mostly instrumental music feel right for this character?
She hasn't found her voice. She's just on the first step of becoming a human and the physical aspect is guiding and leading her, and it's almost like her voice is caught inside and she's on mute. So it just felt wrong to have storytelling in music going on while I was prepping and when she was living in me. But somehow some of Nick Cave’s songs worked. He has this quite brutal and beautiful and romantic take on humanity, so his universe worked, but that was the only thing that did.
More broadly speaking, You Won’t Be Alone is a witch story, and witch stories are something that have been a storytelling fixture for centuries. Why do you think we have this endlessly enduring fascination with them?
They are created by men, to start with, to tackle the fear of women and female power. It's easy to say that someone is a witch and that the force and the powers and the strength she has is non-human because that's easier.
I think it's so heartbreaking when you see that the old witch, Maria, has been burned and that's why she looks so disfigured and she's really been tortured. It's man made, and it's this combination of fascination for female power and fear of it.
When I was a kid, I had this idea that there were dark angels with big black wings and then white angels, and then the same with witches: white witches and black witches and that they had to work as one. Because I grew up in Iceland, we kind of lived very close to the fairytales and I didn't really, as a child, think that that was abnormal. So I think witches and creatures you can see and that you sometimes think you see were a part of my upbringing. But I definitely think that seeing that someone is a witch and the witch powers— that might be a way to control, as well, and to put things in a box that is more handleable
What do you enjoy most about horror films?
It's endless freedom there. There's no rules. It's almost like looking into your dreams and your dreams can be horrific and disturbing and dark and violent and bloody and gross, but they also have a lot of beauty. And I think the horror genre embraces both that, the beauty and the horror.
It's a very, in one way, playful genre and I love being in it.When I did Bright, which we shot in L.A., and I played Leilah, who's an elf—super f****** brutal and evil and disturbingly dark, but also sort of a witch with that kind of power. When I started creating her, I kind of felt the same freedoms, like there's no rules here. I could just open and look into everything I want to look into.
You Won’t Be Alone is a beautiful film about belonging and finding yourself and fighting for your own dream and not allowing anyone to hold you back, even though it's kind of a hidden message. I think it's a beautiful and playful film. I think it embraces the differences that we all have in us. I think it's unpredictable, as well. I was really surprised when I saw it because I was very moved. All of the actors are just breathtakingly good. I was very touched by all the performances and it felt like such a beautiful gift to be asked to be part of this.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Branko Starcevic / Focus Features