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New Movie: 'The Secrets We Keep'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The new film "The Secrets We Keep" opens with a sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

GREENE: It's the 1950s in a quiet suburb in the U.S. A man whistles to his dog, and the only person who notices is a woman named Maja in the park with her son.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SECRETS WE KEEP")

NOOMI RAPACE: (As Maja) Honey, stay here for a second. Mommy will be right back.

GREENE: Maja is played by Noomi Rapace, who also starred in the Swedish version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

RAPACE: She's drawn to this sound, and she starts following this man, and she almost gets obsessed with finding him and understanding why that sound has such an impact on her.

GREENE: She has these painful flashbacks to Romania 15 years earlier during World War II.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

GREENE: She heard that whistle when Nazi soldiers attacked and raped her and her sister. All these years later, she is certain the man whistling in the park was one of the soldiers. And so Maja and her husband kidnap him.

RAPACE: Yeah, we are holding a prisoner in our basement, and she start living this double life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SECRETS WE KEEP")

CHRIS MESSINA: (As Lewis) Does he even look the same to you?

RAPACE: (As Maja) No. I mean, yes. His eyes - I will never forget those eyes.

MESSINA: (As Lewis) We need to be certain.

RAPACE: (As Maja) I am certain.

MESSINA: (As Lewis) Well, I need to be certain, too.

GREENE: Not trusting your own memory - this is something that Noomi says she can relate to from moments in her own life.

RAPACE: When I was maybe 19, 20, I had a period in my life when I thought I was not normal 'cause I couldn't remember things. I was trying to recreate memories, and there were big gaps in my memories. And I was talking to friends and my boyfriend at times like, I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't actually tell the order of events. Like, I - sometimes there's missing pieces. And I was - so I've always been very interested in what is a memory.

And if you have a very strong emotional connection to the memory, you know, the emotions might change the memory. Or if it's a proper trauma, I can block out a part of something. So it's almost like a black and empty hole. And when everyone around you is questioning you, you know, eventually you will start doubting yourself, which is horrible 'cause you know, but how can you prove it?

GREENE: So what did Maja need through all this?

RAPACE: That is what I find so fascinating in a way with this story and the way we built Maja is that she start off thinking that she's - you know, she wants to kill this man. She can't do it. She's not a killer. And then she wants him to confess. And then it kind of goes more and more towards just needing to understand what happened. It's clear to me that she wants to heal, that she wants to find a way to mend and to accept what happened and let go of that very dark chapter.

GREENE: I just think about Maja - I mean, you also played Lisbeth in the Swedish version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." I mean, these are complicated, deep characters. I mean, how do you get inside their minds to be able to do this?

RAPACE: I guess I have something similar with these women, and I would say that I've been covering up for my own fragility and vulnerability by kind of building a hard skin. And you toughen up because you have to. There's not much room for you to be scared or to show so-called weakness. That's what - you know, that was the word that I associated with that feeling of feeling scared or unsafe, you know? So from a very early age, I kind of started training myself and my mind to toughen up and to not be a crybaby. And I think I always need to have something in common with a character that I can understand and translate from me to her.

GREENE: Noomi's character Maja even kept a secret from her husband. We learn here that the Nazis targeted her because her family is Roma.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SECRETS WE KEEP")

RAPACE: (As Maja) We moved around a lot when I was a kid. We were of the caste, the group of Romani craftsmen - metal, wood, jewelry. That's how me and my sister survived in the camp.

GREENE: It's so interesting. I just think about a lot of the things that you've talked about. Like, if Maja is someone who wants to find strength, you could see there being strength and saying proudly to the world, I am Roma, and I have been through these horrible things, and we are, like, a proud, strong people. But in this case, she was - in her search for strength, somehow it meant keeping secrets and just not even revealing that side of her.

RAPACE: Exactly. And then she has this unresolved pain in her 'cause she doesn't know what happened, really, with her sister and with her family. She lost her family during the war. So it's a lot of inner scars that've been turned into scar tissue. But it's almost like you put a Band-Aid on something and you just close it in and it will eventually grow in you. And I also think she's almost surprised by the violence that she has in her and the rage, you know? I think that's unexpected. And then she gets in - I kind of had this feeling when we were shooting that I was drowning. I felt like, I'm sinking in this basement, and I'm losing daylight (laughter), and I'm losing time. Yeah.

GREENE: Wow. You know, I just think about the power of this movie on someone who watches it. Like, I feel like I'm going to go into my own, you know, neighborhood now and just wonder. You know, like, this was a small, quiet suburb where, you know, someone who you never would have expected had these incredible, painful secrets. I feel like I'm going to look at everyone on the street and just sort of wonder...

RAPACE: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Like, what more there is that I should know about you.

RAPACE: Yeah. I was actually at dinner yesterday, and I probably went a little bit too honest because I was asking my friend things about his childhood that he was like - oh, wow, nobody ever asked me this. And I was like, you don't have to answer. And then he was like, no, but I want to. And then we started talking about secrets, I guess, and those that you can't speak about. But the moment you start speaking about it, it's almost like you're bringing oxygen into dark rooms in yourself that you thought had to be closed and lonely and shut forever. And as soon as you let a little bit of daylight in, a little bit of emotional oxygen into those hidden places, I think it's the first step to heal and to deal with them.

GREENE: Well, Noomi, it's great talking to you and best of luck with the film. Thanks so much.

RAPACE: Thank you so much.

GREENE: That was Noomi Rapace. She stars in the new film "The Secrets We Keep."

(SOUNDBITE OF ANJA LECHNER AND FRANCOIS COUTURIER'S "FLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.