Off camera, Miranda Otto and Teresa Palmer are a fascinating pairing: Otto with her signature red mane and regal poise, every inch the award-winning acting legend, and Palmer radiating a natural charisma that is evident in her string of Hollywood movie roles. Both women live in Los Angeles, but their paths, until now, have hardly crossed. It’s taken the chilling tale of a Melbourne cult accused of abducting and brainwashing children to finally bring the two Australian acting exports together. Now, on the small screen, as mother and daughter, they are forever bonded, at least in streaming history.
Otto plays the cult leader Adrienne Beaufort with an unnerving undercurrent of malevolence in “The Clearing” (now streaming on Disney+; all episodes available from 5 July), an adaptation of a loosely fictional 2019 book by JP Pomare. The thriller takes inspiration from cults and their leaders throughout history including The Family, led by the yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who drew followers from Melbourne’s elite in the 1960s and ’70s with a mix of Christianity, Eastern mysticism and apocalyptic prophecy.
While Adrienne seems the epitome of evil, Otto tells T Australia: “I try not to judge characters. You really have to just be inside it, seeing it from their point of view.
“I found her fascinating as a totally self-made person,” she continues, “who completely reinvents herself into the person she wants to be. She keeps herself away from a fair amount of the ugliness of the situation but, yes, there is a lot of weight in what’s going on.”
Palmer plays Freya, a woman forced to face the demons of her past in order to stop the kidnapping and coercion of children. As a mother of four, Palmer says she grew to understand her character. “I could relate to her in terms of just wanting the best for your children,” she says. “This is a woman who’s picking up the shattered pieces of her life to try and tend to her son, and grappling with these gaping wounds of her past.
“I love that both fragility and strength coexist within her while she’s putting one foot in front of the other,” she continues. “And I found that a beautiful thing to put on screen — this woman trying her hardest to change the narrative for her son and to create something that she was never afforded.”