Miranda Otto on Juggling the Professional and the Personal

The acclaimed Australian actor is currently starring in SBS’s “The Unusual Suspects” with her husband.

Article by Lucy E Cousins

Miranda Otto stars in SBS's "The Unusual Suspects". Photography by Joel Pratley.

Miranda Otto is undeniably one of Australia’s most prolific and talented actors. Over the past three decades or so she has appeared in global blockbuster franchises such as “The Lord of the Rings”, award-winning television series like “Homeland” and “Rake”, and grassroots productions including the upcoming “The Moth Effect”, a sketch comedy series from “Bondi Hipsters” co-creator Nick Boshier.

Despite her success, Otto has always prioritised family, something that has affected her career choices. Like most of us, she struggles to find work/life balance, and partly because of that she is surprisingly relatable. “When I first got into the industry, I loved the nomadic nature,” she says, “because I just love travelling and going to new places, but with a family it’s much harder on everybody.”

When you speak with Otto, she’s calm and engaged. Her caramel voice is subtly arresting and she’s generous with her answers, sometimes going off on tangents in the most wonderful way. “What was the question again?” she asks with a laugh several times during our conversation. Currently starring in SBS’s The Unusual Suspects, Otto sat down with T Australia to talk about family, the significance of female friendships and working with her husband, fellow actor Peter O’Brien.

What drew you to the role on “The Unusual Suspects”?

“So what really drew me to the role at first wasn’t the role so much, it was really the whole thing. I was sitting here in Australia during lockdown and, I have to say, I was super paranoid, barely going out of the house, and I wasn’t even imagining being able to work. Then suddenly this script arrived and I started reading it and I couldn’t stop. It just, like, felt so fresh and fun and light, a complete escape from everything I was dealing with. And I just fell in love with it. I also loved the whole exploration of Filipino culture in Australia. I thought that was so fascinating and such a different take on this heist genre.”

Did you enjoy shooting in Sydney and what was it like working with your husband?

“Well, we were shooting all around the eastern suburbs, so it was beautiful. My husband, Pete, would swim in the ocean then come up to the makeup truck and sit in his Speedos. It was really fun working together, playing really good parts opposite each other. It would be boring for us to play, like, a married couple or something like that. That’s, you know, too close to home, but it was fun to have this set-up of a more antagonistic relationship between these nutcases — that was fun to play out on screen.”

You’ve worked on films and television series with varying production values, do you prefer big blockbusters or more grassroots productions?

“I’m more attracted to certain types of scripts rather than types of production. For example, “The Lord of the Rings” was a huge production and that was so much fun. But, at times, because Peter Jackson had such a background in independent filmmaking, it felt like an indie film in some ways. It just felt like a big family in the way that independent film always feels like a family, trying to get it done. But I’ve really loved travelling for the movies I’ve done, and I’ve gotten to see so many countries and worked in so many places because of acting. That’s one of the great perks of the job, I have to say… but, sorry, what was the original question?”

Photography by Joel Pratley.

“The Unusual Suspects” looks at the themes of female empowerment and female friendships. When do you think you felt the most empowered in your life?

“Oh, wow. When have I felt the most empowered? Oh, gosh. That’s a hard question to answer. It’s just something I’ve never thought about. I would have to say probably my character in “The Lord of the Rings” [Éowyn, a shieldmaiden] was hugely empowering. I loved her so much. I found that a really empowering role and I was extremely lucky to play such a strong female. [The author] Tolkien wrote a wonderful character at a very interesting time and since then there have been so many fighting women characters. It’s nice to be in there with them.”

And what do female friendships mean to you? Are they important to you in your life?

“Oh, definitely, hugely important. I mean, all friendships are really important. I’ve got friends I went through NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Art] with who I’m still really close with. They are the kind of friendships where you can be away for a year and when you see each other, you’re still close. We are still in sync with each other. And I’m always fascinated by what my friends are up to and what they’re doing. But there’s just an ease in female friendships and I think they become more important in your life as your life goes on.”

 So over the last few years there’s been a resurgence in female-led production houses and script storylines. What excites you about that?

“I love watching female characters and I’ve always wanted there to be more women in my industry. We haven’t hit 50/50 yet, but I think it’s a really important consideration in the industry moving forward. I just think we need women’s perspectives. I yearn for that.”

What has been the most challenging part of being an actor?

“Actually, the most challenging part for me these days is the nomadic nature of the job. We are constantly trying to juggle our careers and our family life — working out whether my family comes with me when I work or whether I go on my own. That decision is really challenging, particularly in the States, because you can be based out of LA, but not much of the work happens there; it’s all happening in other places. That logistical organisation has been really hard.”

“And I’ve made big sacrifices, either way at times. I’ve not taken roles I would’ve liked to take, because we just can’t make it work, and then when I have accepted roles away from my family, I’ve felt really separated from them. I’ve just found that aspect very, very hard and I’ve missed out on so much.”


Miranda Otto stars in “The Unusual Suspects”,
screening now on SBS on Demand.