Venice - L.A.'s Arts and Entertainment Magazine | April 2002
by B. Jude Landry
Miranda Otto speaks in light breaths, like a rustling breeze. her diction exacting
herself a vagabond of sorts, like the wandering thespians of the Middle Ages,
but she has managed to construct a solid career, rivaling the most prodigious
of up-and-coming Hollywood starlets.
She is a beautiful woman in a classic Arthurian sense - high cheekbones, golden hair, and almost translucent, fair skin. Yet her manner and spirit tell you she's a bold woman in the contemporary sense - witty, determined, and sharp as a tack. Introduced to U.S. audiences as the dream-sequence, angelic wife in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998), she has also appeared in What Lies Beneath (2000), The Well (1997), and The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), among others. In pre-release screenings of New Line Cinema's upcoming Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (December 2002), her turn as Eowyn the Marshal has been described as nothing short of big time. With this month's Fine Line Features' release of Human Nature, Miranda takes a shot at a Charlie Kaufman script demanded she play a French nurse - sporting a garter belt and a spot-on Parisian accent. Her fellow cast members include Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Robert Forster, and Rosie Perez. Human Nature - as can be expected from a Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze collaboration - is an eccentric, mesmerizing comedic piece, replete with Monty Python-style humor and carnival-like characters.
Miranda's degree in Theater from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in New South Wales, Australia, provided the backbone of her acting skills, but her talent seems to be rooted in an awareness for quality writing and an ability to create subtle yet vibrant characters. Though still a little weary from her busy year, Ms. Otto agreed to meet with Venice on a recent crisp morning to tell us her thougths on the business of acting in Los Angeles, Kaufmanesque storytelling, and the difficulty of establishing a residence as a well-traveled actor.
Venice: Spending any time in Australia?
Miranda Otto: This past year I have been everywhere. I was in New Zealand for four or five months, then in London for four or five months. I had plans to move there, but I was involved in projects in Italy, Poland, and Canada. And then I'm going back to Australia to do a play, so it didn't make that much sense to get an apartment in London, pay that terribly high rental, and not be in it.
How is Los Angeles for you?
I like the sense of coming here. It feels like you can just work. Here you can audition for stuff every day - there's always stuff going on. It feels like when you're here, you can be really serious about what you're doing. Working at acting and going in for things and all of that. But then I like to really get out of here as well.
Your body of work is mostly Australian. What was your first U.S. release?
Probably The Thin Red Line. That was the first U.S. production, but I've had Australian pictures that have also been released here in the U.S.
How did you become involved with the upcoming Human Nature?
I had long ago read Being John Malkovich, which I thought was just amazing after reading so much stuff that I thought was just really boring and couldn't be bothered with. So I read [Being John Malkovich] and thought it was incredible, and realized there are a lot of great things here, and this is what you come here for - one of these great gems.
You were impressed with (writer) Charlie Kaufman's work prior to production on Human Nature?
Really impressed. I thought it was just brilliant, because I never really had a chance to read anything like that at home. I had auditioned for [Being John Malkovich] but didn't get that. That was one of my first trips here. So, I saw the film and really liked it. later, I met (producer) Ted Hope at Good Machine, and he had seen a lot of stuff I had done in Australia. He suggested that I meet Michel Gondry.
The director of Human Nature.
Yes. And I said that I would just love to read the script because I love reading [Charlie Kaufman's] work. I read [Human Nature] and I really liked it, so I went to see Michel and auditioned for it. And I think that he had a different idea originally - I think he was going to go with [an actor] who was French. After the audition, I wanted it so much, I actually wrote him a letter, which I don't normally do.
Sort of self-promotion?
Wasn't so much self-promotion... it was more that I just wanted to express that I was really interested and that I would come back and read as many times as he wanted. Whatever it takes - in a professional sense, whatever it takes. [laughs]
Describe what you think is the appealing quality of a Charlie Kaufman-penned script.
I don't think he purposefully sets out to do it, but every time you think his film is going off in a certain direction where a film would normally go, it suddenly diverts and changes. He refuses to sort of fit that mold. He has this freedom in the way that he thinks, so that he's not indoctrinated by...
A kind of formulaic style?
Yes, and I think that is good. I think we are a little bit bored (with film). And I think they have already proven with Being John Malkovich that there is a big audience out there for this. There's an intelligent audience out there wanting to see something more stimulating and unpredictable. I think, also, I like his lack of sentimentality.
He gives the audience a good dose of 'expect the unexpected.'
Just when you think that he's driven a certain point home, he completely subverts it. It's like, 'Forget it. I'm not the teacher. I'm posing a few questions here and I'm trying to entertain you, but I'm not going to say this is better than that, or you should do this.'
Besides the much-anticipated release of Human Nature, you have a major project scheduled for release in the next year.
Yes, I have The Lord of the Rings at the end of this year. It was really an incredible experience working on two films that were so highly creative. Working with Michel... you feel like you're working with an artist - very passionate about what he does. It's all very passionate and determined, and he also has a great sense of humor. And then, when I went to Lord of the Rings, it was similar, though much huger production.
Any definite plans for the next few months? Your work seems to keep you moving about quite a bit.
Well, I think I'm a bit of a hobo really. I've never been one with a five-year plan... I think I'm more of a day-to-day person. I'm actually going back to Australia to do a play - Ibsen's "A Doll House." I want to find that big energy that you get on stage, that you really don't get from doing film. And just try and regroup. I dipped my toe in a lot of different areas these last few years: a costume drama for the BBC; a film in Italy, in Italian; Lord of the Rings. I think one of the things I've been most proud of over the last few years is my ability to cope. Going to new cities and finding my way around. Meeting new people, working, and being thrown into situations that were sometimes quite difficult.
Adapt and overcome.
Uh huh, exactly.