Miranda Otto is back on Australian shores for her most recent project, The Clearing, a Disney+ psychological thriller exploring the inner workings of a cult.
The Australian actress stars as Adrienne, a mysterious cult leader who’s both adored and feared by her followers.
A walking contradiction, Adrienne manages to appear both cold and endearing at times, pushing Miranda well out of her comfort zone when it comes to preparing for a role.
Speaking to marie claire Australia, the star tells us how she tackled such a character, and how she maintained her mental health in the process.
“If you were getting into clinical definitions, you could say this woman is perhaps a sociopath,” she says of Adrienne. With the complexity of playing such a person dawning on her, Miranda turned to a friend for advice.
“As an actor, your whole thing is trying to be with the other person in the scene and being empathetic and letting things affect you,” she says, which is – in essence – the opposite of what a sociopath would do. Or so she thought.
“[My friend] said to me, ‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking that as a sociopath you can’t connect with other people… you can connect with them when it fits your narrative’,” she recalls.
“That gave me a much clearer idea of that there are times when I’m totally in it with people and then once it goes off narrative, I’m checked out, I’m somewhere else.”
Hanging up the figurative coat of Adrienne each day also helped Miranda keep her mental health in check, especially given the twisted nature of her character.
“It was very consuming,” Miranda admits. “When I did it, I tried to leave my work at work and sometimes I did feel like the hair, the makeup and the costumes were quite an armour.
“A lot of Adrienne existed when I was fully in all those things, and when I took them off, I could go back to just being myself.”
Although, she did have these “enormously long” nails that stayed on the entire time during filming, and while they looked amazing, were incredibly impractical.
“They were always getting stuck in drawers and breaking off. That was the final thing when I managed to get the nails taken off and shed that. It’s like, okay, Adrienne’s left the building.”
That’s not to say Miranda didn’t keep a little bit of Adrienne with her – or at least, a little bit of her with Adrienne, drawing from fond childhood memories to tie in with the costuming.
“When I was a kid, my stepfather was a jockey and we used to go to the races and it was very much that look from the 80s,” she said of the very specific look Adrienne had.
“Women had the amazing hairdos that had been set at the hairdresser every Saturday and then the perfect handbags, the perfect shoes, and the big glasses… It was very much the races look from the 80s.”
And, because there were so many different looks throughout the series, the actress had something of 64 different costumes across the eight episodes.
It was a big part in putting the timeline together, with the series flicking back and forth between different time periods – each with their own style for Adrienne.
“There were days where we were going from one to three wigs; three different sorts of looks in one day at different times,” she says.
What is The Clearing about?
The Clearing is an emotional and psychological thriller that was filmed across Victoria to follow the nightmares and inner workings of a cult called The Kindred.
The series follows Freya (Teresa Palmer), a woman who’s forced to face the demons from her past in order to stop the kidnapping and coercion of innocent children in the future.
Inspired by the darkness of real-life cults in Australia and around the world, The Clearing is based on the best-selling crime thriller In The Clearing by author J.P. Pomare.
Is The Clearing based on a true story?
While inspired by several real-life cults in Australia and around the world, The Clearing is a story of fiction, not fact.
However, it is inspired by the real-life events of an Australian cult called The Family, and its leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
As a female cult leader – a rarity in history – Anne and her husband Bill acquired many children during the 1960s through to the 1990s, either through adoption scams or from cult members, and raised them as their own.
Raised in isolation, completely cut off from the outside world, the children wore matching outfits and had their hair bleached the same shade of blonde, as reported by The Guardian.
In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare, $30.95 at Booktopia
Who is cast in The Clearing?
The Clearing features a stellar line-up of Australian talent, of which Miranda Otto is proud to be a part of. She takes on the role of Adrienne in the limited series.
She’s joined by Teresa Palmer as Freya, Guy Pearce as Dr. Latham, Hazem Shammas as Yusuf ‘Joe’, Mark Coles-Smith as Wayne, Kate Mulvany as Aunty Tasmin and rising star Julia Savage as Amy.
Joining them are Erroll Shand as Henrik, Anna Lise Phillips as Aunty Hannah, Flynn Wandin as Billy, Claudia Karvan as Mariam and Doris Younane as Christine.
Where to watch The Clearing in Australia
The Clearing premieres with the first two episodes on Disney+ on May 24. There are eight episodes in total for the limited series.