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July 27, 2016

Double Take

Miranda Otto leads viewers on a serpentine path as a doomed double agent on Homeland.

Liane Bonin Starr
  • Damian Bennett/Union Management

Miranda Otto’s dream role is supremely on-trend, especially in this fractious election year.

“Someone said to me once, ‘Who would you ,most like to play?’ And I said, ‘Hillary Clinton, because I find her absolutely fascinating.’”

Otto, with typical Australian humility, is quick to clarify she doesn't necessarily see herself getting that call. "I'm not saying I would end up playing her, but I find that someone like that, with her incredible tenacity, absolutely fascinates me."

Given Otto's resume, it's not out of the question that she'd be on the casting wish list for the next Clinton biopic. She's made a habit of taking on strong, smart characters who would never play the damsel-in-distress card.

Recently she was a rogue agent with a shocking arc in Showtime's Homeland; in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot next year, she'll be a former counterterrorist chief in Fox's 24: Legacy, having second thoughts about leaving the job to support her husband's run for president.

"I like roles about women who are fiercely intelligent and dealing with issues other than relationships or children," the actress says. "I like that, though they have a private life, these women are dealing with philosophical and world issues and things traditionally given to men. I'm drawn to that more than playing somebody's mom — though in real life, I do that," she adds with a laugh.

Like most women, the Brisbane-born and now L.A.-based Otto — wife to Aussie actor Peter O'Brien and mom to daughter Darcey, 11 — struggles to balance work and home. For Homeland, she spent some six months in Berlin.

"It was tough at times being away from my family," she says, though they were able to spend time together when Darcey was not in school and during Otto's two-week hiatus.

The child of Australian actors Barry and Lindsay Otto, Otto grew up well aware of the demands of the acting life, living briefly in Hong Kong after her parents' divorce before resettling in Australia.

Though she flirted briefly with ballet (mild scoliosis ruled it out), she landed her first role at just 17 in the Aussie film Emma's War, starring Lee Remick. Now with a long list of credits, she is probably best known to American audiences as the shield maiden Eowyn in the second and third parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Taking on Allison Carr in Homeland — a double-crossing villain in an endlessly twisty drama — would ask a lot of any actor. But walking into the series in its fifth season to play a double agent — with only a limited description of the character, to boot? That takes guts and a good attitude. Fortunately, Otto has both.

"With every new script, it was as exciting for us as it was for the audience," she says brightly. "I never had any idea how far it would go."

While she describes the pivotal scene — in which her character not only murders two people but shoots herself — as "the most fun day I had on set," she says the real challenge was much more subtle. "The tension had to be absolutely flawless, and the audience had to see that this was a precarious situation."

Also precarious? Not telling friends about her doomed, duplicitous role. "People would ask me, 'So, are you going to be on next season?' And I'd have to say I didn't know. Luckily, I didn't have too many weeks of having to lie."

Likely, she'd have been just fine, either way.

This article originally appeared in emmy Magazine, Issue No. 6, 2016

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