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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Miranda Otto shows her range in two vastly different films playing this holiday season in Australia: Michel Gondry’s absurd comedy, Human Nature, and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings; The Two Towers, two films she was desperate to work on, and she made them back to back. It was a WOW time, she admits to Andrew L. Urban at an interview in Cannes. 

Playing the French lab assistant, Gabrielle, in Michel Gondry’s absurdist comedy, Human Nature, Miranda Otto had not only put on a French accent, but portray a woman who knows every female trick – which Otto says she has never known in real life.

“Gabrielle is deeply unhappy with herself deep down, but on the surface she’s the quintessential sweet French woman who knows all these feminine tricks. Now even if I remembered them, I just couldn’t carry them off,” she says, smiling at the thought of trying.

"I really wouldn’t know how to seduce men"

“She’s very clever, very manipulative. She plays such obvious games… and men fall for it,” she says with an incredulous hoot. This seems surreal, considering we are sitting at a large round table, just the two of us, in a large, elaborate ballroom inside the famous Carlton Intercontinental at Cannes. Outside, the film festival rages around on, with Human Nature as part of the official selection. Otto, billed fourth after Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette and Rhys Ifans, is still high from her fabulous year (2000) in which she got to play in this comedy (“after all those serious films…”), followed by six months on Lord of the Rings. “That was totally different, and soooo not feminine! You know, sword fighting and all that, more like me. I really wouldn’t know how to seduce men.”

As a kid, she often “acted and played dress ups, messed around with props…and that’s what it was like with Michel; it wasn’t formulaic, always inventive, like play. And Lord of the Rings was the same; it had a sense of the chaotic at times, but we were all pulling together, all being very creative and the ego went out the window. Peter Jackson is incredible,” says Otto. 

“He’s one of the strongest men I’ve met, working under incredible pressure yet he always manages to stay in the moment.”

Otto is just as impressed by Michele Gondry, who makes his feature debut with Human Nature, amidst a successful career as a music video maker. “I saw his showreel and some tv ads and thought he was very inventive. I desperately wanted the role. I got really passionate about it,” she admits, “because it was something I could really throw myself into.”

She had just one day “to get a French accent for the audition. Then after the audition I wrote a letter to Michel – and offered to read the whole script. I offered to do anything…” Otto does an aside … “except sleep with the director”. After a month of agonised waiting, her agent rang with the good news. “It was at the same time that I got the role in The Lord of the Rings, so I thought WOW!”

"third time lucky"

It was third time lucky for Miranda Otto: she was on her third trip to Los Angeles, trying to find a break. “I didn’t read many scripts that I liked. I don’t really understand US culture. I don’t understand the style, and women’s roles. A lot of girlfriend roles came along, tough talking, sassy…” She met producer Ted Hope, who told her about Human Nature, and she was tested for the role of Gabrielle. 

Michel Gondry told her he intends to frame her letter. “It’s all very polite and neat…like my mum would have told me write it,” she laughs.

Soon after our interview, Otto was heading back to London, to continue work on the BBC 4-part drama, The Way We Live Now. “It’s another wily feminine role, “ says Otto, “with lots of fun. It’s set in 1873 and I play an American woman claiming a younger man. I’m meant to be 30 and he’s 25.”

Also in London, she is starring in Goran Visnic’s thriller, Dr Sleep, in which she plays a pregnant hypnotherapist.

It’s a whirl all right, and well might she say WOW! a lot. But the international circuit means she’s missing her friends and family in Sydney, where she owns an apartment but rarely spends time there. “In all of the whole year, I only spent eight weeks there,” she says.

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Rhys Ifans with Miranda Otto in Human Nature

Miranda Otto in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

.. with Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings

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