Film: Lady of the Rings
Greylin sent us this article from the UK Sunday Times. It’s not new, but we overlooked it at the time it came out and it’s worth a read for Eowyn/Otto fans.
As the sword-wielding Eowyn, saviour of Rohan, Miranda Otto might just become famous. That could be a problem, she tells Garth Pearce
In the battle for the Christmas box office these days, you need maximum firepower. Just like last year, Harry Potter is first into the field. Now Peter Jackson’s second Lord of the Rings instalment, The Two Towers, is readying itself for combat. Last time out, the wizard won – just. Harry Potter took $1,029.2m (£651.4m) worldwide; Lord of the Rings, $920.7m (£582.7m). What can Jackson do this time round? In part one, he put an army of orcs and a terrifying Balrog into the field. For part two, though, he’s got what he calls “my secret weapon”.
Her name is Miranda Otto. She’s Australian, not at all well known and happy for things to be that way. She’s had the occasional famous moment, such as playing the murdered girlfriend who haunted Harrison Ford in What Lies Beneath, but mostly she’s appeared in minor-league films. Jackson, though, considers her a major element in The Two Towers, and just as vital for the success of the final instalment, The Return of the King, due in December 2003.
Otto plays Eowyn, niece of the beleaguered King Théoden (Bernard Hill), who swaps her long flowing gowns for armour and sword in the fight against evil. She dominates scene after scene as the lone woman among a legion of men. It’s the kind of role many actresses would swing a sword just to win. Indeed, Otto was up against a small army of them, including many well-known American twentysomethings used to getting their own way. But she still won through, with the ringing endorsement of Jackson. “Part of me wants to rejoice about it all,” she says. “Another part of me thinks: ‘Do I need problems?’ I have become used to a life in which I can enjoy a successful career without worrying about the paparazzi or intrusions into my private affairs. I can still shop where I want and sit and observe people without becoming the centre of attention. It could be a lot to give up.”
It is easy to see why Otto is so cautious. She is blonde, blue-eyed and has a natural sexiness that would turn heads whether or not she was well known. She has lived comfortably for years in a Sydney apartment, she’s queen of the local indie movie scene and has a low-key relationship with the theatre actor Peter O’Brien. And even though she looks like she’s in her late twenties, she will turn 35 – ancient, by Hollywood standards – during the week of the The Two Towers’ worldwide release.
Her age is her armour, allowing her to confront the craziness of an actor’s life from a mature perspective. She’s seen what has happened to her fellow Australian Nicole Kidman, who, at 34, has had her success soured with the exposure of her private life, both during and after her marriage to Tom Cruise. “Yet when I split up with an actor boyfriend, Richard Roxburgh (the Duke of Monroth in Moulin Rouge), it took a year and a half for the papers to realise we were no longer together,” says Otto, with an ironic smile. “On the age thing, I should have lied about it years ago. I have always played younger, so I could have got away with it. Even at 28 I was playing 18. The only thing that worries me is that my age might limit me, in the eyes of directors, from doing things I know I can do. But there’s no denying I now know more about life. I was more easily pushed around in my twenties, and I would not want to go back to that.”
Otto does her own pushing these days. As Eowyn, she’s the saviour of Rohan – a proud race of humans on Middle Earth – after the king has been corrupted by his adviser, Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), who is in the power of Saruman (Christopher Lee). A desperate last stand in the Rohan fortress of Helm’s Deep is one of the most memor-able sets and scenes in the film. The Riders of Rohan are under attack by 10,000 Uruk-hai, who are determined to kill every man, woman and child in the citadel.
“Eowyn is the only real human heroine in The Lord of the Rings,” observes Otto. “And, although there are very few women in the books, Tolkien did make them strong characters. Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Arwen (Liv Tyler) were in the first film, as Elves, but this second film is more dominated by humans, with all their strengths and weaknesses. My character has to act as a prop for the king, who is confused and losing his power. I can’t think of any other myth or legend in which the woman actually saves the men. So this very much fits the idea of the new woman who makes her own decisions and fights. In the third film, it’s even more extreme – I dress up as a man, go to war and kill the king of the witches. It suited me fine, because, despite appearances, I am not too much of a girlie girl.”
It’s just as well. Otto, who was needed to work on the filming marathon in New Zealand from March to December 2000, was given nonstop training in riding and sword-fighting. “I was told they were after a fair-haired, fair-skinned look for my part – and someone with the strength to act tough in some sections and very feminine in others,” she says. “Fortunately, I did not quite appreciate the sheer scale of the project, which had a crew of 2,400 and about 20,000 extras. Otherwise, I could have messed up the audition, and I could have imagined them saying: ‘She appears so desperate.'”
Otto seems far from desperate or needy or even hungrily ambitious. The result is that she can talk freely, without guile or restrictions, and does not have to measure what she says against causing the slightest offence to anyone in Hollywood. She has been in only a handful of American films, including The Thin Red Line in 1998 – again she played the lone woman, Marty Bell – and her contact with star actors has been limited to film sets. “The first time I met Harrison Ford, I thought he was one of the carpenters,” she says. “The producer introduced me to this guy who was so low- key, with denim shirt, jeans and a cap, and I did not really see who he was because he kept his head down. He mumbled just one word, ‘Harrison’. I just said ‘Hi’. Then he was off. When it came to the scene, we just did it and that was that.
“But people vary, don’t they? When I arrived on the Two Towers set, on a night shoot, I saw Liv Tyler in the distance, looking radiantly gorgeous at 4am, even though she was wearing elves’ ears. I thought: ‘Oh, that is Liv, she is really famous.’ She came over and gave me a huge hug and said: ‘My God, there is another woman here at last. We can hang out and do things.’ Unfortunately, we only had a couple of weeks when our work overlapped, so I was back to being the only girl in the cast.”
She also witnessed the fanaticism of Viggo Mortensen, who plays the warrior Aragorn. He took to walking around with bare feet and even turned up, partly dressed in costume, when he wasn’t needed. And when he broke a tooth in a fight scene and filming was held up, he was prepared to resort to extreme measures. “He wanted to use Superglue to put the tooth back in so everyone could carry on. Fortunately, they insisted he went to a dentist. But that’s the kind of guy he is.
And that summed up the attitude of those who made these films.”
Otto’s own attitude has been honed over the years as the daughter of the Australian actor Barry Otto – he played Doug Hastings, the hen-pecked father in Strictly Ballroom – and by being around actors from childhood. Her parents separated when she was young, and her life was split between Sydney and her mother’s new home in the industrial town of Newcastle. “I had girlfriends who were the children of other actors in Sydney,” she says. “On the other hand, I went to a pretty normal school, nothing arty-farty. So I never became awestruck about actors or the business of acting.”
It is difficult to imagine Otto becoming awestruck about much at all. After attending the National Institute of Dramatic Art (“Cate Blanchett was there, too, a couple of years younger than me”), she quickly established herself as a lead in a succession of Aussie films including The Girl Who Came Late and Love Serenade. Such was her profile – she’s now a veteran of 22 movies – The Australian newspaper was prompted to observe: “The irony for Miranda’s career is that she’s become a big name among film financiers before she’s had a big hit.” Otto has already fought her way out of that corner, with a co-starring role opposite the ER actor Goran Visnjic in a ghost thriller, Doctor Sleep. And having been pipped to the post by Cameron Diaz for the female lead in Being John Malkovich, she landed a star part in a French-American co-production, Human Nature, that had the same screenwriter. In Human Nature, she plays a lab assistant who seduces a scientist (Tim Robbins) away from his wife (Patricia Arquette), only to become frustrated that he seems to devote so much time to a wild-man friend, played by Rhys Ifans.
But it will be The Lord of the Rings that will promote her, however reluctantly, to a place among the famous. “Everyone is very keen to tell me my life will change,” says Otto. “But I’m keeping in mind that I will still have to clean the bathroom.”
Posted in Old Special Reports on March 22, 2003 by Tehanu