by Graham Fuller
Quietly slaying audiences for years, now she runs rings around evil furies in The Lord of the Rings.
In this month’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and next year’s Return of the King, Miranda Otto gets to play the only fully realized woman J.R.R. Tolkien wrote into his epic triptych.
As the Lady Éowyn — vainly enamoured of Aragorn, harassed by the lecherous Grima, and distressed at being left behind when the Riders of Rohan go to war — she secretly girds up as a knight and suddenly finds herself facing the fearsome Nasgûl lord.
The lissome Otto thus combines the Pre-Raphaelite ideals of yearning medieval damsels and armour-clad slayer of mythical beasts, though there’s a touch of the angry virgin there, too.
One of Australia’s most gifted performers, Otto has graduated from playing waifs (Love Serenade , The Well ) to sexy manipulators (Human Nature, TV’s The Way We Live Now) and classical heroines (A Doll’s House onstage in Sydney). In the upcoming Julie Walking Home, she is formidable as a sensual, headstrong woman smarting from her husband’s adultery who falls in love with the faith healer tending her ailing son.
Graham Fuller: Éowyn is the only important mortal woman in The Lord of the Rings. Did you feel the burden of that?
Miranda Otto: No, that was exciting to me. I feel the burden of it now because I know a lot of readers like her, and I hope [my portrayal] is somewhere near what they imagine. It is hard being the only woman, because you’re given the responsability of being vulnerable.
GF: Since Éowyn’s love for Aragorn [played by Viggo Mortensen] is unrequited, is he more of an object of desire than she is?
MO: I think Viggo will come across onscreen as the object of desire more than I will–particularly for women. [laughs] Éowyn never really gets to know Aragorn, but what she responds to in him is the sense of the past, and the fact that he will be the king of men when his time comes.
She feels a desire to pull her kingdom from out of the situation it’s in and is thwarted because she’s a woman and has no real power. But she’s like a tightly coiled spring, and when she sees Aragorn I think she says to herself, “If I was with him, we could bloody change all of this.” But I don’t know if in the end it’s real love.
She’s referred to in the book as “stern as steel,” but in some ways she’s quite a damaged character, because she has always been surrounded by death. She has to break away from that destructive force.
GF: Have you experienced unrequited love?
MO: Yes. I mean, it felt like it at the time, but in retrospect it wasn’t the big love that I thought it was. But the way I experienced it at the time was that nothing made sense to me. It was like looking into the abyss.
GF: Did you tap into that, or are those experiences–and emotions–always present because they’re aprt of who you are?
MO: As an actor, my thing si not so much that you change, but that you’re put in situations where you are forced to keep reflecting on certain things, and they draw your mood into that area. I certainly felt like Éowyn during different times. Although it was like a big family on the set, I felt quite alone somehow.
GF: How did you become an actress?
MO: When I was growing up I became friendly with the two daughters of the director of the theatre company that my dad [actor Barry Otto] worked for. We used to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ films and things like Bugsy Malone , and for years we would write our own shows and put them on.
It was during one of those shows that someone asked me to audition for a film [Emma’s War, 1986], which I ended up doing when I was about 16 or 17. Then I went to drama school. It was only afterward, when people tried to stop me, that I really had to fight for my career.
GF: What people?
MO: People I had relationships with who didn’t want me to act anymore–it’s very hard to go out with an actor. It’s a weird, all-involving profession. I think you get better at it as you get older, but it takes up so much of yoyr emotional life.
GF: Do you think you’ll want kids one day?
MO: Yeah. When I was working with these children on Julie Walking Home and seeing this huge bond their mothers have with them, I felt quite jealous. I don’t want to be someone who gets duped by acting, following something that is essentially unattainable. And I don’t want to turn around later and go, “Oops! What happened to my life?”
Fuller, Graham. “Miranda Otto.” Andy Warhol’s Interview. Vol. 32. No. 11. New York: Brant Publications, Inc. Pp. 52-53.