Miranda Otto

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Miranda Otto

Miranda Otto in 1998's Dead Letter Office.
Born December 16, 1967
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Notable roles Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings
Spouse(s) Peter O'Brien

Miranda Otto (born on December 16, 1967) is an Australian film and theatre actress. She began her career in the film Emma's War (1986) and gained critical recognition in the drama The Girl Who Came Late (1991). After a decade of critically acclaimed roles in Australian films, Otto gained Hollywood's attention after appearing in supporting roles in The Thin Red Line (1998) and What Lies Beneath (2000), before her breakthrough in 2002, when her character Éowyn was introduced to audiences in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

An accomplished dramatic actress, she received Australia's highest film awards for her performances in The Girl Who Came Late, The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), The Well (1997), and In the Winter Dark (1998). Otto performs predominantly in supporting roles in a variety of low-budget and major studio films, ranging from romantic comedies and drama to science fiction and action thrillers. Her most popular films include The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2002, 2003), and Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds (2005).

Early life and education

Otto was born in Brisbane, Queensland, the daughter of Australian stage and film actor Barry Otto and former actress Lindsay Otto, who retired from acting upon Otto's birth. The ancestors of her family were German immigrants. Miranda was named after a character from William Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Otto was raised in Newcastle and Brisbane, and briefly resided in Hong Kong following her parents' separation in 1973. She eventually settled in Newcastle, a town north of Sydney. She spent weekends and holidays with her father in Sydney when she was not with her mother and developed an interest in acting.

During her teenage years, Otto excelled in academics and in ballet, which she once considered as a career option. However, she had to abandon this goal due to moderate scoliosis.

In her childhood, Otto and her friends wrote scripts and songs and designed costumes and flyers in their spare time. Taking these activities seriously, Otto eventually appeared in a play at the Nimrod Theatre. Her performance attracted the attention of director Faith Martin who was impressed with the presentation. Subsequently, Otto received a casting-role in Emma's War (1986).

Following brief thoughts of majoring in medicine, Otto enrolled at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, where she spent three years in the study of professional acting. While in attendance, she was known as "the Flagellator" for her frequent tendency to be bothered about a character-role until she had perfected it to her satisfaction. Before graduation in 1990, Otto appeared in minor film roles including The 13th Floor (1988) and Heroes II: The Return (1990).

Film career

1986—1993: Early works

Although she made her film debut in 1986 as Emma Grange in the Australian film Emma's War, Otto began to focus seriously on acting after graduation. Her first roles were in the low-budget Australian films The Girl Who Came Late (also known as Daydream Believer) (1991) and Last Days of Chez Nous (1992). Both films garnered Otto critical recognition and Australian Film Institute nominations.

Her next film was the sexually provocative The Nostradamus Kid (1993) co-starring Noah Taylor, which was based on the memoires of Australian author Bob Ellis. The film was difficult for Otto as it required multiple sex scenes, which made her uncomfortable. On these scenes Otto commented: "The first time you do it, though, it's very technical - do you want my arm there, that's not working, do you want me to scream louder, that sort of stuff. It's hard, cos it's not something you've seen other women do, so you're scared that you'll do something that gives you away as really strange."

Soon after Last Days of Chez Nous was released, Australian magazines were eager to profile the actress. By now, Otto was also receiving praise from her co-stars and directors, and had soon earned a reputation for being very professional while sometimes taking dark, challenging roles.

1994—1998: Lead appearances

After a small role in the low-budget Sex is a Four-Letter Word in 1995, Otto began to doubt her career choice as she failed to get the parts she auditioned for and underwent a loss in self confidence. The feeling lifted partially when she was offered a part she loved in Love Serenade (1996), but, even then, she was not wholly convinced that acting was what she wanted to do with her life.

In 1997, she starred in two of her most complex and demanding films of her career, The Well and Doing Time for Patsy Cline. The Well revolves around Hester (Pamela Rabe), a lonely young woman, and her claustrophobic relationship with Otto's Katherine, onto whom Hester projects her dreams of freedom. When Otto first received the film script, she did not want to read it in fear that she would not get the part. She believed that she could not convincingly fill the role of Katherine, who is supposed to be eighteen, as she was thirty years old at the time. At the audition Otto was able to work around her insecurities, and was given the part. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 as Australia's only entry that year, and it received mostly positive reviews. Otto also received an Australian Film Institute nomination for her role.

In Doing Time for Patsy Cline Otto played the lead character named Patsy as an object of male fantasy. Of her character, Otto commented: "I went through a huge thing about Patsy [Cline]," she says. "A lot of women, when they play that part these days — characters who are partly sex-object—they're always doing a really tough-talking short-skirt-wearing, punchy, sexy kind of American thing. She was really gentle and passive and retiring and sexual in that way. It was a part of myself I hadn't really used because I'd been a more aggressive character in life, more cerebral, nutting things out, and argumentative — that's who I am as a person, and then this other thing came out which was soft, protected."

In 1998 she appeared in Dead Letter Office and In the Winter Dark. Both films were critical hits, but were not seen by large audiences. By now, however, she landed a minor role in The Thin Red Line co-starring with George Clooney and Sean Penn. Although the role was very small, it gave Otto great exposure and lead to further roles in films outside Australia.

1999–present: Hollywood

After A Thin Red Line, Otto appeared in the supernatural thriller What Lies Beneath (2000) co-starring Harrison Ford. Her next film was Human Nature (2001), which follows the ups and downs of an obsessive scientist, a female naturalist, and the man they discover, born and raised in the wild. Originally Otto had auditioned for a role in Being John Malkovich, but lost out on the lead female role after Cameron Diaz decided to take it instead. The film's director, however, remembered Otto and cast her in Human Nature, a film she really wanted to be a part of.

Her breakthrough in Hollywood came in 2002 when her character Éowyn was introduced to audiences in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Otto beat out many actresses for the role as the character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy. Peter Jackson, the trilogy's director, was convinced that she was the best for the role after watching her audition tape only once. For the role she took on a grueling nine month schedule between March and December 2000 to film the part, for which she was given training in horseriding and sword-fighting. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers would also become one of the most successful films of all time when it grossed over $900 million on a budget of $94 million USD. The following year Otto would reprise her role in the third and final film in the trilogy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which also was a box office success and earned Otto a nomination for "Best Supporting Actress" at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Awards.

Films of varying quality and success followed The Lord of the Rings. She starred opposite of Rhys Ifans in the low-budget, moderately successful 2003 comedy Danny Deckchair as a parking inspector. In 2004 she starred opposite Matthew Macfadyen in the drama In My Father's Den, another low-budget film which was not seen by a large audience. Later that year Otto starred in two-part miniseries, Through My Eyes, which told the story Lindy Chamberlain who was convicted of killing her baby daughter, Azaria in one of Australia's most publicized murder trials. Otto was interested in the role because it was challenging to play someone so different from herself, and because of the prospect of exploring an unconventional character. The miniseries was a hit with audiences and scored highly with critics, and earned Otto a Logie Award for "Most Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series".

After seeing her performance as Éowyn in The Lord Of The Rings, Otto received a phone call from director Steven Spielberg inquiring if she would play opposite Tom Cruise in the big-budget science fiction film War of the Worlds (2005)). At the time, Otto was pregnant and believed she would have to turn down the role, but Spielberg reworked the script to accommodate her pregnancy. The movie would become a box office and critical success when it grossed over $591.4 million, making it the fourth highest grossing film of 2005.

After the birth of her first child in 2005, Otto took a hiatus from major film roles to concentrate on motherhood and theatre work in Australia.


She made her theatre debut at the age of seventeen in the 1986 production The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kan for the Sydney Theatre Company. Her performance was well received by critics and led to further parts in stage plays with the Sydney Theatre Company. Otto's most popular performance was as Nora Helmer in the 2002 production of A Doll's House. It earned her a 2003 Helpmann Award nomination and the prestigious MO Award for "Female Actor in a Play".

Her most recent stage production was 2005's Boy Gets Girl, in which she played Theresa, a journalist for a big-time New York magazine. Otto committed to the project a few days before she found out she was pregnant, but production was postponed until Otto gave birth. The play also marks the second time she has worked with her father, the first being briefly in the film Dead Letter Office (1998).

Personal life

In 1997 Otto began dating her Doing Time for Patsy Cline co-star Richard Roxburgh, but the relationship ended in 2000, reportedly because of the little time they spent together due to their busy acting schedules.

On January 1, 2003, she married actor Peter O'Brien. The two had met while performing in A Doll's House in 2002. They have one child, a daughter Darcey (b. 2005). O'Brien was unable to attend the birth as he was filming in Texas. Many media reports stated that he watched the birth via webcam, but Otto denies these reports as being untrue. She and O'Brien are determined to raise their daughter on their own and rotate their working life, with one parent always around to care for Darcey.


Year Film Role Other notes
1986 Emma's War Emma Grange  
1987 Initiation Stevie  
1988 The 13th Floor Rebecca  
1990 Heroes II: The Return (TV) Roma Page  
1991 The Girl Who Came Late Nell Tiscowitz Australian Film Institute nomination
1992 The Last Days of Chez Nous Annie Australian Film Institute nomination
1993 The Nostradamus Kid Jennie O'Brien  
1995 Sex Is a Four Letter Word Viv  
1996 Love Serenade Dimity Hurley  
1997 The Well Katherine Australian Film Institute nomination
1997 True Love and Chaos Mimi  
1997 Doing Time for Patsy Cline Patsy  
1998 Dead Letter Office Alice Walsh Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards nomination
1998 In the Winter Dark Ronnie Australian Film Institute nomination
1998 The Thin Red Line Marty Bell  
1999 The Jack Bull (TV) Cora Redding  
2000 Kin Anna  
2000 What Lies Beneath Mary Feur  
2001 Human Nature Gabrielle  
2001 The Way We Live Now (Mini-series) Mrs. Murtle  
2001 Volpe a tre zampe Ruth  
2002 Doctor Sleep Clara Strother  
2002 Julie Walking Home Julie  
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Éowyn  
2003 Danny Deckchair Glenda Lake  
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Éowyn Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films nomination
2004 In My Father's Den Penny  
2004 Through My Eyes: The Lindy Chamberlain Story (Mini-series) Lindy Chamberlain Logie Award
2005 Flight of the Phoenix Kelly  
2005 War of the Worlds Mary Ann Ferrier  
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