Chilling with Miranda Otto

March 5, 2020
The ever-amiable Miranda Otto sat down for a chat during The Sundance Film Festival where she discussed her life, her TV work and Downhill, which world-premiered at the Utah film festival.

In Downhill, Otto plays Charlotte, who runs the Austrian ski chalet where the American couple played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell are staying. At the time of our interview Otto was yet to see the film, which was directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Director Nat Faxon, actors Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto and Kristofer Hivju, and director Jim Rash attend the World Premiere of Downhill by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Stephen Speckman.

Where do you live now?

Between Los Angeles and Vancouver. I’ve pretty much been in Vancouver for almost two years for the Sabrina show (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).

Did you see Force Majeure on which Downhill is based?

I had so many of my guy friends back in Australia say how they loved Force Majeure and I never saw it. It’s often difficult to see international-language films in LA. In the US I tend to miss things like that. When this came up, I thought I won’t watch it before we do it because sometimes when you read the book when you’re making something, then you get too fixated about trying to get things from the book into the film. So, you have to let it go.

Your character is over the top and so smutty.

Smutty? Ha, ha, ha! She’s sexual, not smutty! She’s just one of those people who is very confident in who she is and that her point of view is correct. She’s very placed in herself, I think, in a way that Europeans can be. Sometimes with some Europeans they think of people from America and Australia and places like that as naïve and childish and I think there’s an aspect of Charlotte of being from an older culture. She just doesn’t see the same boundaries; the same marriage boundaries that Julia’s character does. She’s very forward in her views.

She’s certainly over the top in her sexual points of view.

But don’t you meet people like that, like over-sharers? I always feel that we don’t show enough in film how full-on people are all the time. Things happen to me in real life with people I meet, and I’m like, “My God, that person was just so amazing in some way!” I would never have the guts to play it that way in a film; I would dull it down a little because I feel the language would be too big for a film. The real world is a lot crazier than we care to say.

Charlotte is there for comedic effect. Julia and Will are brilliant comedians. How was it matching that?

The first scene we shot together was actually the dinner scene and it was hilarious. It was one of those perfect days of shooting where it just all seemed to flow really easily. They adlib a lot as actors; they do the script and add little bits to things. It was fun to see how loose they are with what they do, how they keep it fresh and alive. There were times when it was hard not to laugh. It was a pleasure to work with people who are so easy and so good at what they do, so generous. I wondered why we hadn’t seen them together before.

I guess you’re going to be talking about sex for the next while when promoting the film.

Ha, ha, ha! What do I even say? I talk about masturbation and I guess that’s a no-no.

You talk about a penis.

She says, “I can grab a dick anytime I like” or something like that.

Even Julia does a masturbation scene.

I can’t wait to see it. That’s hilarious, the idea of being in all that ski gear.

 

She meets this hot guy.

 

Guglielmo.

There’s nothing like that in the original film. The sexual stuff has been brought into it.

Yes. The writer Jesse Armstrong (Succession) is English and I’m guessing that observation comes from him. I’ve spent a bit of time in Germany and there is often this thing of (donning German accent) “Ja, let’s just get naked. What’s the problem? We all sauna together.” There is this open banality to sexuality in some ways. Like “No drama” kind of thing.

Australians talk about that kind of thing all the time but we generally don’t see Americans doing that.

No, I think Americans are more polite than that. I find as an Australian I’m a little more brash. Sometimes I’m not as polite as I probably should be.

Have you ever gotten into trouble because of that?

No, but I think about it sometimes and I think people are so nice in America, so polite. I just go straight up to people and say what I think or what needs to happen. Maybe I’m a little confrontational and I don’t even think about it, because in Australia that would be totally fine. Very straightforward, to the point kind of thing.

Do you think you’ve found your niche in LA? You’re doing more TV than film.

Yes, I’m doing more TV than film. I’m drawn to the women’s roles in TV. I like the writing. I was seeing stronger women’s roles than in the film scripts I was getting to read. I also like the ability to develop a character with a group of people, that family aspect of being on something for a period of time where you keep developing the character with the same crew and actors and building a company again in some way. I still love doing film. It’s fun coming into something for a short burst where you have a whole script and you can plot where you’re going.

What is Peter [O’Brien, Otto’s husband] doing?

He is mainly in LA and I’m back and forth from Vancouver. I’m back for weekends and any time I can get off. I won’t deny it’s tough, but it’s really hard to have jobs that happen in LA. When I finished the first season of Sabrina, I said I’m not working, I’m just going to be in LA and hang out. Then my agent sent me this script and I thought it was such a fun role, just a little thing and not a major commitment. It’s quite different to what I’m doing at the moment, it’s something I haven’t played before and I loved the writing and the chance to work with Julia and Will and Nat [Faxon, co-writer, co-director] and Jim [Rash, co-writer, co-director]. So, of course I went in and ended up getting it and it was like, “Oh gosh, now I’m going away again to Austria for five weeks. Sorry!”

There’s a sign that points to Switzerland near the chalet.

It’s at a place in the Tyrol where you could ski down to Switzerland.

Did Pete and your daughter [Darcey, 14] come?

She couldn’t come because of school, but he came for a week, which was really fun. He loves to ski and got out there. He skied to Switzerland. There’s no way he wasn’t going to ski to Switzerland.

He’s older than you but he’s got so much energy.

He does. Wherever he goes he’s going to attack it. We ate German knödel and we could go out to these crazy Austrian bars where they sing these weird songs till late at night.

He seems like a fun guy.

Yeah, he’s a lot of fun.

So is your Dad [Barry Otto].

He just had an exhibition. He decided he was going to do another exhibition and he’s put a lot of things from the walls at home he’d always been really attached to and he suddenly decided “I’m going to sell some of them, I’ve got so many paintings.” So, he mounted this exhibition and evidently it was massive.  It was in Stanmore and 400 people turned up and took over the whole block. It was an exhibition, but it was generally a celebration of my dad.

He’s a national treasure.

He’s a total treasure. I adore him.

You must miss him when you’re not in Australia.

Yeah. It’s really hard for me to get back at the moment because my daughter’s at school in the US. She only gets two weeks holiday at Christmas then I’m shooting all through her summer break and actually when I come into a break in a month’s time she will be at school! So, I need to be with her and to try to do some of the things I should be doing the rest of the year. [sighs] So it’s hard to get back to Australia at the moment. I went back for Christmas but that was a really tight trip.

How was it?

It was really sad, I have to say. I always get a big recharge going home especially going home in the summer just that lightness you feel with the blue skies and everything’s alive and on the street. But to go back and see it in such turmoil, to be on fire like that was horrible. The heaviness of watching the news and all the shocking things going on, the lost wildlife, the loss of everything, was so sad.

Can you talk about the Sabrina show, and what you feel is special about it?

It’s fun. It’s kind of campy. Our third season just dropped and we’re about to finish shooting the fourth season. The whole thing with Netflix is that they drop it all in one go. You work so hard to do it and phoom! It’s all out there in one second. People send you messages on Instagram saying how they “stayed up last night and watched the whole thing”. I’m like, “Wow it took us ages to make that.” It’s like you cooked a massive, big, beautiful meal and people just gorge on it.

But it’s really fun binging on shows.

What do you binge on?

Recently Succession, Euphoria, I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock, Fleabag and Unbelievable.

Downhill is in cinemas from March 5, 2020. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is on Netflix now.

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