The Clearing's Miranda Otto reveals her on-screen transformation into a cult leader

Miranda Otto and Kate Mulvany chat with Yahoo Lifestyle about their new Disney+ show The Clearing, a psychological thriller inspired by the real-life female-led Australian cult The Family.

Video transcript

- Congratulations guys. It's such a great first Disney plus local scripted story.

MIRANDA OTTO: Thank you.

- What was it that drew you to the show and also your characters?

MIRANDA OTTO: Well, I'm fascinated by cults, always have been. So automatically, when I was told that it was about a cult and to play a cult leader, I thought that would be really fascinating and challenging. But to me, it was when I read the scripts. Just the way they're so layered and you're only finding out bits of the story at a time. And then, you're making these assumptions. And then, you find out that your assumptions are incorrect. And I just love the way the story developed. The thriller aspect of it.

KATE MULVANY: Yeah. Same here. It was like putting together a really delicious Jigsaw puzzle, just even having the scripts. And as soon as I'd finished one. I wanted to go straight onto the next. No break. I just wanted to binge on the scripts. And I thought, if that's got me doing that with the scripts, then you can imagine what it'll be like with all the bells and whistles.

- You both had a nice little transformation for the show.


KATE MULVANY: Just a tad.

- Just a little bit. Seeing yourself in the mirror. And then, do you just really feel like you're in character when that happens?

MIRANDA OTTO: That's the greatest gift to me. Like, when you go and the hair and makeup and wardrobe completely transform you into something else. Because as an actor, you're always trying to find new characters and new ways of presenting them. And I love all that textural stuff that you get from those things.

KATE MULVANY: Yeah. I have really fond memories actually of the first time I ever put on the Tamsin look. And you were next to me doing your Adrienne-- picking things that felt right to you--


KATE MULVANY: --for her. And it was so-- it was the start of the onscreen relationship in a way. I was like, is this OK? Does this look all right?

MIRANDA OTTO: Tell me, Adrienne.

KATE MULVANY: Tell me, Adrienne.

MIRANDA OTTO: Tell me how to be.

KATE MULVANY: Yeah. And yeah, it was amazing for us as performers to find those little bits of our character and then to see it in full glory on screen is pretty amazing.

- And what kind of research did you both have to do?

MIRANDA OTTO: I've done a lot of research into cults over the years. Like, many different cults and just the way they work and what is so charismatic about their leaders that they're able to kind of seduce people into doing the things that they do. And then, a lot of it was also just working with the other actors and seeing what actually works in the moment with people. Like, how do you draw people in?

KATE MULVANY: That's right. Yeah. I mean, there's not a lot of research I could do for Aunty Tamsin because I don't really want to go to that place with such a dark force. So a lot of the research I did was from-- purely from the script from what our incredible writer's team came up with. And then, it is. When you walk into a space and you have the children-- for me, acting in complete fear of you. Whereas, just offset, a couple of minutes earlier, we were all playing games.

It's not hard to kind of get dragged into that world and match them. Or hopefully, match them for their performances. The kids in the show are just extraordinary.

MIRANDA OTTO: Amazing. And Greg who worked with them as a coach, did such a great job with them. Like he really helped them. Kids are just so great at playing and diving into a world and making it all seem completely real. And then, just completely leaving it. Like, it doesn't affect them at all. They're brilliant like that.

But he was great. The way he would explain situations to them, and then, they would bring things to scenes that you didn't even-- you wouldn't have imagined writing or think of doing. The way they reacted with so good.

KATE MULVANY: Yeah. So a lot of the tapestry of the characters comes from that, from working with their fellow performers and putting the scene together like that.

- I was going to ask about that. How do you keep things light on set when you are doing kind of horrific things to these kids?

MIRANDA OTTO: There's a lot of like fun and stuff. Like, the kids who are always going off in between and like, you just hear all the giggling and laughter of them all running around together. Like, it was like a big adventure for them to be on set.

KATE MULVANY: We did a lot of-- they did rickrolling. Have you heard of that?


KATE MULVANY: I've never known what was rickrolling before.

MIRANDA OTTO: What's rickrolling?

KATE MULVANY: It's trying to get a Rick Astley song into any situation.


MIRANDA OTTO: I didn't know that one.

KATE MULVANY: So there was a lot of rickrolling. I had to go home and Google it. I was like, why do they keep singing Rick Astley at me?


KATE MULVANY: So there was a lot of that. A lot of games. We all hung out together at lunchtime. It was really important that those kids felt safe and appreciated and they're equals. They are our equals and we are theirs. So they were just-- and people are going to be blown away by their performance.


- Their performances. They are heartbreaking, amazing.



- I couldn't get over-- what's her name? Lily.


- Lily. So--

MIRANDA OTTO: Lily LaTorre. Yeah.

- So good.

KATE MULVANY: Yeah, so good.

- I was going to ask earlier if you could have, would you have gone undercover in a cult just to do some research?

KATE MULVANY: Hoff. Good question.

- See what these people are really like.

MIRANDA OTTO: I don't know. Like, no. I don't think so. No. No, I think very much, like, I'd prefer to work from my imagination because it's like it's specific to this cult in this story. It's very much-- and like a lot of cults, traditionally, are kind of run by men. And so, it was a very different thing being a woman. And like how this woman would wield her power. And like how she needed to be seen.

And for a lot of cults run by men. They're often sexually involved with a lot of the followers, whereas Adrienne, is not like that at all. She's completely above that. So, yeah, it's really quite different.

KATE MULVANY: I don't think I'd last five minutes in a cult.

MIRANDA OTTO: No. I think that's two heavy-duty.

- Even as an actor and pretending you'd be like, no.


- And what's something from behind the scenes that fans might not expect from the show?

MIRANDA OTTO: Oh, behind the scenes. What do you mean? Like, something that happened behind the scenes or--

- Yeah, anything that-- yeah.

MIRANDA OTTO: Oh, my gosh. Oh, I'm terrible at those questions. I can never think of anything. Like, what's something funny that happened?

KATE MULVANY: Behind the scenes. I mean, really, I think people would be super surprised by just how warm and generous and fun it was.

MIRANDA OTTO: Yeah. Jeffrey Walker who was our setup director, and then, my sister Gracie was the other director on the show. And they're both like super fun and just so warm with the kids and all of that. Like, it was actually a very warm set.

KATE MULVANY: And a beautiful first Chris Webb.


KATE MULVANY: Who we just lost-- the industry just lost last week. This is his-- I think, one of his last jobs. And he was famous around the world for his generous warmth.

MIRANDA OTTO: Keeping the craft alive.

KATE MULVANY: Keeping the craft alive. And I think I get tingles even just thinking about him because he kept this very, very dark content buoyant whenever the cameras weren't rolling and was so loved. There was a lot of love on this set.