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It is easy to see why Australian actress Miranda Otto remains relatively unknown to most Americans, despite having starred in one of the highest-grossing film trilogies ever, The Lord of the Rings. Dressed in slim jeans tucked into knee-high boots with her strawberry blonde hair pulled into a casual topknot, her delicate features are striking, but don’t exactly scream for attention.
Such anonymity may wane when Otto appears alongside Lucy Liu this winter in the ABC series Cashmere Mafia, from Sex and the City creator Darren Star. As one of four former business schoolmates now juggling work and relationships, Juliet Draper, played by Otto, 39, is a glossy wife, mother and executive whose flawless appearance masks a shaky internal life.
“At first you think she’s one of those pretty, high-end, Upper East Side–type ladies, but I think she’s got a lot of surprises in her,” muses Otto. “You might think she’s very conservative, but I don’t think she actually is. I think her marriage is quite complicated and she’s a very secretive person.”
The actress is the opposite. Free of the normal repertoire of witty sound bites, she’s soft-spoken and thoughtful about her character’s various hurdles—her husband, Davis, is a chronic adulterer, for starters—and how viewers might respond to her. “I don’t think I’m as bold as Juliet. I think she’s one of those women with whom, based on the things she does, a few women will identify. And there are a lot of women who will think, Oh, wow, I wish I was that bold,” she says.
Otto may not share Juliet’s audacity, but she’s familiar with the juggling act the Cashmere Mafia women face. Married to fellow actor Peter O’Brien and mother of their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Darcey, Otto has chosen to remain living in her native Australia while navigating an increasingly international career. She’s the daughter of esteemed actor Barry Otto and enjoyed an active stage and film career in Australia before heading to Los Angeles about eight years ago. Since then she has lent her ethereal beauty to Eowyn, the willful warrior, in The Lord of the Rings, and, more recently, Cricket Stewart (another wronged spouse) in The Starter Wife, opposite Debra Messing.
And inasmuch as the show deals with the issues of how female professionals keep the work, love and family balls in the air, for Otto, the experience is equally one of transforming herself into an unfamiliar woman. “Acting for me really started by dressing up as a kid, pretending to be something,” she explains. “I really enjoy putting on a new disguise and getting into what that person’s like. It’s a fantasy.”
Sometimes parts of that fantasy creep into Otto’s everyday life. “What often happens is I end up by the end of something buying a whole bunch of clothes that look like the character and then a few months later going, ‘I’m never going to wear that,’” she laughs.
Since Juliet’s wardrobe, courtesy of Patricia Field’s styling, is of the posh, hard-core spender variety, Otto better hope there isn’t too much overlap.