For Australian actress Miranda Otto
, her role as double agent Alison Carr on Season 5 of “Homeland
” was the most delicious woman’s role on television.
“I enjoyed playing someone who is a professional, intelligent, defined by her work and not her role as a wife or mother,” Otto said. “(She’s) independent and not an appendage to somebody else. Certain characters get to me and stay with me for a while. It’s hard to leave Alison behind.”
From the first few scenes, Otto knew that this was no ordinary woman. “In the audition, (showrunner) Alex (Gansa) told me I’d be playing a double agent having an affair with Saul,” she said. “That sounded really juicy. I was fascinated by the idea of what kind of psychology it would be to play both sides. This area of work is very secretive. Working for both sides, you’re completely alone except for the handler.”
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The handler relationship is key to succeeding as a double agent, Otto said. “If you’re not having a relationship with anybody who is real, the handler has to be everything: He’s your father, your lover, almost like an actor/manager relationship, coaching you through things by dealing with your psychology. They have to deal with all your phobias and concerns — they have to let you vent, the only time you can vent is with them. She is an actor. He’s telling her, ‘You’re the best, you can do it, nobody does it like you!”
A double agent has to compartmentalize to function. “I was trying to work it out how would I play both worlds,” she said. “She has to be true to to the CIA and the SVR in the moments that she is working for them and not blur the lines in between, and be clear about how to work for each. That’s how Alison lived her life, in pockets.”
With less than two weeks between landing the role and the start of shooting, Otto had a lot to do. She inhaled spy books, including British double agent Kim Philby’s memoir, and collaborated closely with “Homeland” advisor who used to work for the CIA. That led her to the MICE motivations for spying: Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego.
“It’s about being ensnared,” said Otto. “But deep down for Alison, she was enjoying the feeling that you’re the smartest person in the room, holding the most information. She enjoys that, and I enjoyed that.”
Costumes were an important part of the process for Otto, who selected a sleekly elegant wardrobe. “It was professional, she didn’t look like a secretary or something. I wanted her to look like she spent time in Europe, that kind of look, less American.
“Acting is bluffing, pretending to be something,” she said. “If you can dress right, it helps you feel so much. It’s hard to act in the wrong costume, it’s discombobulating.”
Ron Nyswaner was Otto’s closest writer relationship, and she admires series director Lesli Linka Glatter. “She brings incredible life force and energy,” she said. “She was a dancer, that energy comes though in her. She’s incredibly enthusiastic, she keeps a hold of everything that’s going on, she’s an incredible force. She understands the character and the story so well, that it makes you feel relaxed on set.”
Carr, who shoots herself point blank to convince her colleagues that she’s one of them, could have been written for a man in many ways. “There were very female parts to the role,” Otto said, “but her solutions to things seem very masculine. She was always on the attack, she didn’t take a defensive position. When I thought she was definitely trapped and caught, I’d come back with an attacking response, like bringing someone else down.”
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Otto figured her character was toast by episode four or five, but the writers “kept pushing it closer and closer and tighter and tighter.” This all comes to a climax when the CIA is finally onto Carr, and she escapes just ahead of them to her handler— and gets arrested.
“They managed to keep it going right to the end,” said Otto. “Every time we got a new script (I thought) ‘I can’t believe she’s going too get away with this!’
Next up: Gansa brought Otto onto the pilot for “24,” which Fox has picked up. She shot a film in Australia, “The Daughter,” which did well. “In America, I got drawn into the TV world because of the women’s roles. I am drawn to these stories over a long period of time, the subtleties and levels you can take the characters.”
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