Australian actress Miranda Otto has been making a name, and home, for herself in the US for over a decade, scoring plum roles in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and starring in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
However, like so many Aussies overseas, when the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the world, Otto and her family decided to head home to Sydney to wait things out. As it turned out, the timing worked out perfectly with Otto, who is the daughter of acting royalty Barry Otto, being sent the script for The Unusual Suspects — a darkly comedic female heist series set to debut on SBS on June 3.
“It was amazing to think that I could actually be working during this period,” Otto told The Latch during an interview.
After receiving the script and knowing she had found something she wanted to be a part of, Otto said, “I just felt like I really loved [writer] Jess [Redenbach’s] sense of humour. I felt it was really irreverent and I thought the characters were very fully rounded. They have their great points, but they also have their flaws.”
The four-part series takes place in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, where a $16 million necklace is stolen from the home of self-made Filipina businesswoman Roxanne Waters (Michelle Vergara Moore). The police investigation that ensues soon exposes the truth that the glittering facade of Sydney’s most glamorous enclave is not all that it seems — using the heist genre to unpack the complex relationships between a diverse group of women.
“It was such a sort of Australian thing to come back to,” said Otto. “I’ve done so many projects overseas, where culturally I’m dealing with American or European ideas so to do something that was set in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney — a place that I know really well and to have it commenting on that — I thought was really fun.”
In the series, which also stars her husband Peter O’Brien and their daughter Darcey, Otto plays Sara Beasley — a wealthy socialite who runs a wellness website.
Says the actress, “Sarah sees herself as a very high flyer, successful woman. She’s very much grounded in the Eastern Suburbs, and very much in herself. She grew up in a wealthy family and has sort of been able to do whatever she’s wanted to do.
“But there are a lot of things about Sarah’s life that are not what she puts on her Instagram feed. There are more cracks than then she would let people know. And so for her throughout the series, it’s really about the heist and the women coming together and their plan, but it’s also for her to open her eyes a bit about the rest of the world and what’s going on.”
The Unusual Suspects has been praised for its diverse voice and marks the first major representation of Filipino-Australians on Australian television, something which Otto felt immense pride in being part of but also something she approached with sensitivity.
“Australia is a really multicultural society, and I believe on the whole a very successful one,” said Otto. “And I think SBS does amazing work trying to represent that in everything that they show on their channel.
“That was a really wonderful thing to me. But also, the first thing I said to the producers was ‘Have you got consultation on this?,’ ‘Do you know that everything that we’re talking about is absolutely researched?’. It was really important to me that people were being represented properly. And they did have all those things, so that was very encouraging to me.
“It’s important when you’ve got so many characters from a different cultural background that you are portraying them faithfully. So that was really important.”
Reflecting on what she enjoyed the most about working on such a diverse set, and what she is excited for people to take away from the series, Otto said, “I always find it fascinating when you can open the door on these cultures that exist in Australia — these communities who are still carrying out their rituals, and just their way of life.”
She continued, “The show is from a sort of comedic point of view, but you do actually get a strong story underneath about what it’s like for the women who come here and leave their families behind and work for other people’s families. And just the problems that they face. It really delves into a lot of that.”
All four episodes of The Unusual Suspects will be available on SBS and SBS On Demand, Thursday, June 3 at 8:30 pm.