Why Miranda Otto was drawn to revisit our ‘horrific’ Black Summer on screen Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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By Bridget McManus

Miranda Otto was in Vancouver filming Netflix supernatural horror series, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, when bushfires sparked in Queensland in September, 2019. By the time she was headed home to Sydney for Christmas, the east coast was engulfed in flames. Like most city dwellers, Australia’s Black Summer touched her indirectly, but she recalls a “sad and dark time” that made seasonal celebrations feel wrong. Accepting the role of a Victorian dairy farmer reeling from devastating loss in Tony Ayres’ and Belinda Chayko’s six-part anthology series, Fires seemed an appropriate response to the disaster.

“I was amazed by the speed with which (the creators) were able to bring a show about the situation,” says Otto from California, where she is due to embark on an unnamed film project. “It was an incredibly fast turnaround and I was impressed that they managed to write it and fund it and put so much detail into the production, so soon after something that was so at the front of people’s minds.”

Shock and grief for Miranda Otto and Richard Roxburgh in Fires.

Shock and grief for Miranda Otto and Richard Roxburgh in Fires.Credit:ABC

As do the creators, who have stated the series is intended to “honour the experiences and the losses suffered”, Otto doesn’t believe its too soon to dramatise the horrific events of just two years ago, that have left many still without homes.

“With a lot of these things, people say, ‘Oh, we need to put it off’. But the fact is that so many of these events are calling for change in the way that we live, and I don’t think you can put that conversation off. I think you have to have that conversation now.”

In the series’ second episode, “Everything’s Gone”, directed by Ana Kokkinos, Otto plays Kath Simpson, who, along with her husband, Duncan (Richard Roxburgh) is returning to their razed homestead. Former real-life partners after they co-starred in 1997 movie, Doing Time for Patsy Cline, the pair’s connection is evident on screen.

“It was really nice to work with Richard again. He’s a terrific actor. I admire his work and he brings a real sensitivity to Duncan, as well as a kind of a no-nonsense thing as well, which I think is really lovely, just the simplicity.”

Kath’s contrasting stoicism unravels as the couple discovers their son’s house untouched by the blaze, but their son missing. A study in shock and grief plays out with her son’s partner, Brooke (Taylor Ferguson, Glitch).

“Everyone’s reaction to grief is so different, because you absorb so much in your life. How you express yourself, and how open you are about things and how strong you are can be so different to how people might think you will react. Kath doesn’t like to deal with a lot of feelings. She just gets on with it. I think coming from the land, there are a lot of things that are very difficult when you’re on a farm, and you get used to not indulging yourself in that way. She can’t deal with Brooke’s effervescence and emotion and neediness. But that’s basically because Kath’s very emotional inside. She’s very vulnerable.”

Otto hopes that the series helps survivors feel seen.

“So often, people’s stories don’t get told. I’m really glad the stories have been told about these people, about the volunteer firefighters, about the people who lost their homes, the people who lost loved ones – just normal, ordinary Australians who went through absolutely horrific times.”

She warns that this is far from an Australian story: “It’s happening all around the world. There have been shocking fires in Europe this year, terrible fires in California. This is going on every summer, whether you’re in the southern or the northern hemisphere. It’s something that’s continuing to happen every year, and unless we do something about it, it’s going to keep getting worse.”

Fires airs Sunday, September 26, at 8.40pm on the ABC.

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