Teresa Palmer: Cult drama 'The Clearing' is 'a redemption story'

Teresa Palmer stars in "The Clearing." Photo courtesy of Hulu
1 of 5 | Teresa Palmer stars in "The Clearing." Photo courtesy of Hulu

LOS ANGELES, May 24 (UPI) -- Teresa Palmer said her new show, The Clearing, premiering Wednesday on Hulu, is about redemption.

Palmer, 37, plays Freya, an Australian woman who escaped a cult with her son, but left another child behind.


"It's such a redemption story," Palmer told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "You see her unpack a lot of that trauma and work through it. Ultimately, you realize that no matter where you come from, there's hope for healing."

The Clearing is based on J.P. Pomare's book In the Clearing, which was inspired by the real Australian cult, The Family. Creators Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie invented a fictional cult for the series.

Miranda Otto plays Adrienne, the cult leader who dresses all the children of her cult the same, with the same blond hair and makes them call her mother. Otto, 55, said playing a woman leading a cult eliminated a sexual component of many male cult leaders.


"You read so much about the men and the relationships they had with all the women in the cult," Otto said. "Her whole thing is about mothering and that relationship, and how she corrupts that."

Even though Freya escaped, the cult still tries to get her and her son back. It sends people to follow her, and sells her house out from under her.

Freya is in the position of trying to keep her son safe, but also trying to protect him from the traumas she escaped. Meanwhile, Palmer said Freya still is triggered by reminders of the cult.

"She's showing up for him and taking him to school and just doing all the normal mom things while being completely in a trauma cycle," Palmer said. "I'm not sure if she does a successful job or not of shielding him from it."

Palmer said even Freya's interactions with other parents and teachers at her son's school are colored by her past trauma, and that the son can tell something is bothering his mother.

"Kids are so perceptive that I'm sure he can pick up that she's acting a little erratically," Palmer said."

In Adrienne's scenes with children of her cult, Otto said she explored degrees of warmth and coldness. Scenes with 16-year-old Julia Savage allowed Otto to show how manipulative Adrienne could be.


"A lot of it was about making the person opposite you feel very, very special for a moment - and then taking it away," Otto said.

Palmer and Otto said they were interested in cults before working on The Clearing. Palmer had listened to podcasts and specifically studied the NXIVM cult.

Otto had a member of the Osho cult in her family, saying her aunt "just sort of fell out of it at a certain point."

Palmer said that as difficult as the material of The Clearing was to portray, it reminded her that she was able to escape every time she left the set. She said she was thinking of the real people still trapped in cults.

"They're still so deep in the suffering," Palmer said. "At the end of the day, I get to go back to my comfortable life. That was the hardest pill to swallow, I think, for me."

Though the show fictionalized the cult, Otto said the manipulation of children still troubled her.

"Children don't make the choices to be involved in these things," Otto said. "For these kids in the story to not have unconditional love, to not be loved in that way, is so pivotal and so hard to recover from. The nice thing is in this story we do get there in the end."


New episodes of The Clearing premiere Wednesdays on Hulu.

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