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One of Australiaís most beloved actors...

Richard Roxburgh is perhaps best known as the brilliantly flawed lawyer, Cleaver Greene, from long-running TV series Rake. But during a career spanning the best part of three decades, he has also appeared on stage and the big screen, from acclaimed theatre productions such as Uncle Vanya, to blockbusters Moulin Rouge!, Van Helsing, and Breath. We talk to him about fame, fans, and some of the lessons heís learnt along the way.


When did you know you wanted to be an actor?

Probably from when I played Mr Banks in the Albury Public School production of Mary Poppins. But growing up in the bush, there was no obvious way of figuring out how to make it happen. Things only started to fall into place when I went to university, and it became crystal clear I was not going to be an economist.


Did you have any goals in mind, when you were starting out?

When I started out, I was just firing blind. I loved working on stage, but as to becoming an actor on television or film, that was a mystery. Going to drama school helped make those pathways feel more tangible.

How closely has your career matched the one you imagined for yourself?

Well, Iíve worked as an actor my whole life now, which alone outstrips many expectations. But more than that, Iíve loved my life in it, Iíve had such brilliant and fun company along the way. And Iím aware that itís damn lucky in this life to be able to say I love what I do for a living.


Who were some of your acting idols, starting out?

I grew up as a kid watching Jack Nicholson, John Cassavetes, De Niro, Meryl Streep. And I loved European films, so I was inspired by actors like Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu. But there are so many Australian actors as well. I finally decided to audition for drama school when I saw Hugo Weaving in his NIDA graduating production of Twelfth Night. I thought: whatever that guy is doing, I want to be a part of itÖ

Richard Roxburgh
 

And what about mentors during your career?

If youíre lucky, you work with some terrific directors and they can have an enormous influence. Neil Armfield directed me a lot in theatre and I consider him a great mentor. He was always interested in the tiny, surprising details of life, and gave me a sense of both the subtlety and the scale of what we could do on stage.


What makes a great mentor, in your opinion?

A great mentor is somebody who can communicate. Someone who has an enquiring mind, and has managed to keep that wide-eyed kid alive inside themÖ

 
RichardRoxburgh

There are lean years in any actorís life. How have you dealt with those tougher moments in your career?

The troughs for me have mostly been the times when a project hasnít worked, for whatever reason. Failure is horrible. My way through it has always been to go back to the beginning again, to remind myself why I chose this life in the first place. And it always comes down to the sheer, simple joy of telling stories.


Why do you think Rake has struck such a chord?

Cleaver says whatever he thinks. He doesnít give a rats about consequences, and in this time of careful monitoring of behaviour and so much social commentary, itís incredibly refreshing. I also think men and women identify with Rake in different ways. Guys like to see someone like Cleaver live out their adolescent dream of remaining unseemly and disorderly all the way into middle age, whereas I think women love seeing terrible things happen to Cleaver Green!

 

Do you share any qualities with him?

Maybe more in my younger years. But unlike Cleaver I took a long look at myself at a certain point and thought that I really needed to sort my stuff out.


What are some of the best and worst aspects of fame?

There have been moments where Iíve done a Hollywood film and the fame thing took off for a while, and I absolutely hated it. I just hated the intrusion. Iím really a pretty private person. But as an actor you want people to see your work, so itís a kind of devilís alliance you have to make. Iíve managed to make my peace with that now. The best thing about fame, of course, is itís a sign that people like what youíre doing.

Any noteworthy fan interactions?

There was quite an elderly lady one time who sent me a plastic rose and a rather large photo of herself, completely nude in her backyard. That was an eye-opener. But on the whole, itís fun because people tell you they enjoy what youíve done. Thatís got to be a good thing.


You must have to go to the odd fancy event these days. Do you enjoy getting dressed up.

Oh yeah. I love good clothes. I enjoy a well-cut suit. And if itís a special occasion, Iím all in. There are times when a gentleman has to make an effort.


What qualities make a great suit?

A great suit starts with beautiful cloth, first and foremost. It has to fit in the right ways Ė and not the wrong ways Ė which is easier than it sounds. Sometimes a suit off the rack can have a mind of its own. I am a very classic-cut man. I like a well-cut, suit with classic lines. Do not give me extra zips or pockets or flaps in strange placesÖ




Richard Roxburgh

Youíre involved in a number of charity initiatives. Why is that important for you?

Itís important to give back because weíre so bloody lucky to live here. Itís a privilege. And though I know for a fact privilege doesnít afford happiness, giving always does.

Whatís the best advice youíve ever been given?

I worked with a brilliant Hungarian director called Tamas Ascher, and shortly before our opening night of Uncle Vanya, he said whatever your favourite moment is, the one that you always nail, or where you get a laugh every nightÖStop doing it! Change it. What he was getting at was to keep measuring yourself, to never, ever sit back, and I think thatís excellent advice.

 


Richard Roxburgh

What qualities do you need, to make it as an actor?

Resilience. You have to have a belief in your talent, even though thereíll be times when youíre going to be plagued with self-doubt. You need empathy, because youíre going to spend your life interpreting the lives of other human beings. And you need access to a great number of emotions.


What do you know now, that you wish youíd known starting out?

I wish I knew it was going to continue for this long. When I first started out there would be moments where it seemed to dry up Ė the phone wouldnít ring for three months Ė and I wish Iíd known that it was all going to be okÖthat this was just the nature of the life.


Whatís your favourite film of all time?

Asking me which is my favourite film is like asking me to choose between my children. I have a list of about fifty, but a number one. Nup.

 

Finally, what would you be doing if you werenít an actor?

I was always interested in the law, and I may have entertained the prospect of being some version of Cleaver Greene, which would have been a terrible mistake of course Ė I think I wanted to go into the law because of the performative element of being barrister. And thatís just not a good reason!

Posted on August 19, 2018