“LIFE IS BEAU­TI­FUL”

RICHARD ROXBURGH IS RE­TURN­ING TO A LAND­MARK ROLE AF­TER 22 YEARS, AND EV­ERY­THING IS DIF­FER­ENT. HE IS A HAPPY HUS­BAND, A NEW FATHER AND AN ACT­ING SAGE IN THE PRIME OF HIS CA­REER

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy STEVEN CHEE Styling GEMMA KEIL Words AN­GELA MOLLARD

With a new­born daugh­ter and the re­turn of one of his most iconic roles, ac­tor Richard Roxburgh is in his prime.

Richard Roxburgh reck­ons he’s spent six months in jail. What with play­ing Ron­ald Ryan, the last man hanged in Aus­tralia, cor­rupt cop Roger Roger­son and Rake’s hap­less Cleaver Greene – whose le­gal smarts proved fu­tile in keep­ing him out of the clink – Roxburgh has done his time.

“There’s noth­ing more aw­ful than film­ing in a prison,” he tells Stel­lar with a laugh. “They’re freez­ing cold, ghastly en­vi­ron­ments; never some­thing to look for­ward to.”

Repris­ing his role as Roger­son in the Seven Net­work’s Blue Mur­der: Killer Cop forced Roxburgh back to his least favourite kind of lo­ca­tion – the minis­eries was shot at Mait­land Gaol – and in the depths of win­ter, at that.

But it wasn’t the bleak en­vi­ron­ment or even the three hours he spent in the make-up chair each day that made him re­luc­tant to play Roger­son for the first time in more than two decades. (He first por­trayed Roger­son in the orig­i­nal 1995 Blue Mur­der se­ries.) Rather, with the dis­graced de­tec­tive now a con­victed killer serv­ing time in Syd­ney’s Long Bay jail, he feared a sen­sa­tion­alised de­pic­tion of his story.

“I ap­proached it with trep­i­da­tion be­cause I needed to know it was go­ing to be about some­thing other than trad­ing on the won­der­ful thing that was Blue Mur­der,” ex­plains Roxburgh.

“Roger is an ex­tremely com­plex in­di­vid­ual, not a sin­gle-cell en­tity. He’s an ex­traor­di­nar­ily dark per­son who’s done dark deeds. But he’s also highly in­tel­li­gent, very charis­matic and ca­pa­ble of love. The fact that he’s done very bad things didn’t mean I wanted to do pa­parazzi-style work.”

AU­DI­ENCES WHO HAVE fol­lowed Roxburgh’s sto­ried ca­reer would prob­a­bly agree that if any­one can bring com­plex­ity and nu­ance to our screens, it is him. Still, he only agreed to take the part when Michael Jenk­ins, who directed the orig­i­nal se­ries, came on­board. “It needed to be in safe hands,” says Roxburgh, no longer in­car­cer­ated but now hap­pily back home on Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches. “Roger­son is a big can­vas to work with.”

Hav­ing a his­tory with the char­ac­ter helped, and Roxburgh slipped into Roger­son’s ill-fit­ting suits and wirerimmed glasses with ease. De­spite their 21-year age dif­fer­ence, he’s a dead ringer for his sub­ject – even nail­ing his latelife dodgy hip. “This was new ter­ri­tory,” he says. “We had to plot the gra­da­tion of his phys­i­cal de­cline pretty care­fully. It was a big palaver with pros­thet­ics and changes to the hair. [Make-up] was te­dious; I couldn’t read or even wear ear buds. So I went into a med­i­ta­tive place.”

Play­ing a much older man also forced 55-year-old Roxburgh to con­front his own mor­tal­ity. “You feel the hor­ri­ble blood­i­ness of it,” he says. “The bas­tard­ness of it, the sh*t of it. The treachery in the sim­ple mo­tion of try­ing to get up out of a chair when your body is at war with you.”

Roxburgh has never met Roger­son, and says he doesn’t want to. But in 2006, while di­rect­ing Ro­mu­lus, My Father with Eric Bana, he says the pair learnt that both Roger­son and Mark

“Chop­per” Read (who Bana fa­mously played in 2000) were per­form­ing on­stage in Mel­bourne. “We were film­ing in coun­try Vic­to­ria and re­alised if we got in the car we could’ve both turned up at their show and sat in the front row. It was a de­li­cious idea – un­for­tu­nately, film­ing pre­cluded it.”

If the 22 years be­tween the two Blue Mur­der se­ries have seen the de­cline of Roger­son, they have also her­alded an ex­tra­or­di­nary rise for Roxburgh. While other ac­tors play to type – forg­ing rep­u­ta­tions as ac­tion he­roes, comic buf­foons or brood­ing lead­ing men – Roxburgh is a paint­box of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, a chameleon as com­fort­able on­stage with the heft of Ham­let as he is with the hi­lar­ity of Cyrano de Berg­erac.

On film, he’s done Hol­ly­wood block­busters ( Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble 2), ac­tion-ad­ven­ture ( Van Hels­ing) and mu­si­cal-ro­mance ( Moulin Rouge!), while his inim­itable chem­istry with Cate Blanchett means any­thing they do to­gether in­stantly sells out. One re­viewer noted that 20 years of act­ing op­po­site each other has given them “a kind of rad­i­cal in­ti­macy”; an­other pro­claimed their pro­duc­tion of Un­cle Vanya as “among the hap­pi­est of my theatre-go­ing life”.

But it was TV drama Rake, where he plays smart-arse bar­ris­ter and love­able rogue Cleaver Greene, which trans­formed Roxburgh into a na­tional trea­sure. He is in­con­testably bril­liant, over four sea­sons de­liv­er­ing a char­ac­ter so en­dear­ing and en­ter­tain­ing you find your­self laugh­ing even be­fore he’s opened his mouth.

“Oh, I love bring­ing Cleaver out and giv­ing him an air­ing,” en­thuses Roxburgh. “It’s been a great love project over the years we have been do­ing it. [Cleaver] is so emo­tion­ally hope­less yet ca­pa­ble oc­ca­sion­ally of do­ing the most won­der­fully quixotic and heart­felt acts. Play­ing Cleaver is al­ways an un­al­loyed plea­sure, ex­haust­ing as it is.”

Roxburgh seems to pluck words from some imag­i­nary tree, al­ways choos­ing the juici­est and most ex­otic, and rolling them round in his mouth as if to savour the taste. So it is lit­tle won­der he is keen to im­pro­vise with di­a­logue on Rake. He may not be a glob­ally recog­nised star on the scale of Hugh Jackman or Chris Hemsworth, but so what? It does not bother him, and he prefers to do qual­ity work right here at home.

“I love this coun­try, I love what it is and my life here,” he says. “I love bring­ing my fam­ily up here. Of course there are times when I con­sider the sheer vol­ume of work in the States and think I should be over there, but for me it’s about the life that you lead.”

At present, a lot of Roxburgh’s time is mo­nop­o­lised by his new­born daugh­ter, Luna. He and his wife, de­li­cious. on Sun­day con­trib­u­tor Sil­via Col­loca, wel­comed their first daugh­ter to the fam­ily three months ago. She joined sons, Raphael, 10, and six-year-old Miro.

Asked for an up­date, Roxburgh an­nounces with a laugh that “she slept through the night be­fore last, which is pretty good. All is for­given when she’s star­ing at you with those big pos­sum eyes and try­ing to form words and beam­ing at you in that tooth­less way. It’s pretty won­der­ful.”

Roxburgh is mind­ful of the com­mit­ment of be­com­ing a father again at 55, but adds he is grate­ful to be home to help Col­loca in th­ese early months. Later this year he’ll start film­ing the fifth sea­son of Rake (it will fea­ture Cleaver in the Se­nate); for now, he’s more than happy to de­vote him­self to the role of dot­ing dad.

“To miss any­thing is un­fath­omable,” he says. “I also wanted to be with the boys be­cause I’m more use­ful in that depart­ment – I don’t have boobs! Fam­ily is the very cen­tre of my life, and I’m lucky to have that.”

Asked what he ex­pects life at home to be like as his daugh­ter grows up, he

“TO MISS ANY­THING [AS A DAD] IS UN­FATH­OMABLE… FAM­ILY IS THE VERY CEN­TRE OF MY LIFE AND I’M LUCKY TO HAVE THAT”

says he en­vis­ages a world of… uni­corns? “I’m used to be­ing beaten with swords and spears and be­ing pum­melled in the balls,” he ex­plains. “It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to have a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence with a girl.”

He and Col­loca, who met when she starred along­side him in Van Hels­ing, in­tend to take the kids to her na­tive Italy later this year. “They’re half Ital­ian and we want them to ex­pe­ri­ence that cul­ture. We’ve got a place in Tus­cany so we’ll hang there for a cou­ple of months and steep them in that en­vi­ron­ment.”

FUL­FILL­ING WORK, HEALTHY kids, a beau­ti­ful wife, the free­dom to pick and choose projects that stim­u­late – plus a few months off in Italy. Is his life as idyl­lic as it seems?

“Yes, life is beau­ti­ful,” he says, be­fore quickly adding, “it’s also stress­ful, it drives you nuts and ev­ery­body goes through the same: the ter­ri­ble mo­ments, the loss, the sad­ness. And that is as it should be.”

He turns his at­ten­tion to a cul­prit that, as he sees it, is try­ing to deny us the right to ex­pe­ri­ence and un­der­stand suf­fer­ing for what it is. “The dan­ger with so­cial me­dia is that it per­pet­u­ates the idea there are lives out there that aren’t like that. I find that In­sta­gram­life re­ally dan­ger­ous. I can’t stom­ach the idea of por­ing over it. As if life is cham­pagne at twi­light in front of palm trees? It an­noys the hell out of me. It’s just rub­bish.”

As he mo­men­tar­ily draws breath, one can’t help point­ing out that it’s easy to see why his rants on Rake are so nat­u­ral and ac­com­plished. He laughs. He loves the show’s tone and tenor and in­tends to cap­ture the light­ness and mad­ness of the se­ries in fu­ture projects. While he’s en­joyed repris­ing Roger­son, he doesn’t want to “dwell in the dark­ness” as much as he has in the past.

Hav­ing chil­dren, he says, has made him con­scious of the work he’ll leave be­hind. “That doesn’t mean I want the sto­ries I tell to be frou-frou, but what I’d re­ally like to di­rect is the bit­ter­sweet. That ter­ri­tory, that beau­ti­ful world of funny/sad suits me just fine – be­cause to my mind, that’s life.” Blue Mur­der: Killer Cop airs 8.30pm tonight and 8.30pm to­mor­row night, on the Seven Net­work.

RICHARD WEARS T.m.lewin suit and shirt, tm­lewin.com.au; P. John­son bow tie, pjt.com; (op­po­site) Bo­den knit, bo­den cloth­ing.com.au

RICHARD WEARS Burberry suit, burberry.com; P. John­son knit, shirt and tie, pjt.com

GROOM­ING Alan White us­ing R+CO and Kiehl’s

ROGER THAT (from top) Richard Roxburgh as dis­graced de­tec­tive Roger Roger­son in Blue Mur­der: Killer Cop;

play­ing the charm­ing yet hap­less Cleaver Greene in Rake; with his wife, de­li­cious. on Sun­day con­trib­u­tor Sil­via Col­loca.

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