Come fly with me
Rodger Corser wasn’t much the type for date nights, until The Weekly got involved. Rodger and his wife, Renae, speak with Samantha Trenoweth about emerging from the shadow of cancer, family and spontaneous romance.
Rodger Corser and his wife, Renae Berry, look for all the world like 007 and one of the more glamorous Bond girls, dashing along a pier towards a seaplane which is set to whisk them away on a fictional night out. At least, it began as fiction. When The Weekly proposed a date nightthemed photo shoot to the debonair Doctor Doctor star and his actor/ dancer wife, they both laughed.
“For us, a date night really is fictional,” says Rodger. “I know we should go out more often, but with four kids, we don’t get the chance. We recently went to a French restaurant, but that was only because we’d been given a gift voucher that we had to use before it expired.”
“There was the Logies,” Renae adds. “Rodger was nominated for a Gold Logie this year, so we went to the awards and had a weekend away in Melbourne.”
Those events aside, neither of them can remember going on a romantic night out for years. “I’ve told Rodger that he’d better get a Gold Logie nomination again next year,” says Renae with a wink.
Both agree that Renae bears the brunt of responsibilities at home. “She cops most of it,” Rodger admits.
“He’s a wonderful dad,” says Renae. “He’s very hands-on. He’s happy to do any chore, but I hold the fort because Rodger has been pretty successful in this last decade. It’s been amazing, but it’s meant he’s been away a lot.”
In an industry where actors often complain of lean times between roles, at 44, Rodger has been on a decadelong winning streak, moving seamlessly from one small-screen hit to the next: Underbelly, Rush, Paper Giants, Puberty Blues, The Doctor Blake Mysteries,
The Beautiful Lie and now a second season as rakish Dr Hugh Knight in Doctor Doctor. He’s also had roles in two US series, Camp and the Emmy Award-nominated The Starter Wife, with Debra Messing and Judy Davis.
Renae, meanwhile, has put her career on hold to care for their three little ones: Budd, seven, Cilla, five, and Dustin, two. Sometimes, Rodger’s 15-year-old daughter, Zipporah (Zippy), comes to stay. Her mum is Rodger’s former
partner, singer Christine Anu. Zippy’s older brother, Kuiam, Christine’s son from a previous relationship, drops by regularly, too. It’s a rambling and affectionate family and neither Rodger nor Renae would have it any other way.
“Kui was the first kid whose nappy I changed,” says Rodger, smiling, “and he still calls my mum and dad Grandma and Grandad. He’s six-foot-three now and plays footy not far from our place, so he’ll often come over for a feed after training.”
“For a while there,” says Renae, “I thought Zippy would be my only little person to raise and love and look after.”
It’s been more than 11 years since Renae was diagnosed with cervical cancer and doctors told her she would never have children. “For quite a while, it haunted me,” she admits. “I worried that [the cancer] might return. I was told I had four years to live and that did play on my mind, but it’s not something I think about any more. I feel really blessed that I’m healthy and I have three beautiful children, and a beautiful stepdaughter and a wonderful life.”
Zippy has been there through it all. “She is the most amazing girl and I feel so lucky to have her in my life,” says Renae. “She is the most loving, generous, warm-hearted, kind person.
“She came to live with us for eight months or so when her mum was touring and while I was pregnant with Budd, so we really got to know each other and have a special relationship. And she’s super-talented. You should hear that voice on her. Like her mum, she’s destined for a life on the stage.”
A musical bent runs through the family. Rodger started out playing guitar in Melbourne rock bands and got his big break in 1998, when he blitzed an audition and scored the lead role in the Australian production of the Broadway musical, Rent.
Now the little ones are following in their parents’ footsteps. Budd and Cilla both take piano lessons and Cilla loves to dance. “As for Dusty, he’s a bit different,” says Rodger, laughing. “We reckon he’s going to be the tearaway.”
He and Renae met at a party, where they were match-made by their mutual
“We should go out more often, but with four kids, we don’t get the chance.”
agent. “I realised afterwards,” says Rodger, “that I’d actually seen Renae before, dancing in a show. I’d nudged one of the guys I went with and said, ‘Check out the second dancer there.’ He’d turned to me and said, ‘You’ve got no chance, mate.’ But it was her.”
“We were living in Melbourne at the time,” Renae recalls. “I was working on Saturday Night Fever and he was working on Last Man Standing. To be honest, my first impression was that he might be a nice distraction. I’d just come out of a long relationship and I thought this young actor might be fun for the moment. I didn’t see marriage and babies on the horizon, but it grew into all of that. Now, I can’t imagine it any other way.”
Rodger and Renae are coming up to their 10th wedding anniversary in October and, he says, “I can’t picture my life without her. Every couple has arguments, but they could never be so big that it would make me think it was better not to be here ... She can still turn my head as well. When we went to the Logies, Renae just looked smokin’ hot.”
They both dismiss the notion that Rodger is developing a reputation as a thinking woman’s sex symbol and he won’t own up to vanity, in spite of losing eight kilos for his nude scene in Glitch. “I think of sex symbols as much younger and having more abs and biceps,” he says, laughing. “If you play a romantic lead with multiple love interests, like Hugh Knight, you do get tarred with that brush, but the reality couldn’t be further from that.”
There’s a lot of laughter and flirting at The Weekly’s harbourside photo shoot, but Renae says she wouldn’t describe her spouse as an “everyday romantic”. “He can turn it on at the right time,” she says, “but once you have kids, it can be hard to find those moments.”
Does he have any traits in common with Dr Hugh? “There are parts of Hugh that are a little bit like me and I just amplify them – turn them up to 11,” Rodger says. “Mostly, they’re parts of my 25-year-old self, as opposed to my 40-something self. Hugh’s got a bit of Peter Pan Syndrome.”
Rodger says that his experience with the medical system during Renae’s illness hasn’t so much informed his approach to his on-screen character as it has his off-screen life.
“Like any industry, there are so many different people with different skills, knowledge and perspectives,” he says. “I do feel like that field [medicine] is more subjective than I once did. Both Renae and I respect all the [medical] opinions we hear, but we self-manage a little bit. We apply the information because you get differing points of view. We take more of an active role.
“It’s also led Renae to develop a strong interest in natural remedies and organic produce. If our kids get to a normal birthday party, you see them run for the lolly bowl because it’s foreign to them. I’m the one person in the family who doesn’t always stick to that. I wash my Paleo meal down with a glass of red wine.”
With seven years of sleepless nights almost behind her, Renae says she’s just starting to feel ready to get back to her career.
“I’ve certainly got itchy feet,” she admits. “I really do enjoy acting and I think that might be an easier thing to do as a mother. Musical theatre and touring and being away from home wouldn’t be easy, but to be honest, at this point in time, I’m feeling ready for anything. Just get me out of the house!”
Rodger’s also keen to mix things up. He has long been dabbling in screenwriting and reckons that “it’s about time I got off my butt and started creating things. There are some stories that I want to tell.
“There’s one historical Australian event that I don’t feel has ever been touched on in a dramatic way and there’ll be a political role in there that, by the time I get this thing up, I’ll probably be old enough to play.”
Another big change, Renae and Rodger insist, is that they’re planning more date nights. In fact, he says, “We just might call the babysitter and say this shoot has run over time.”
The sun is setting behind the Harbour Bridge as the photographer packs up and the crew trails out onto the street. Glancing behind us, we spot Rodger and Renae, hand-in-hand, sneaking into a rather romantic restaurant.
ABOVE: Rodger and Budd. LEFT: Rodger and his kids, Dustin, Cilla and Budd, exploring rock pools.