Roy Bi l l i ng, 70, actor
Are you as comfortable in that felt hat as you look? Absolutely. I wear hats a fair bit – I go to the races a lot and I always wear one. A panama in summer and a felt hat in winter. It’s a look you sport in two memorable TV roles, as Robert Trimbole ( Underbelly II) and Harry Strang (Jack Irish). What’s the trick to playing those shady characters in a way that makes them relatable? I enjoyed playing them and I’m a big racing fan – I love the whole ambience of the racecourse, which helps. Harry’s tailor-made for me as an actor, and Bob Trimbole was a well-known identity on the track – he was involved in all sorts of dodgy things. I just play them as I would myself. Harry is a “wealthy racing identity” straight out of Peter Temple’s four Jack Irish novels. Temple died in March – had he given you any feedback? He thought initially I was too tall to be a trainer and ex-jockey – he hadn’t seen me in real life. I’m about five foot seven. But I corresponded with him and he said he really liked what I did with the character. Tell me about Ruawai, where you were raised. It’s a country town whose name means “two waters”; population about 400 when I was there. It’s the kumera-growing capital of New Zealand. My father was a panel-beater in town. Arriving in Australia as an actor in the late ’80s, did you need to lose the accent to get work? Yes, I developed an Australian accent very quickly. Some people are surprised I’m from New Zealand. But sometimes, especially if I’ve been around Kiwis, the vowels slup out… You’ve been vocal about union protectionism in your industry. What other issues do you feel strongly about? Piracy and copyright. I went to a facility where police were destroying pirated DVDs and I was shocked – there were dump-bins full of them. It’s very, very upsetting to see the film you made being virtually given away for free by criminals. How’s the autobiography coming along? I keep kicking myself, thinking “I must finish that”. It’s called Why Don’t You Get a Proper Job? Which is what my father always used to say to me – he could never handle me being an “artist”. But once I was on TV in New Zealand he saw it was the real deal. Is there enough TV drama being made in Australia? We always want more, but the ABC is still commissioning drama and there’s a lot more happening with Netflix and Foxtel and all these other channels starting to make their own drama. How are the retirement plans going? I’ve done three TV series this year ( Jack Irish, Rake and Sisters) and I do a lot of voiceover work. There’s no sign of it stopping, which is great. Because I’ve been doing it for 40 years and I’ve got a good track record, I can afford to work part time. I’m very lucky. How did Robert Trimbole get you a gig at the Australian Turf Club? My wife Linda and I were invited to a lunch at Randwick and the then CEO Darren Pearce said, “Would you like to be an ambassador for the club?” This is when Underbelly was airing. I said, “What, for playing a drug-dealing murderer who used to fix horse races?” He said, “Yeah!” It’s mutually beneficial: I go to the races and pictures of me end up on social media [laughs]… I’m a real Colourful Racing Identity.
sometimes, if i’ve been around kiwis, the vowels slup out
Jack Irish Series 2 starts on Sunday, July 8, 8.30pm on ABC and ABC iview.