Q&A

Roy Bi l l i ng, 70, ac­tor

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - FRONT - By Cathy Os­mond Pho­tog­ra­phy Nick Cub­bin

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.

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