Dis­cussing so­cial me­dia, ABC bud­get cuts and more with one of Aus­tralia’s finest, Richard Roxburgh.



There are cer­tain con­stants in the Aus­tralian me­dia land­scape. In­ter­minable days of test cricket; neigh­bour­hood dis­putes mas­querad­ing as cur­rent af­fairs; re­al­ity TV con­tes­tants end­lessly dis­cussing ‘plat­ing up’ dishes. Some are slid­ing into ir­rel­e­vancy, while oth­ers ac­quire a bur­nished patina of unas­sail­able re­li­a­bil­ity. No prizes for guess­ing which camp Richard Roxburgh falls into. Whether im­part­ing his own stamp on fig­ures we al­ready know well (Bob Hawke, Roger Roger­son, to men­tion just two) or those which we’d merely like to meet ( Rake’s pro­tag­o­nist Cleaver Greene), Roxburgh con­jures a sense of de­bauched di­shev­elled de­bonair. All shot through with a mis­chievous eru­di­tion sorely miss­ing from a gen­er­a­tion of bud­ding pub­lic fig­ures who re­quire Teleprompters and In­sta­gram man­agers to sup­ply them with per­son­al­ity. Bet­ter still, he’s not one for try­ing to shill you a cof­fee ma­chine or a vi­ta­min shake. All Roxburgh is sell­ing is the qual­ity of his work. On the eve of sea­son five of Rake, the 56-year-old sat down with GQ to talk stage, screen, so­cial me­dia – and who the hell his most fa­mous char­ac­ter is ac­tu­ally based on.

GQ: As time goes by, are you find­ing Cleaver Greene is an eas­ier cloak to slip on or are there still chal­lenges for you? Richard Roxburgh:

Slip­ping into Cleaver has be­come re­ally sec­ond na­ture over time and it’s kind of be­come in­cred­i­bly fa­mil­iar. But the process it­self, and the work that goes into the cre­ation of the ex­pe­ri­ence, in some ways has got­ten more de­mand­ing, as time’s gone on. I guess be­cause we keep re­con­fig­ur­ing where the bar lies so we’re con­stantly try­ing to work on it more, to not rest on our lau­rels.

GQ: A part of Rake’s longevity has been the sup­port it’s re­ceived from the ABC. As an Aus­tralian in­sti­tu­tion it feels in­creas­ingly un­der threat. RR:

The ABC plays an ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­por­tant part in our cul­tural land­scape. The ABC is all about, ob­vi­ously, cre­at­ing Aus­tralian work, so it’s where we see re­flected our own voices and the won­der of who we are – that’s all on the ABC. It’s ter­ri­bly dis­heart­en­ing to see the con­stant cut­backs that are be­ing in­flicted, and it will show over time. There will cease to be the dra­mas that we love and the par­al­lels with BBC dra­mas will grad­u­ally wither on the vine un­less we’re in­cred­i­bly care­ful. Once that in­fra­struc­ture is gone, once you have kneecapped the ABC, it will not be able to move, there will be nowhere to go. That would be a cry­ing shame.

GQ: Do you see the likes of Net­flix and Stan mov­ing to fill that space? RR:

There’s no ques­tion that stream­ing com­pa­nies are do­ing great work, but at the mo­ment they are un­der ab­so­lutely no com­punc­tion to put any­thing back into cre­ation of lo­cal work. And un­less things change, there’s a prob­lem here.

GQ: Do think the in­her­ent Aus­tralian-ness of Rake and par­tic­u­larly its pro­tag­o­nist Cleaver Greene is part of its suc­cess? RR:

There’s so much about Cleaver that is, I sup­pose, some of the stuff we love about Aus­tralia. He’s ir­rev­er­ent, he doesn’t give a damn, he’s kind of icon­o­clas­tic. There was an at­tempt to do an Amer­i­can ver­sion, but that floun­dered, I guess in part, be­cause of the fact that, quintessen­tially, it is Aus­tralian.

GQ: That, and the fact squeaky-clean Greg Kin­n­ear was the lead in the US ver­sion. Over time, Rake has moved from be­ing as much about the lead char­ac­ter as it is re­flect­ing on de­bates rag­ing in Aus­tralia. RR:

We’ve al­ways tried to keep abreast of what’s go­ing on. We’ve been quite for­tu­nate in that way. In the last sea­son, Cleaver was run­ning for Se­nate and won – and what was fan­tas­tic is that the night that episode was broad­cast was the night of the na­tional elec­tion. Peo­ple were up­load­ing shots of their vot­ing papers on In­sta­gram with an ex­tra box for Cleaver Greene writ­ten on the of­fi­cial form.

GQ: Let’s get this set­tled, once and for all: is Greene based on in­fa­mous Syd­ney bar­ris­ter Charles Water­street? He tried to sue the pro­duc­tion over it. RR:

That came to noth­ing be­cause there was noth­ing there to be­gin with. The char­ac­ter is not based on any­one. Cleaver’s life bears no re­sem­blance to that of Charles Water­street apart from the fact that he’s a crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter.

GQ: Do you think the case turned into good pub­lic­ity for the show, any­way? RR:

I think it turned into pub­lic­ity for Charles – and Charles likes his pub­lic­ity. GQ: You have a zero pres­ence on so­cial me­dia. Why is that? RR: I just don’t like the bas­tard. I don’t trust where it’s tak­ing us. There is great value in some ways – for in­stance, I sus­pect that the Coles and Wool­worths ban on plas­tics may not have hap­pened prior to so­cial me­dia. But I don’t want my kids be­ing the ex­per­i­men­tal gen­er­a­tion, where we see just see what hap­pens.

GQ: You’re rais­ing two boys in the post-metoo era. That must bring its own chal­lenges?

RR: It’s im­por­tant to talk to them. I feel like my boys know that if they have any ques­tions about any­thing, I would be the first per­son they could come to. Hon­estly, re­spect is en­gen­dered in the home, and so if you see your par­ents in a re­spect­ful, lov­ing re­la­tion­ship, the most im­por­tant les­son you can ever teach them is the way that you treat one an­other. Be­yond that, it’s con­ver­sa­tions, and ob­vi­ously as they enter their teenage years, those con­ver­sa­tions are more tricky, be­cause there’s more at stake now than there used to be. There’s more at stake be­cause of porn, be­cause of the on­line en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause of so­cial me­dia and bul­ly­ing. The world’s changed, but not the fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics I was in­cul­cated with, about how you treat women. I think that those things haven’t re­ally changed.

GQ: There’s also been a spate of ret­ro­spec­tive out­rage, re­cently. RR:

I’m look­ing for­ward to the flurry and the heat to go out of this stuff. It’s un­for­tu­nate to go back over peo­ple’s his­tory and to judge them. Un­less it’s We­in­stein or you’re ob­vi­ously a mon­ster who’s done ap­palling and il­le­gal things.

GQ: Switch­ing from the re­moval of tech to the im­me­di­acy of theatre, live per­for­mance has been a con­sis­tent part of your re­sumé. What’s the al­lure for you? RR:

It’s great con­di­tion­ing as an ac­tor. It forces you to con­stantly have to do the hard yards of rein­ven­tion, of go­ing back to the sim­ple mat­ter of find­ing truth. It’s an act of re­fine­ment. There’s a kind of Zen in theatre and if I don’t do it for long pe­ri­ods, I miss it in the same way as one might miss go­ing to the gym. It’s my first love. I love the live ex­pe­ri­ence. I love the laugh­ter. I love the si­lence. There’s noth­ing more pro­found than the feel­ing of when a show is ab­so­lutely hit­ting a mo­ment of, for want of a bet­ter word, a kind of per­fect truth.

GQ: In the past, you’ve de­scribed your­self as ‘a col­lec­tor of man­ner­isms’ where you would view peo­ple on a bus or a train or what­ever, and those things would bub­ble to the sur­face again in a later per­for­mance. Is the col­lec­tion full or is it an on­go­ing thing? RR:

I don’t think it is full. I’m con­stantly riv­eted by hu­mans, by what we do, by the way we are, and maybe when the col­lec­tion is full, that might be a sign that it’s time to hang up the tights.

GQ: You’re 56 now and have clearly lived through sev­eral it­er­a­tions of Aus­tralian mas­culin­ity. Where is it that Aussie men need to lift our col­lec­tive game in 2018? RR:

We’ve come a long way in a very short time, and I think that’s why ev­ery­body’s heads are still spin­ning. I feel that it’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant that we learn what’s ex­pected of us, that women won’t put up with stuff that they used to have to and those days are gone.

GQ: And what about men’s in­ter­est in fash­ion - what’s the def­i­ni­tion of style for Richard Roxburgh? RR:

Style is know­ing who you are, as op­posed to the way ev­ery­body thinks you or a man of your age should look. It’s what­ever you carve out over time and what you think is the most sim­ple, ren­dered-down out­ward def­i­ni­tion of your in­ward self.

GQ: What does con­tent­ment mean to you right now? And do you have mo­ments where you think you’ve made it? RR:

I never, for a mo­ment, feel that I’ve made it. I do have mo­ments of great con­tent­ment and that’s im­por­tant be­cause, other­wise, what are we do­ing all of this for? And they’re kind of weird, blessed mo­ments, and some­times for me it’s when I’m in the hurly burly with my peo­ple or my fam­ily that they oc­cur. Some­times it’s also when I’m away and I can look at them as what I’m miss­ing, and love it so much and feel to be in a blessed state. But that’s noth­ing to do, re­ally, with feel­ing like I’ve made it. And that’s prob­a­bly bet­ter be­cause that’d be an­other sign for me to say, ‘OK, time to re­tire’.

GQ: Look­ing back, what ad­vice would you give your younger self – the youngest of six in a fam­ily from Al­bury with dreams of an ac­tor’s life? RR:

I guess I would say: it’s OK. Bet on your­self, back your­self and trust the ta­lent will al­low it. If you have a mod­icum of ta­lent, keep work­ing on it and trust­ing it, then even­tu­ally it will be seen. Also, spend less time fret­ting. I spent so much time wor­ry­ing about the minu­tiae as a younger man, and there were a great deal of per­fectly pro­duc­tive hours that went into the enor­mous dust­bin of worry. Sea­son five of Rake is air­ing now on ABC

“women won’t put up with stuff they used to have to... those days are gone.”

Cleaver Greene fac­ing the press in a scene from sea­son five of Rake.

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