“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
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.