Author Talk with Richard Roxburgh
Talks / Lecture
Join ABC 666's Alex Sloan in conversation with award winning actor and, most recently, children's picture book author Richard Roxburgh.
Transcript of ‘Author Talk with Richard Roxburgh
Speakers: Kathryn Favelle(KF), Alex Sloan (AS), Richard Roxburgh (RR)
Location: National Library of Australia
KF: Good evening. Welcome to the National Library this evening. I can see some lovely familiar faces and lots of new friends as well. My name’s Katherine Favell and I’m the Director of the Library’s Community Outreach Program and it’s my pleasure to welcome you all here to the Library tonight. As we begin of course I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners and the first storytellers of the land on which the Library’s built, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we’re now privileged to call home.
I’m delighted but perhaps not at all surprised that so many of you have come out this evening to hear from one of Australia's best loved and most versatile actors, Richard Roxburgh. Richard of course is a household name for his work in films like Moulin Rouge, Van Helsing and Mission Impossible 2 and in fact I read today that he shares something in common with Oscar ... not Oscar Wilde. Who was the ... come on, you can answer this question for me ... who was the director of Orson Welles? Orson Welles. Bizarre fact, they are the only two actors in the world who have played Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty and Dracula. Who knew?
Richard of course has been telling us stories for years on stage as a director, as a producer and now he’s channelling his creativity in a new direction, telling us stories on the page. Having always drawn and written stories to entertain himself he’s published his first book for children, Artie and the Grime Wave, and I know you’ll be buying it tonight, not just for the children in your lives but for yourselves once you’ve heard him read from it. Joining him this evening is one of our much loved Canberrans, Triple 6 ABC radio presenter, Alex Sloan ... Alex Sloan. Please make welcome Richard and Alex for a wonderful evening.
AS: It’s wonderful to see. The National Library staff is slightly in shock, they said we’ve never quite seen so many cameras turn up half an hour early for an event. Richard Roxburgh, welcome.
RR: Thank you.
AS: It’s ... it is truly lovely to have you back in town ‘cause we count you as one of us and I know you’ve had a lunch at the ANU. What’s it like being back?
RR: Oh look, I absolutely love it, I have such a strong sentimental attachment to the place. I was telling a story today about ... ‘cause somebody asked why did you come to ANU? You know ‘cause all my brothers went off to Sydney University and I said ... I actually remembered that it was because we came here on a school excursion when I think I was in Year 10 and Janice Rollston let me put my arm around here. And so I have this kind of serotonin-filled completely ... and I think of it as a really sexy place and so I love my Canberra.
AS: You actually got ... we were talking a little bit off air and you got quite emotional of things about Electric Shadows bookshop which is no more ...
RR: Yeah, yeah.
AS: ... kind of landmarks. What have you noticed apart from the serotonin kick-in but ...
RR: What have I noticed about the changes?
AS: Well I suppose what are some other than the emotions of feelings of love ...
RR: Oh look, I mean well what I did love were the things that hadn’t changed obviously because that’s what ... how you want your memory place when you go back to it but of course things do change, the ... what’s great about Canberra is that the changes that have happened seem to be making Canberra a better, more liveable so more you know more impressive which is a plus ‘cause you don’t want it to go the other way. But yeah, I mean you know it’s Electric Shadows and all of these kind of ... all of these things that were so ... such important instruments in you know filling my head with ideas along the years.
AS: So many people have memories of you and love to tell stories about you, I hope you that this is Canberra dinner party ...
RR: Ah really?
AS: They ’re all good. They’re all fun, they’re all loveable.
RR: Are sure they’re all good?
AS: Well they’re loveable, let’s say that. This is a beautiful and very funny book and full of love, actually, but this ... you started out because you ran out of stories in a way to read to your two sons?
RR: Well I probably didn’t run out of stories but I just ... I was just kind of full of love of stories from reading bedtime stories to my nine-year-old and my six-year-old and there’s this moment when there’s a crossover ... in particular the sense of humour of an adult and that of a growing child so that you as the parent are almost as excited to get back to bedtime the next night so that you can see what happens in the next chapter. And I was getting to this point where I was laughing as much as my boys were and I just dearly loved that thing and I guess I thought look, I ... I mean I ... you know I ... yeah, I wanted to write something just for the love of the fun of it and the adventure of it.
AS: You’ve gone then to your own rich childhood as a ... partly a source for this?
RR: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of ... there’s a lot of Albury-Wodonga in there. It’s an unnamed town with a river flowing through it and ... but there’s also you know there’s also ... and this was fabulous to know because one of the guys who was at the lunch today came up and introduced himself and said that he had been taught by the character in my book here because one of the main characters in my book, one of the most colourful characters is Auntie Boy who I think I’d describe as looking like somebody’s balloon collection so she’s this kind of incredibly ... and she was ... but she was a very eccentric, very eccentric individual who lived one block from my high school and she used to kind of bail up all of my adolescent friends and clap her dentures out at them and speak in rhymes and do little jigs and ... so there ’s ... I feel ... I thought that was too good to not put in there as well so she’s well and truly in there.
AS: How did you friend or the person you knew from school remember here to know ...
RR: Well he was taught ... he was taught piano by her so he remembered vividly ... I forgot to ask him about the fossilised lollies because Auntie used to ... Auntie Boy used to favour the dry wash which was ... which essentially just involved talcum powder at nights for quite a few decades and so her house had a sort of really liberal coating of powder about that deep in the corners and so you’d sort of waft through the house and clouds of talc would come up and ... but ... so ... and she would always offer lollies and I forgot to ask my friend today whether he was ever offered lollies but they were kind of foss ... they tended to be sort of fossilised things that ... because you know she would gather a lot over the decades and they would be coated also in baby powder so she was quite a figure in my life.
AS: Was she called Auntie Boy?
RR: We called her Auntie Boy, yeah, I don’t know why and that’s you know that’s there as well and she was an enigma, there was a lot that was unexplained about here, whether ... there was a theory that she’d had a fiancé who was a German guy who went off to fight for Hitler, thought that was a good idea so ... so there was some you know possibly some hint of tragedy in that life as well which you know you want to hint at.
AS: When you were writing the story did you kind of settle on her as one of the great heroes of the piece? Is that ... tell us how you got there?
RR: Yeah well I think I had to make her ... I mean you have to make her a hero and an unexpected one so there is a sort of ... there’s twists with Auntie Boy who pops up throughout, yeah, in a way that she used to pop up.
AS: Richard’s probably terrified I’m going to give away the ending of the story, I am not going to give away the ending of the story, you need to read the book. But we were talking today about this too, it is a story about two boys, Artie and Bumshoe, they’re both 12 and they’re on big adventures, they're out there on their own and this is part of the reason too you wanted to write this. Tell us about that.
RR: Yeah look, I mean I ... when I was the age that my boys are at now I was ... I loved adventure stories, I loved the idea of adventure and you know we lived on ... near the Murray River which at full spate was a beast of a thing and so it was a fantastic place for adventure and although I was on the Hume Highway it was in close proximity to nature at all times so you could just jump on your bike and you were there and it was beautiful in that sense and so we were always having adventure. And it didn’t have to be anything kind of as extreme as you know what happens in the book but it was important and it laid a lot of the scaffolding I guess of ... in place for the person that I became and a sense of adventure that I’ve always had, I suppose including the idea of oh well you know I’ll write a book, a kids’ book, why not? So I suppose I wanted to prosecute the case for adventure in kids’ lives.
AS: Because thinking about you’re ... I mean you’re between the Hume Highway and a river so between squashed by a truck and ...
AS: ... being swallowed up by a river, these are not safe places for kids but you were one of six and out you want.
RR: Yeah. Yes, the youngest of six and I did tell the story that you know there’s so much documentation, there’s so much kind of photographs of my older brothers and sisters, thousands of them and no visual documentation of my having existed before I think a graduation shot of me at school. So it was a bit of a free-for-all at my end of the family, it was a bit like oh you know so ... yeah so it was a very you know and the stories that I loved were the kind of Huck Finns and the ... all that stuff.
AS: Right on a river there.
RR: Exactly, the Mississippi in Albury-Wodonga so I ...
AS: There’s a paddle steamer.
RR: Yeah, there is, there is. Think that’s a Chinese restaurant or something, isn’t it? Yeah ... but yes so I wanted to ... because the ... look, there’s a strong sense now and there’s so much fear, everything’s fear, it’s all fear, it’s all ... and I think it’s crazy, I think it’s mad and it’s so encroaching and it’s all encompassing and it’s everywhere and it’s ... this is going to happen and if that doesn’t happen then this will happen and it’s a strange environment to live in and social media and everything else is feeding it so incessantly all the time and stoking it and I ... so I guess I kind of wanted to sell a thing to kids of you know no screens so outside, get outside and have some adventures instead. Because you know I think that you know I think that the whole fear thing, the fear that ... the fears that we’re encouraged to live under is unhelpful in this life.
AS: So are you applying this to your own boys?
RR: Well yeah, I try to. I mean look, it’s not easy and we talked a bit about this today, it’s really quite hard and it is you know it’s naturally scary, it’s always been scary I’m sure for your parents but I do try to. I mean I am a kind of ... we’re terrible parents, so kind of strict about the screen thing so our kids get one half an hour a week and strict, strict, really strict. And I’ll tell you why, ‘cause we went to ... we went on a holiday, a family ho ... we hadn’t had a holiday for ages, went on a family holiday to Fiji and we landed there and we were you know there’s nothing to do at this place, just sort of coconut trees and water and my boy was kind of quick, okay, where’s ... can I have the iPad? Where’s the iP ... you got the iPad? You’ve got your phone ... you’ve got your phone? And I was like well mate, no, we’re ... that’s ... none of that’s happening here, we’re ... this is ... this is about this and he was like no, no, no, come on, come on, come on.
And then we found he was kind of nicking our phones and pretending to read a book and had the phone in there and was like this and you know I’d grab the book and he was sprung and then I started looking at these ... ‘cause he didn’t have unfettered access but he was kind of able to download free games or whatever and I hated ... I looked at all these games and I just thought you know what? I think it’s a whole lot of bullshit, I really think it is a terrible lot of malarkey and I’m going to offend heaps of people, I’m sure, but even the kind of so-called creative games like Minecraft, I think it’s still finally ... it’s still this and although there is wonderful things within that, I think it encourages impatience and a lack of a sense of being where you are in the moment and so I’m trying to instil that so that was a very longwinded way of saying yes, I do ... we do enforce it.
AS: I actually went to a school night where they talked about kids’ screen time and I looked around the hall and every parent was on their ...
RR: Mm, yeah.
AS: ... their phone and I thought ...
RR: Well that’s hard too ‘cause I do ... I mean I ... ‘course you do. I’ve got emails and stuff too but it’s almost like ... I reckon there’ll come a time when it’s like oh you know oh please you know can you go and do that in the privacy of your own room? So it’ll be like going to the toilet, pulling out your phone in front of somebody because it ... I think we haven’t yet established the social niceties and norms of this stuff and I ... look, my essential thing is I don’t feel like we’re on top of what all of that media is doing to our kids’ brains and so I'm not comfortable as a parent saying that’s fine, use my kids as a Petri dish for your experimentation and we’ll just float the boat and see what happens in terms of mental health down the track.
AS: Are you going to stand out as a parent ...
AS: ... amongst your kids’ ...
RR: Yeah so ...
AS: You’ll be the weird Roxburghs.
RR: The weird old Roxburgh family.
AS: That Auntie Boy.
RR: Yeah, that’s right. I’ll be clapping my dentures out at all their screens, yeah.
AS: Good on you.
RR: Oh yeah, offering them fossilised lollies. I don’t care, I mean you know of course the half hour blows out every week into an hour, we’re not kind of you know like that but ... but I think it’s a structure.
AS: Tell us about Artie, we can see him there in the yellow, little Artie. He’s up against it, isn't he? His dad’s dead, his mum’s in a really bad way and his sister’s angry.
RR: Yes. But it’s comedy essentially. Look, I thought you know I thought it was really important that my boy have a difficult life because ... frankly because I you know I see kids who do have difficult lives and I wanted to I guess write something for them in a way as well and say you know that there is a ... there’s terrible adversity in life and that by finding your way through terrible adventures, by pushing yourself and pushing yourself to find unexpected strength within yourself is a good thing and that’s how you vanquish your you know your fears and that’s how you get yourself to a better place. So I wanted to kind of tell that story.
AS: You’ve also included a bit of mushy love stuff in here with the next-door neighbours, the unpronounceable enkos. There’s a lovely story line there. How did your boys respond to that ‘cause you’ve read the story to them along the way as a ... as test cases? How did they go with the mushy love stuff?
RR: Ah oh look, my oldest boy who’s kind of ... he’s nine ... they quite like it because I think it’s where they’re at where you know girls are kind of ... they know they like that but they don’t know how or what you’re supposed to you know but it’s you know so they’re there, they’re right there with that, yeah.
AS: And the unpronounceable enkos, in fact you can do the pronunciation of this lovely next door family.
RR: Oh Zatza Klenarniassetmestrenkos, yeah. Although we had ... there was this Russian woman who ... any Russians here tonight? Or Ukrainians? Are you? Oh no ... well forgive me. Please. But yeah so there was a Russian woman who’d lined up in line in Perth who seemed to just be there and she plonked her book down rather angrily to be signed and said Borsch is not purple and Zatza Klenarniassetmestrenko is not a Ukrainian name. It’s like oh okay, yeah so I still ... I mean I looked it up in a Ukrainian phone book but I obviously ... I don’t know, maybe I ... yes, I got it wrong somehow so forgive me, won’t you? But I did think borsch was kind of purple, it’s made out of beetroots.
AS: Reddish purple.
RR: She really didn’t like the purple but anyway.
AS: Next edition.
RR: Yeah. Purply red.
AS: But I was saying today it’s kind of a nice picture of multicultural Australia, the inclusion ... those characters. Tell us ... and that’s important to you.
RR: Well I just think it’s mad not to have you know a bit of that sort of colour and movement because that’s the ... that’s where we are. I mean ... and it’s also you know when I was growing up there ... my primary school ... I don’t know why but there was a whole stack of Yugoslav, the former Yugoslavian kids who arrived at a certain point and I was obsessed with their culture. I’ve always loved and been very attracted to otherness, to ... and I was especially attracted to eastern European culture and so I was kind of speaking passable Ukrainian swearing and counting and so on with my friends at primary school and loved what they had in their lunchboxes you know whipping out a sort of sausage and a shepherd’s knife and you know it was just great. So I always just was really attracted to that ... the exotic you know thing of it so it’s got a little place in there as well.
AS: And for your boys too was that important? You know they’ve got multicultural family for instance so ...
RR: Yeah and look, there’s also ... in the heart of the unpronounceable enkos there’s also a little bit of a love note to my wife’s Italian family, to the kind of mad, chaotic, noisy thing going on in that Italian house at Christmas times so yeah, there’s quite a note of that in there.
AS: And the ... I mean they get into a real spray and probably if people are looking, I'm just wondering if Mayor Grime is the closest that comes to Roger Rogerson. I don't know if Roger’s ever been accused of cannibalism but ... like it’s a ... I just was you know taking a stab and ...
RR: Mm. Well I don’t know about that but I think working on creating ... ‘cause I really wanted a very colourful array of bad dudes in the story and so working then up from the ground I had so much fun with that, their physicality and the way that they spoke and so on and there was a part of that work that was very similar to acting work because you ... you know you’re dealing with all the same stuff like how does he speak? How would he say that? What would he say? So all those choices about sort of the weight of the character and the voice and so on was very informed I think perhaps by acting work. And definitely the dialogue too, just the you know ...
AS: Was this a good place to get you to read a little?
RR: Sure, sure.
AS: Right on cue. That’s a bit I’ve chosen but I’d love you to choose some other pieces too.
RR: Okay. Do you want me to read that piece first or this piece here?
AS: Do whatever you like. You wrote the book.
RR: Okay. This is a chapter called The Statue so Artie, my boys have been captured by the very bad gang of guys and there’s two in particular called Funnel-web and Mary. Mary is called Mary ... Mary is that guy there who was gigantic and bald and terrifying with tattoos all over his face but his tattoos say eat, drink and be Mary for Tamara, we die so he has two girls’ names on his face.
AS: And how does his motorbike sound? ‘Cause that’s quite big in ...
RR: But, but, but, but, yeah. So it’s a Harley, I was modelling it on a Harley. You know how they have that?
AS: Yeah, yeah, I just ... I needed you to vocalise it for me.
RR: The Statue. The terrified boys were dragged by Mary and Funnel-web back down the long hallway towards the grand entrance foyer. Up ahead they could hear the noises of all the animals in cages. The boys were still tied back to back and had to shuffle in an awkward, crablike way. Artie gazed miserably up at the passing parade of Grime family ancestors with their hard little eyes. He longed to be able to see his friend’s face. Bumshoe will have an idea any second, he thought, Bumshoe always has an idea. Artie listened in growing distress as the two robbers planned the boys’ grisly fate. Right, we’ll clean and gut them out the back of the kitchen where we do the bigger pets, said Mary. Then I’ll do the butchering ‘cause you’re not much chop with that, pardon the pun. He chuckled. Yeah, alright, alright, replied Funnel-web who sounded slightly wounded. Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude, explained Mary, I just think you're much better with the smaller pets. I mean you did a terrific job with those hamsters, for instance. You think so? Replied Funnel-web. Absolutely first rate, my friend, said Mary. Nah, I’m thinking I might do a nice French-trimmed rib roast. Oh lovely, lovely, said Funnel-web, just lovely. And I know the boss suggested rosemary or thyme but I’m really thinking sage will be the go. Oh, bit risky, don’t you think? Funnel-web said with a fretful note. Trust me, once you taste it, you’ll love it. It was the same with kittens in oregano.
RR: Thank you.
AS: And my question to Richard when he read that this afternoon, I said oh your boys, they just you know they must think themselves so lucky that you have a dad that reads you bedtime stories like that but you said no ...
RR: Well no, I think they take the whole thing completely for granted, it’s like oh [yawns].
AS: You’re going to read a little bit more. I was going to ask you to read Mrs Grimes but you’ve just done the audio book for this and you say ...
RR: Oh Mrs Grime is a real sort of ... she’s a ... yeah, she’s a festival to the tonsils doing her voice. So yeah, I don’t know about that.
AS: But we’ll go perhaps to your art appreciation ...
RR: Oh yes.
AS: ... lesson which ...
RR: Oh do you want to do that now?
AS: Well ...
RR: Okay. So this is shortly after. The boys were dragged through the ghastly sculptures and pianos that ring ... and paintings that ring the foyer, the two robbers came to an abrupt halt. What the blue blazes is that? Cried Mary. Artie craned his head to see what they were looking at but the men blocked his view. When did this thing arrive? The tattooed man asked. No idea, said Funnel-web. Well the boss must have organised it or more likely Mrs Grime, whispered Mary. Yes, it’s definitely more Mrs Grime’s aesthetic. There was a moment of silence. It’s a terribly ugly work, he continued thoughtfully. I mean it has none of the neoclassical charm that it so stridently aims for. I’m afraid I don’t agree, said Funnel-web. It’s perhaps a tad confused but the artist’s sense of line, the composition of the forms are very powerful, don’t you find? One can’t remain unmoved by it. Not in the least, argued Mary with a headshake. It has pretensions far beyond its limitations on one hand and beckons the classical on the other, it’s striving for the post-modern and failing at all quarters. Well, said Funnel-web tersely, to be fair, when it comes to art, I’ve probably got a bit more of a clue. What’s that supposed to mean? Snapped Mary. I was the one who studied art. Just because you studied it doesn’t mean you understand it, growled the big man. I had a very promising career as an artist, I’ll have you know, said Funnel-web. Until your promising career as a house burglar got in the way, said Mary.
AS: I don’t know how you follow up from that but look, I don’t want to give away the ending but it rollicks on, you have a sort of range of characters and it has a big heart, doesn't it? Because I suppose Artie’s family, there’s kind of a ... were you looking for kind of messages or you just wanted the story to unfold?
RR: I guess I just wanted the story to unfold. I mean I you know it’s a story of triumph over adversity but it’s also a story of family and so there’s a sense of ... at the beginning that there’s something really broken, something wrong and you know I mean this happens to many families and in fact it you know it happened while I was writing it to you know some families in my boys’ school and you just think oh my god you know it’s terrible what some kids have to go through in this life so yeah so I wanted you know I wanted him to prevail and I wanted things to you know to go right.
AS: If we can talk about ... I mean ‘cause you’ve illustrated this too and I had people texting in today to kind of say how jealous they were of a kind of you know all these talents.
RR: Well I mean have they seen the illustrations? They’re ...
AS: They’re terrific.
RR: I mean ...
AS: They’re terrific.
RR: The illustrations ...
AS: And apparently my copy doesn’t even have the ...
RR: No, yours haven’t got and the greyscale doesn't really work in yours either. You’ve got a proof copy. But look, the illustrations are you know they’re doodles, they’re not high art and they have ... they’ve always been like that, that’s ... I’ve always done those ... just those little doodly things.
AS: There’s Auntie Boy, I mean ...
RR: Yeah, yes. Very much ... yes, it’s a very characteristic pose.
AS: So you have your ... have you al ... did you draw all the way through school?
RR: Yeah, yes. So there ... yeah, there was a lot of that. I mean I was a really bored and terrible student at school because you know my school was very ... it was a terrific school, very ... for a country school at the time, it was a fantastic school, Albury High but very sort of science and maths-orientated and you know all my family had been ... had excelled in that and I was just obviously rubbish at it and so all ... none of the teachers could understand because they had a sort of paradigm to go with that I was just clearly ... sat right outside it and I wasn't you know so consequently I wasn’t much good in anything at school so ... yeah so it was very difficult to know what to do with me and I think I was a pest to all my teachers so ... and I feel like I have so many apologies to give to them along the way ‘cause I know how hard it is teaching. But yes, drawing was a thing.
AS: So were you a real black sheep in the family in terms of not loving school, in terms of not being a good student, not ...
RR: Oh look I don’t know if I was a black sheep, I mean I was probably ... yeah, I mean I think I was probably a black sheep in Albury-Wodonga if not sort of outlying areas, I think I just ... I was some sort of a sheep and it was very hard for anybody to figure out what to do with me and I think it was hard for me to figure out what to do with myself as well. So ...
AS: You had a launch in Albury and the school band played, is that right?
RR: No, it wasn’t in Albury, it was up where we lived but yeah but my boys’ band played at my launch which was ...
AS: But you talked about being you know really relating to the outsider, do you think in a way if you ... you know you made that joke about no photos of you as a child and all that sort of thing that you know always the f ... last child says but was there kind of ... is that part of perhaps this story, Artie’s story ...
RR: Yeah. I mean absolutely, I think you ... the great thing about any adversity you do have in your life, and I think all of us have, I mean all of us do have it in varying degrees, but all of that stuff, any bullying stuff, any adversity, any shit and rubbish that happens in life can be steered in some way to you know to ... so they become your steps, so they become the things that you tread on to get you up elsewhere.
AS: And enrolling in economics at ANU ... your dad was an accountant ... was that kind of ..
RR: No ...
AS: An attempt at belonging or ..?
RR: ... it was ... look, no, it wasn’t, it was just because I just had no idea what ... I mean and I just ... I suppose I thought I wanted to do something sensible you know like my brothers had done sensible things and so I wanted to do something sensible and not kind of disgrace the team completely so ... and I hadn’t done economics at school so I ... so you know I didn’t know that I ... that I ... that I didn’t know for a fact that I hated that until I got here and did three years of it.
AS: And you’ve been very loving about Canberra. You applied for NIDA and you got it on the second go.
AS: When did you know acting? When did that kick in? At school?
RR: Oh yeah, look, I did a ... what was probably a hilarious production of Death of a Salesman at high school and it ... but it was ... it was ... had an extraordinary impact on me because I went there for that role when I was ... so I was playing Willie Loman who ... yeah, you know and I don’t know if you know the story but it’s the most beautiful play, it’s my ... still my favourite play in the world and it’s about the kind of death, it’s the sad ... it’s the terrible sadness and perpetuating sadness of the American dream and the American you know the big sale. And I just loved it so I was obsessed with it and obsessed with getting under the skin of this incredibly complex man and I just devoted myself to it, I studied it and studied it and studied it all summer and I wanted so much to get it right in some way. And as funny as it may have been there was just a ... I remember there was a moment when I was doing the thing in the Albury Civic Theatre and my mate, Nick Megalarkis, was playing Happ ... Happy ... Happy or Biff ... no, he was Biff, actually and I was hurling a chair at him and cursing him and I was ... I was ... I went there, I felt like I ...
AS: You knew it.
RR: I was Willy and it was ... as bizarre as it sounds I inhabited and something happened.
AS: So that was the moment.
RR: That was the moment and I thought wow, something happened.
AS: Then why not take that determined path? Why go via economics?
RR: Because I guess there was no ... ‘cause there was just no model for it, Alex, I suppose I just thought I can’t ... and you know I talked ... I can remember talking to Mum about it and so the plan was you do something so that you’ve got ... yeah, that famous thing, exactly, you’ve got something to fall back on.
AS: Because your mum was really crea ... is really creative.
RR: Yeah, Mum was an incredibly creative ... probably very frustrating ... very frustrated, very creative person so I was surrounded by you know well her creativity growing up across a huge cross-section of things, really weird lunches with homemade sort of dark rye breads and weird spreads and things that ... and wearing jumpers with you know that she’d sort of spun the wool and we’d dyed it with different varieties of gum leaves and you know amazing, I mean amazing.
AS: Was Auntie Boy that side of the family or the ...
RR: No, no, she was ...
AS: The other side.
RR: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: So once you were determined on the path and you had ... it was the second round, wasn’t it, that you got into NIDA?
RR: Yes, yeah.
AS: But you were absolutely ... that was it? Nothing was going to stop you?
RR: After I ... I mean I ... I got a recall ... ‘cause I was here I think in my final year and I was doing theatre here and it was ... I was loving it and doing a lot of it and I sort of you know and doing productions of weird plays like Marat Sade and casting all my crazy friends in it, it was sort of variously not turning up and you know this one’s drunk and that one’s ...
AS: Any here tonight or ..?
RR: So ... but yeah, I didn’t ... so I didn’t get in the first time but I was determined after the first audition so he ... I got recalled and my ... the voice teacher who was there on that day came up to me afterwards and said look, they’ve decided to recall you. I don’t think they should have. It certainly was not the best Hamlet I’ve ever seen but it was the loudest. And so I was oh, alright. So that didn’t instil me with a huge amount of confidence for my recall but it did ... but just the feeling of it and the feeling that I’d got within a whisker’s breadth of it fed my urge.
AS: What would you say to the young Richard today who’s ...
RR: Oh ...
AS: How should they do it? Should they go via NIDA or what would you ... or go and read books or what? What would you advise?
RR: I don’t think there’s ... I mean I don’t think that going back retrospec ... I mean of course you’re mad if you live a life and you don’t have regret, I think that’s insane and anybody who can sort of say that is a bit nutty because of course I have regrets, I have some terrible regrets but in a broad sense of a way to lead a life I don’t think you can second-guess that or judge it in hindsight because that’s the truth of it and you’ve only discovered yourself now by way of that. So there are individual choices along the way that I would have said okay, you didn’t need to do that you know but as a you know in a broad sense I think it is what it is and I could only have arrived here because of each of those things.
AS: What do you hope for your kids and the way that you’re raising them in terms of the big wide world and being what they want to be?
RR: Importantly that they do something that they love and look, it you know I know people have to make practical choices in this life, that’s a fact and it’s a given, it’s an understandable one and there’s all kinds of pressures, there’s pecuniary pressures, there’s environmental pressures, there’s the options that you’re given as a person as well and some kids just don’t ... I mean you know the statistics today about ... yesterday in the paper about poverty in this day and age, I mean I just ... I couldn’t you know ...
AS: It’s Anti-Poverty Week ...
RR: ... but you know I just ... I hope that my kids will be kind and that they’ll do things that they love and that they’ll work hard because finally it’s just work, it’s just you know working hard at stuff.
AS: Well the signs are good because you’re saying how tolerant they were of you
RR: Of my incompetence as a father, yes, that’s right.
AS: The signs of kindness.
RR: Yeah. No, I was just telling Alex a story ‘cause my wife’s been doing an opera in Queensland for two months which is a long time and we don’t have help at home you know so it’s just either her or me or us together or whatever and we’re always having to you know she’s racing in the door, I’m out and so she was up there for two months and I ... there was just this moment where ... a night where I sat down with my boys and said boys, I am so sorry that Daddy lost his shit this morning. He’s terribly disorgani ... Daddy is terribly disorganised man as you know and I ... I'm so sorry for losing it and it wasn’t either of your fault, it was me. And you know and I said I ... look, it’s just because I’m disorganised so I get ... I do get stressed out by that. Mummy you know Mama is from northern Italy which is basically Germany so Mama is really German and she’s really great at this stuff, you know? And so I hope you forgive me and they were so great ‘cause they were like oh no, Dad, you're doing a good job. Good job, good job, you so they were very ...
AS: The kindness is there.
RR: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Do you like ... how great is it being a parent?
RR: Oh it’s ... I mean it’s ... there’s nothing that holds a candle to it in ... across the spectrum of my life I terms of the you know deep pleasure that it’s given me and a sense of place that it’s given me so yeah. And then of course then it’s an absolute nightmare as well, I mean there’s no doubt about it, mainly when they’re fighting amongst themselves, that drives me insane but as a thing it’s a thing of very great, inestimable beauty.
AS: They’ll probably open it up to questions, I’m sure there’s lots of questions to come from the floor so we’ll get a microphone to you. What’s ... in terms of your creative life so what have you loved most? ‘Cause you’ve also directed Romulus, My Father as well and stage. What’s given you the most pleasure?
RR: I think I really ... what gives me the most pleasure is having the privilege, and it is a privilege, to be able to mix it up, to be able to change it, to be able to say I’d love to go back and do some theatre next year or you know and to be able to exercise different muscles in my brain is a great privilege. So I love that, I love changing things up. I never thought I would be able to write something because I’d always found it you know ‘cause I’ve flitted around the periphery of the written word my whole life because it’s you know it’s what you obviously do as an actor and so friends you know I’d say to my writer friends you know can you ... why don’t you write ... I’ve got this great and they were always like well you run along and write that down and I was like oh ... so I couldn’t really do it, I found it too ... ‘cause I think I’m very collaborative whereas with the kids’ book I felt that I had a strong sense of purpose because I wanted to do it so much for my boys but also in a weird way I felt like the characters were dragging me through it so they were my co-collaborators. Once they got a voice it was pretty fantastic and I really did love that.
AS: Bumshoe’s ador ...
RR: Bumshoe, yeah.
AS: Bumshoe is ... I mean we all need a friend like Bumshoe. So it’s really ... some more books?
RR: Yeah, yeah, there’s ... yeah, I’m sort of fiddling away with one at the moment, unrelated so far, yeah.
AS: And Canberra’s slightly excited that Cleaver’s heading to the Senate.
RR: He’s here, thank you. Thank you. Well Cleaver’s very excited obviously and so am I because the idea of ... I mean I was ... can’t tell you how excited I was to come down, just to film a bit of Rake down here in my old stamping ground, it was ... it just felt so great. But yes, we’ll be here next year for at least a little period of time.
AS: And that’s quite a bit of material for writers to work with on ...
RR: In the Senate?
AS: In the Senate and ...
RR: Do you think? I mean it’s ... yeah, it’s extraordinary. I mean I was saying to Alex today we’re just sort of stumbling along trying to keep up with reality these days ‘cause you know they’re way ahead in the distance, yeah.
AS: So if you could raise your hands I would love you to ask Richard some questions this evening so don’t be shy, I’m sure the ...
[End of Recording]