“They popped up some random performative gene that made no sense to anybody.” That included Roxburgh himself, who on finishing school headed off to Canberra to study economics at the Australian National University.
“I suppose like everyone at that time I thought [acting] would have been a kind of interesting hobby, that no self-respecting man would consider it as a sensible career.
“But the choice of economics is deeply and abidingly strange to this day. All I can think is that I had no firm evidence that I didn’t hate it, whereas there were other things I knew by then I hated for sure.”
Roxburgh graduated in 1984 and promptly headed to the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney to study acting. By the late 1980s and early ’90s he was appearing on television in series like Police Rescue, Halifax fp and Seven Deadly Sins. He played corrupt cop Roger Rogerson in Blue Murder in 1995 and two years later won a best actor gong for Doing Time for Patsy Cline. His 2000 turn in Mission Impossible 2 led to roles in other big budget Hollywood films, including Moulin Rouge in 2001 and Count Dracula in Van Helsing in 2004.
It was on the latter that he met Italian opera singer and actress Silvia Colloca, who was playing one of Dracula’s wives. They married in real life in 2005. The couple now have three children – Raphael, 12, Miro, nine, and two-year old Luna. Roxburgh has an Italian passport and Colloca has a developing career as a TV cook, which he’s so far been able to schedule around.
Roxburgh says the work, the kids and the wife require a regular regime of gym and pilates. “You know, I have a wife who’s 14 years younger than me, it’s kinda good to keep things going.”
We arrive at #MeToo, which Roxburgh agrees is as one of the biggest changes he’s seen during his time as an actor.
“There were obviously things happening that were not cool, and it had to be called. Some of it was very subtle. It had to be illuminated. That was important.”
Roxburgh can’t hide his disappointment that the “simple human respect” required in a workplace that has to be as open and vulnerable as a rehearsal between men and women now needs to be spelled out.
“I think it’s a shame that now when you’re in a rehearsal room a stage manager has to stand up and say, ‘These are the rules of engagement, you are not allowed to touch from here to here.’
“I find it disappointing as a species that we have come to that. Because I don’t want to have to live in an environment where there are signs telling you what surely should just be a matter of human decency.”
I’ve touched a nerve. After again emphasising the importance of #MeToo, Roxburgh starts something approaching a rant about what he sees as a creeping encroachment on individual liberties.
“Please give me individual responsibility! I could spend this whole lunch talking about this, Andrew.
“Even as a parent, I find the intrusion of the state into my choices and responsibilities disturbing.”
The UK is leading the charge on this front, he says, pointing out that it’s now illegal to allow a child to have a sip of wine in their own home until they are 16, and it’s actually against the law to take a child out of school for more than a few days to travel.
“That gets so far up my nose. It’s the principal at work here – how far should the state be allowed to intrude into your life?” But he does draw the line at vaccinations.
“That’s tricky territory. Then you’re in the mire of moronic parenting. And that has broader implications, because it could then put not only your children but the children around you in jeopardy. And jeopardy is a different thing.”
The oysters arrive just as Roxburgh is hitting his stride. As I watch him across the table I realise what it is that’s nagging at me; if I put aside the neatly combed hair, in the syntax, the turn of phrase, I’m starting to think there’s quite a lot of Richard Roxburgh in Cleaver Greene.
As if on cue juice shoots out of the lemon Roxburgh is squeezing and straight into his left eye. He flinches and blinks in exaggerated fashion as he tries to carry on the conversation, but after about 30 seconds gives up.
“That was really quite a Cleaver moment,” he says, dabbing his eye with a starchy napkin. “I would have hoped they would have had a sign, when you come in… ‘Unsheathed lemons will be used in this environment’. I’m going to text Matt and tell him: ‘I’m going to sue your arse for not having gauze sheaths on your lemons’.”
Soon after our mains arrive Moran joins us and a friendly banter ensues.
“Well I’m having some barramundi because…,” says Roxburgh before Moran finishes his sentence with a crack about his fishing abilities.
“You’re both drinking? I can’t do it,” says Moran.
“Well I shouldn’t be either – but I don’t want to send my body into shock by stopping too suddenly,” Roxburgh replies.
When Moran leaves we turn back to The Hunting. The story follows four Adelaide teens, their teachers and families through a nude photo scandal. The central theme is cyber bullying, something Roxburgh finds extremely challenging and worrying as a parent.
Roxburgh says hearing the young actors talk about how normal sexting has become was an eye opener.
“There were really interesting observations, especially from the actors playing the kids in it.”
Roxburgh says he was slightly shocked to find that sharing explicit images is not going to go away. “It’s a means of expression. For a girl to send a picture of herself naked to a guy who she really likes, is a means of expressing something without being touched.”
He says the common assumption that women are disempowered by this sort of activity might not be wholly true.
“I’ve got friends who have a daughter who has started putting provocative pictures of herself up online. Not naked, but revealing. Is it wrong, or is that the new paradigm? The girls are running their own race in this, and they will sort themselves out.
“Saying to kids, ‘Just don’t take the drugs,’ hasn’t worked. The same thing is going to apply here. Smart kids are going to keep doing this.”
I relate a story about a private school in Sydney’s inner west that advised its boys against sexting, then added: “But if you do, make sure you crop your head out.”
“I actually think that’s the best advice I’ve heard on this, it really is. At least then, until the end of days, technically we don’t know who is in that photo. I’ve just made a mental note of that…”
While Roxburgh has no shortage of work, he says the rise of the streaming giants has been a mixed blessing. As an actor he enjoys the work. As a consumer he relishes the long-form drama, especially given the big screen is so dominated by superhero films.
“I’m so over Marvel. Oh my God! If someone 15 years ago had said, ‘All of the great actors of your generation, the leading film lights, will be dressed in spandex and jumping around engaged in hyper-real fist fights with unknown cosmic elements and that’s the way they’ll be earning their coin’, you’d say, ‘Really!?!’ But it’s true. What a waste of human talent.”
But as demand makes it easier to make shows for streaming services, Roxburgh says it also makes it much harder to get funding for a film. For someone who has “four or five projects I’m working up from scratch” – all of them looking to use frontier settings in Australia to say “this is part of the drama of who we are” – that has meant a change of attitude.
“I’ve been in to producer mates and said, this is my idea and I think it’s a feature. And the first thing they say is: ‘Are you sure it’s a feature, can’t it be TV? Because if it’s a feature it probably won’t happen, and if it is going to happen it will be in like six years time. But if it’s TV we can talk about it very soon’.”
We’ve been here more than two hours and as I pay Roxburgh – fortified by the delicious barramundi, the dark chocolate tart and two glasses of chardonnay – is ready for another untamed environment: Moran’s tasting kitchen.
65 Ocean Street, Woollahra, Sydney
12 oysters, $60
Barramundi in a bag, $36
Whole rainbow trout, $38
Dark chocolate tart $16
Short black, $5
4 Bellwether chardonnay $92