‘Rake’ Star Richard Roxburgh on a Creative Life: ‘It’s Not for the Faint Hearted’

'Rake' Star Richard Roxburgh on Creative

As the closing keynote of B&T’s three-day conference Cannes in Cairns this week, multi-award-winning actor, filmmaker and producer Richard Roxburgh took attendees on a rollercoaster of emotions in one of his most generous public talks yet.

The keynote, titled The Curious Quest for a Creative Life, saw this interviewer kick things off by listing his many iconic roles across an almost-four-decade-career in theatre, film and TV.

Dracula in Van Helsing, an arrogant antagonist in Moulin Rouge as The Duke, a skilled and dangerous henchman in Mission Impossible II, a brilliant but self-destructive criminal defense barrister in Rake (the hit TV show you co-created). Bob Hawke in The Crown, Elvis’ father, the head of an evangelical megachurch in Prosper.”

Roxburgh told the audience that while his career has seen him take on a raft of chameleonic roles, it was the children’s book he wrote that tested him most.

“I wrote a kid’s book because I also thought [it] would be kind of terrifying, because I’d never done anything like that,” he said.

The 2016-published book, Artie and the Grime Wave, won the CBCA Book of the Year Award in the Younger Readers category in 2017.

“I do think you have to kind of terrify yourself, keep yourself terrified,” he added. “And also what that taught me that’s really been useful was that so much of writing this kid’s book was just wading through shit. Just writing stuff that you just go, ‘Oh my God, this is awful. This is horrendous. It’s so boring. You would never read this to anyone’s child’.

“[…] But you have to do it every day. There’s just such discipline attached to it and I found that so excruciating, but then you go back and you read it, and you go, ‘Actually, you know, I can salvage that. That’s pretty good’.

“I think you have to keep scaring yourself.”

Variety AU/NZ Editor-in-Chief Poppy Reid interviews Richard Roxburgh at Cannes in Cairns

The keynote covered a range of topics. From the (as he put it) “post-apocalyptic zombie western family drama” he just wrapped in New Zealand; to the importance of exporting Australian original stories and the increased international interest he’s noticed in Australian creatives; and the one character that almost broke him physically and mentally — when he played the starring role in Hamlet in 1994, alongside Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.

Across his storied career, Roxburgh has taken on polar-opposite roles, and yet mastered all of them. When asked what advice he would give to anyone who wants to take inspiration from him, and do something creative but outside their wheelhouse, he said: “It’s the discipline of habit of setting times, saying, ‘In this time I’m going to write, I am going to write this much each day’ and,” he paused. “It’s horrific.

“It’s not for the faint hearted, but it’s the only way you get it done. And then you finally start to get some measure of… where you feel the clouds are parting and it could go somewhere.

“It’s persistence,” he added. “You just have to do it. This kind of creative life can be very loosey-goosey. If you didn’t have three kids,” he said, referring to his children Raphael, Miro, and Luna, “you could get out of bed at midday and roll around and stay out partying and do, basically, what I used to do in my thirties.

“But, this creative life, you gotta create, you have to make your own discipline, you have to make your own set of rules and you have to stick to them.”

Roxburgh’s keynote was part of the annual Cannes in Cairns conference, hosted by B&T. The program featured a series of keynote and panel conversations with creators, marketers and executives, centred on the latest trends in advertising, marketing, and media and spotlighting achievements of those who make up the sector. It also explored sustainability in advertising practices, the impact of AI and machine learning on the creative industry, and the future of digital media. Pinterest was an official partner of the event, which wrapped Friday, June 7.