Actor Rob Collins (pictured, left) is riding the crest of a wave right now.
He has leading roles in Cleverman, The Wrong Girl, an upcoming appearance in Glitch and a Logie Award as Best New Talent.
Not bad for 12 months’ work. Since graduating from NIDA in 2013 his performing roles, including his professional stage debut in The Lion King, have been anything other than an overnight success.
“In TV when things come on air it can be a very compressed time. It looks like a steady row of work… it has been steady but not as quick,” he observes.
“I like to see people who I would ordinarily see out on the street on telly.”
The Darwin-born actor, who returns as Waruu in ABC’s ambitious Cleverman, is a believer in Indigenous actors also being cast in non-Indigenous roles.
“On a practical level it gives a more opportunities to wonderful Indigenous actors, a lot of whom who have been in the industry a long time.
“At the end of the day there is a flow-on effect from seeing diverse faces on screen.
“I like to see people who I would ordinarily see out on the street on telly. There’s a familiarity about it and it reinforces the way you live. It’s not this sort ‘other world.’ Even though we are creating an ‘other world’ on screen, I think more needs to be done.
“But it’s an encouraging time to be an Indigenous actor.”
Indeed, Cleverman puts Aboriginal talent centrestage -both behind and in front of the camera. The six part series resumes its mix of ancient Aboriginal mythology and futuristic action heroes.
Collins plays Waruu, the estranged brother of ‘Cleverman‘ Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard), whose alignment with billionaire Slade (Iain Glen) puts him at odds with the Hairypeople.
“He has a dubious relationship with Slade now”
“It’s Waruu with resources,” Collins explains. “He has a dubious relationship with Slade now, but his quest to be top dog hasn’t fallen by the way, in any respect. He’s still a determined character, as he was in the first series. But with Slade it offers up a whole world of possibilities, money, power –all the things you need to make things happen.”
There are shades of grey in Waruu, who regards himself as an altruistic leader who wants to lead his people out of the dark.
“But I have to say having played it, it’s feeling a lot muddier now. The balance between doing good for the community, and good for himself, is tilted towards himself.
“It’s sharper in the second series.”
Cleverman was conceived by Ryan Griffen for his son, as a tale that puts Indigenous characters into heroic roles. Nominated for a Peabody Award, its returning cast includes Frances O’Connor, Deborah Mailman and Tasma Walton joined in series two by Rachael Blake, Clarence Ryan and Taylor Ferguson.
“It’s a look back on past atrocities on the homefront.”
Yet for all its futuristic and dystopian settings, there are deeper themes at play.
“If anything it’s a look back on past atrocities on the homefront. Outwardly it’s very simple to draw the parallels between asylum seekers, the current mindset (regarding) Muslims around the world. Fear of the other is acute,” Collins suggests.
“As much it is a futuristic look a dystopian world, its themes harken back to a darker days in our history.
“It’s subversive. There’s a lot you can get away with in sci-fi. You are looking through a lens, with new technology, looking into the future and to sneakily say something about the past and present.”
Collins acknowledges the density of the first season attracted some criticism, but the co-production with Sundance TV has its US fans who engage through social media.
“They keep chiming in about how much they love the show and how excited they are to see the second series.
“So I assume it’s doing well over there,” he says.
“It’s great that an Indigenous Australian story is resonating with folks in the US.
“It’s all about the brothers’ story. They are engaging with characters and the constant battle between Koen and Warru. But also Latani’s (Rarriwuy Hick) story. I think she has a number of US followers.”
Filming has taken place at Macquarie Park and Coogee, but there is a different feel from the Hairypeople scenes in the Zone, filmed at Redfern.
“Carriageworks was an incredible space, with its disused trains, rusting corrugated iron, thick silt on the floor… it was so industrial and dirty. It was fascinating how locations really marry to the tone of the story,” Collins suggests.
“This series is very clinical, straight-line, clean…. Warru is a polished beast. He’s wearing MJ Bale suits, Armani ties, driving flash cars…. It’s the same world but very different as far as Warru is concerned.”
“I have two that are polar opposites”
Playing roles in dystopian / sci-fi one month and romantic melodrama the next has to be the best of both worlds for any actor.
“The ideal situation is to have a variety of roles and characters. Thankfully I have two that are polar opposites,” Collins agrees.
“It’s good to be able to dip into a bit of a range. I’m in a very lucky position.
“But maybe I am having all my luck now and all the obscurity will happen next year!”
Cleverman returns 9:30pm Thursday on ABC.