Roy Billing's CV is a veritable Australasian screen history. Adept at bringing a believable touch to both comedy and drama, Billing's talents have seen him consistently in demand on both sides of the Tasman.
Billing grew up in the Northland town of Ruawai, just a few houses down from Rawiri Paratene.
Later, while working in advertising, Billing got involved in amateur acting. In 1976, Raymond Hawthorne invited him to work at Auckland's Theatre Corporate. Over his four years of acting and touring with Hawthorne, he honed his craft over more than 40 plays, including classics by Ibsen and Shakespeare.
It was at Theatre Corporate that Billing first played old-school rugby coach Tupper, in Greg McGee's cause celebre Foreskin's Lament. McGee labelled his performance "the first and definitive Tupper"; Billing would go on to reprise the role at least five more times, including a hit 1985 season which Billing co-produced through short-lived Auckland co-op Working Title Theatre.
He continued to act on stage with big roles in Roger Hall's Middle Age Spread (as the philandering principal) and Maurice Shadbolt's Once on Chunuk Bair (Colonel Connolly). But by the early 80s his screen career was also taking off.
Billing had made his screen debut back in 1976, with Dean Parker teleplay Rugby Burns, in which he starred as an anti-apartheid protestor involved in burning down a rugby grandstand. In the period from 1980 to 1984, Billing appeared in 20 films and TV shows. Most of the feature film roles, starting with a court official in Beyond Reasonable Doubt, were supporting parts - although Geoff Steven's Strata saw him joining the main ensemble, as an ill-tempered drifter.
In 1985 Billing won a Feltex TV award as best actor for his work in TV series Inside Straight. Inspired by co-writer Keith Aberdein's memories of working in an all night café, much of the series was shot on the streets of the city after dark. Billing played the taxi driver who takes Phillip Gordon's new-to-the-city character under his wing, introducing him to an underworld of criminals and prostitutes.
Billing portrayed one of the press gallery hacks in Tom Scott comedy Press for Service, and a deputy school principal in still unscreened tele-play The Principal, alongside late Gliding On talent Michael Haigh. There was also a trio of kidult series, including playing a villain in Sea Urchins, one of the evil Wilberforces in Maurice Gee's sci-fi tale Under the Mountain, and a larger and less threatening role as uncle to the heroes in another alien encounter tale, Children of the Dog Star (1984).
The same year, Billing joined the cast of Gliding On, to solve the long unanswered question of whether Beryl would ever find her dream man. Beryl and Perce's romance, and subsequent wedding, pushed the already successful show even closer to the top of the ratings.
By the late 80s, production of Kiwi screen dramas had slowed to a crawl. Billing joined the prestige cast of mini-series Erebus: The Aftermath and played a corporate raider in Zilch!, one of the only movies made that year. Then he relocated to Australia, worried about Kiwi overexposure, having read a review of Porters which mentioned "the same tired old faces".
Though he has occasionally returned for New Zealand roles — reprising Tupper in Foreskin Lament tele-movie update Skin and Bone, playing a conman on The Strip, and an All Black-turned-priest in McGee and Dean Parker's rugby tale Old Scores — Billing has since concentrated on a steady diet of Australian film, TV and occasional theatre.
On the big screen, Billing joined Kiwi Danielle Cormack in oddball 1999 romance Siam Sunset; he was nominated for an AFI award and a Film Critics Circle of Australia award for his portrayal of bus driver Bill Leach. The following year he was nominated for a best supporting actor FCCA award for playing an ambitious small-town mayor in Rob Sitch comedy The Dish.
Billing has also had ongoing parts on Australian TV staples Home and Away, All Saints (playing three different characters) and Blue Heelers. He is proud too, for having acted in Australian classics Rabbit-Proof Fence, and an epic — and acclaimed — 2001 theatrical adaptation of Tim Winton's family tale Cloudstreet.
Among Billing's many short film roles, he was a policeman trying to help out an addict friend in award-winning short Spike Up, a drag queen deciding to retire in 2008's Mirror Mirror, and an old school rugby coach in NZ title Tits on a Bull.
Billing found himself getting recognised on a daily basis after nabbing a starring role in the (2009) second series of Underbelly. As colourful drug baron 'Aussie Bob' Trimboleone, he got the opportunity "to play comedy, pathos, menace, drama...you name it". The role won him an AFI award for best lead actor. Billing also appeared in third Narnia movie The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and played sympathetic real estate boss to Robyn Malcolm's character in 2013 TV series Agent Anna.
Billing also appeared occasionally on acclaimed Australian TV dramedy Rake, Billing played the avuncular judge to the title character's wayward barrister.
Darren Devlyn, 'Big Ask' (Interview) - Herald Sun (Melbourne), 21 July 2010, page 2
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime: A History of New Zealand Television Drama (Auckland University Press, 2005)
Julie Jacobson, 'Kiwi a top billing in Australia' (Interview)- Dominion Post (TV Week liftout), 24 February 2009, page T4
Philip Matthews, 'Roy Billing' (Interview) - Listener, 2 August 2003
Greg McGee, Tall Tales (Some True) (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2008)