Cleverman's Rob Collins: from drama graduate to leading man in 4 years
The minute Rob Collins gets his production schedule for the next film or TV show, he scans it with a highlighter. Not to discover which days are early starts or where the catering van is parked but to find out when he can go home.
"As soon as I see a break of three days or more, I'm booking my flights and heading back," he says. "It's frustrating working like that, but that's how it is."
Collins, who was born and raised in Darwin and is of Tiwi Islands descent, lives in the Northern Territory capital with his wife, Laetitia Lemke, and three children. But, since graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in 2013, his burgeoning career has meant a nomadic working existence, travelling around Australia for an ever-increasing range of stage and screen roles.
* Cleverman: Weta, Pukeko, Park Road powers combine for second Australian drama series
* Weta Workshop starts work on new trans-Tasman TV series
* Kiwi editor reveals the secrets of putting Cleverman together
* Weta helps create Cleverman - Australia's new indigenous superhero
He is now filming the second series of The Wrong Girl, playing charismatic TV chef Jack Winters, in Williamstown, Victoria, having flown in the night before after a family weekend at the Barunga Festival in Northern Territory during a treasured break in filming.
Two months ago, he was filming the second series of paranormal series Glitch in Melbourne and regional Victoria, and before that, the sequel to award-winning sci-fi-drama Cleverman in Sydney. Before that, he spent months in Sydney rehearsing and appearing in A Midsummer Night's Dream for Sydney Theatre Company.
"I do have to go where the work is and that means I have to spend a fair bit of time away from home and that comes with all the challenges that you'd expect," he says. "It makes day-to-day life a bit hard at home. From day one, my family have just been so invested in my career and I've just been so lucky to have a run of success. It is tough at times but it seems to be paying off and workable.
"On the flip-side, the good thing about it is, we don't waste the time we do have together because it's such a rare commodity. Every time I am back home, we have a great time. Unfortunately there's not a sustainable, viable film industry in Darwin at the moment and if there were I wouldn't feel the need to go anywhere."
One recent pay-off was Collins winning Best New Talent at the 2017 Logies (the Australian television awards) for The Wrong Girl and Cleverman, where he thanked his Tiwi Islands family in the Tiwi language.
Cleverman, which was nominated for the prestigious Peabody Award and screens on BBC Three and SundanceTV in the US, as well as TVNZ OnDemand here, continues its futuristic sci-fi journey in the six-part second series. Based on ancient Indigenous stories, it is still set in a futuristic world where a super-humanoid race called the Hairypeople, who emerged from the outback, battle with humans intent on stealing their powers.
The sequel, which is again co-written by its original creator Ryan Griffen, has Collins returning as Waruu West, the estranged brother of Koen (Hunter Page-Lockard) who has inherited special powers to make him the Cleverman. Also featuring Iain Glenn, Frances O'Connor, Deborah Mailman, Tasma Walton and Rachael Blake, the sequel's storyline furthers Waruu's twisted, ever-voracious wish to own the Cleverman's power, pitting him against Koen in more extreme ways.
"Waruu has alienated himself from everyone," Collins says. "His community, his family, any allies that he had. He's pretty much burnt all those bridges. When we meet him at the beginning of the second series he is re-building himself, he is looking for those allies again."
Collins joined Cleverman's cast nearly two years ago, quickly realising the pioneering nature of a sci-fi drama drawing stories from Aboriginal storytelling.
"But I didn't have an inkling of how successful it would and has gone on to be which I am absolutely delighted about," he says.
Collins graduated just four years ago from NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Arts], an achievement swiftly followed by playing Mufasa in the stage adaptation of Disney's The Lion King. The idea of pursuing acting came to him only seven years ago, at 30, after a business degree, performing with his band Black Chapel and working as the national Indigenous representative for the Australasian Performing Rights Association.
He is often asked about leaving Australia to seek his fortunes in the US and is not against the idea at some point in the future.
"I think sometimes the discussion can tend towards work as an actor in Australia just being a lead-off point to work in America," he says. "I don't think that necessarily should be the case.
"I'm just at the start of this career, of course, but it feels like there's such a wonderful industry and wonderful work to be had on home soil. I'd love to go over to LA at some point, I have to say, but I'm not in a blinding rush at the moment."
Season 2 of Cleverman is now screening on TVNZ OnDemand.
- Fairfax Media Australia