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Robert Grubb





Part 1

22 Sept 03

Robert Grubb is a masterful storyteller. He is someone who believes – with all his work, but especially with stage – that he is there to inform the audience, “"Quite often you go to a play and you’re just not clear what the character is on about, or what the play is on about - things like that. In the blink of an eye, you should be able to get across basically part of your message." Fitting then that this is the actor entrusted with the role of Pop – the character responsible for creating the audience’s first perceptions of We Will Rock You.

I must admit to having a few butterflies before chatting to Robert. Not only is he one of Australia’s better known actors, but when he appeared in the role that brought him into most Australian’s living rooms once a week, Dr Geoffrey Standish in The Flying Doctors, his floppy blonde hair, angelic good looks, and slightly shy manner had made my heart flutter a little. Thankfully, from his first words, he revealed himself as someone who despite his success and undoubted talent, is a charmingly normal person, generous and giving, with a blokey, self-deprecating sense of humour.

We first spoke together during a short interval in one of the rehearsals. As we approached the end of our allotted time, we were deep into a particular area of discussion. Rather than stop, Robert called out to see if he was needed, hearing the rest of cast had a couple of numbers without him, he enthusiastically continued until eventually he was called. Talking with him, I was taken on many fascinating little journeys.

Robert’s interest in music goes back to around his late teens/early twenties when he was in, "a little rock band," in Hobart, a place Robert laughingly refers to as, "the other end of the world to London." He hastened to add that while the band didn’t perform any Queen music, they were part of his growing up.

"We never really did any covers of Queen but certainly we respected them for their music and their sound. You can just imagine us going, 'Oh God!! If only we could hit a note like that', listening to Freddie Mercury, and he was hittin’ notes where I’m saying "What the...!!! And listening to all of that... well, I must admit, at that particular point in time, I probably didn’t appreciate Brian’s work, but since we started this and I've been hearing a bit of Queen here and there [said very tongue in cheek], the odd bits of guitar that have been floating around – BLOODY FABULOUS!! When they talk about the absolute rawness and the passion – it’s all there. And here I am, I’ve just kicked over into my 50’s lately and I score this role in this fabulous rock musical."

However, acting was Robert’s passion and he studied his craft at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art. Since then has gone on to appear in numerous films- including Gallipoli and Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome – as well as many popular television series. He has also received critical acclaim for his multitude of the stage roles.

In musical theatre, Robert has portrayed The Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, been in Sunset Boulevard, and was involved in what he cites as one of the most enjoyably times of his theatre life, the hugely successful Mamma Mia! - only leaving it at the end of its first Melbourne run because of a reluctance to go on the road while one of his sons was in his final year of high school.

Most recently, Robert has performed in two very different roles. One in the adaptation of Steven King’s Salem’s Lot, and the other acting, producing and directing Enoch Arden.

The latter has become a favourite and ongoing project of Robert’s, another chance for him to hone his story telling skills and one which he describes as, “a lot of hard work, but rewarding… I tell this story - one hour twenty, just the piano and me. Thought about it for 7 years before I did it, but in the end, it ended up being one that I really enjoy, and if I can be doing rewarding stuff at this time in my life…”
Learning We Will Rock You was to open in Australia, Robert decided this was something he wanted to be a part of it. He had already been in two of the biggest shows in town and realized this was another such opportunity.

“I heard this was comin’ along, I rang the agent and said, ‘Is there anything in this for me?’ At first I got the call back saying they weren’t thinking about me at that point in time. So I thought, ‘Oh - kay…’, you know?

Around about the same time, I auditioned for a movie down here that they were shooting – Salem’s Lot – and I didn’t score in that either. But I really liked the script, so I rang the agent and said, ”get in touch with them, tell them I’m really interested in doing something in it.” She rang, and luckily they said, ‘Yeah OK,’ and I got a call back. In the end they said, ‘which parts did you like?’ I said, him, him and him. They gave me a go at one of the biggest ones!! They were considering this American fella, but they said, ‘Let’s see what he can do.’ I went along and obviously did something, because a couple of weeks later, I got that role.

So - at that stage - I must admit it, that stirred me into saying, ‘Right! Bugger it…’ I rang my agency and said, “Get in touch with those We Will Rock You people” and tell them I am really, really interested, really want to be a part of it, and see if there’s something in there for me. And I said, ‘tell Lynne that I used to be in a rock band in my 20’s and tell her that was in’ – because someone said, ’Oh, it might be a bit Mad Maxy type thing,’ and I was in Beyond Thunderdome… I said, ‘remember the Pigkiller!’
Well something worked. God was smilin’ on me those particular days, ‘cos 2 days later, I got a call back saying, ‘we probably wouldn’t mind seeing him’.”

Robert auditioned for Pop. At the time he didn’t know much about the story, just a basic outline, his reading, and his song - These Are The Days Of Our Lives - which he fell in love with as soon as he heard.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is beautiful!’ Next thing I was taken in, I did the audition, which was taped, recorded and sent to London. And BINGO! I scored the role.”

As Robert described what happened when he heard he had the role, his enthusiasm and delight were obvious.

“I was thrilled to get the role. I was in my laundry, ironing something. There was a lot of hoop-de-do going on… a LOT of yelling and screaming. I actually had to ring my agent back the next morning and say, ‘Look, I wasn’t dreamin’ was I’. She said, ’Hang on Robert, hang on Robert’, and she actually read out the email, so I mean, it was one of those things where I woke up in the morning and said, ’What if it was all a dream? I didn’t, did I? I didn’t?’ I was up early, took my boy to school, took care of the dogs [walking his two black, miniature poodles], then had to wait until 9 o’clock or something, until the agent got in so I could ring and say, ’did I get that job?’ I went, ‘you weren’t kidding?’”

Now Robert is thoroughly enjoying being the elder statesman of the Australian We Will Rock You family. “It’s fabulous! I must admit, being a 50 year-old, hetro guy, there are so many absolutely drop-dead gorgeous young women around so I am going, ‘Arrrgh… when am I going to have a heart attack!!!’”

Next time we talk about the dynamics of working with the Ben Elton as a director, handling the choreography, getting the humour right, the multi-dimensional facets of Pop’s character and Robert’s attitude to passing on his expertise.

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