This month’s interview-ee comes over to my home, lunch in hand, and we flop down on my oversized sofa for our scheduled natter.
My delight in including him in this year’s series stems not from our friendship (though we are friends), nor the comfort he obviously has from years of interviews and handling personally invasive questions (though I won’t be asking any of those). No, my delight comes from the joy I derive from informing people about a side of Rob Mills most don’t know about. Or ignore.
Hard worker? Correct. Generous colleague? To the point of the ridiculous. Focussed? Brave? Listening? You heard it here folks.
I count myself privileged to have worked opposite Rob in one of the most intimate and demanding projects of either of our careers. So it was obvious to me that he needed to be included here. And as ever, I will let the unedited words of my subject speak for themselves.
RM: We haven’t caught up in ages. How are you? What are you doing?
MA: I know! Good! Adelaide Cabaret Festival. You?
RM: Really? Cool. Celebrity Apprentice.
MA: Really?! I had no idea.
RM: We are bad friends.
MA: Inattentive friends. We don’t stalk each other enough on Facebook. Or in life. Clearly.
RM: You should start the interview with this!!!
MA: Well, I was going to start it with how I was getting my hair done this morning. And my hairdresser said to me, ‘What are you doing this afternoon?’ And I said, ‘Catching up with my mate Rob Mills’, and he immediately said, ‘He is such a great guy!’ And he doesn’t know you from Adam. But he reckons that you come across as such a good person. A good all-rounder. Someone who will be in the industry forever.
RM: Was he gay or straight?
MA: That’s beside the point! I thought it was a good way to start this interview, cause I like that some random dude has that perception of you. Do you like that perhaps your public persona is that now? Now you’re an actor and a presenter, writer and a musician…? The guy who does everything?
RM: Yeah. It feels pretty good considering what I used to be perceived as. Like… (makes tight cringing face) “Didn’t you used to be “Millsy!?” Or, “Are you that guy who was with Paris Hilton?”…and me just going, ‘um…it’s not all I do…’. So it’ good now to get to that stage where it’s “You were great in ‘Wicked” or “Great job with ‘Young Talent Time’, you worked really well with those kids” or “Read some of your articles on Mama Mia”. All those things make me go ‘Oh, thanks. Cool’.
MA: That’s a lot of different work. Is the goal to be Mr All-Rounder?
RM: Yeah. I remember my manager once said to me years ago “What do you want to do?” And I just said, “Everything. I really want to do everything”. And I know that you can’t always put all your eggs into the one basket, so why not try to do a bit of everything?
MA: Worked well for Hugh Jackman…
RM: Yep. And I suppose in Australia the industry is small enough to be able to do that. The industry likes familiarity. And if you do a good job on a show or any project, they’ll probably hire you again.
MA: Do you find that younger audiences view you differently? I mean, my 9 year old niece adored the new ‘Young Talent Time’ and she doesn’t know you from ‘Idol’ or anything.
RM: I’ve got a whole new audience with younger people, yeah… but I just like people. I like talking to people. Not about myself….I just mean, I like making all people feel comfortable. I don’t know why that is. My Mum did it a lot when I was a kid. Our house was always the house where EVERYONE could come over. The door was always open. The cupboard always stocked with food. We had a basketball ring out the front. There would be sleepovers. Car loads to footy on the weekend and nothing was ever too much trouble. So I think I’ve got that in me from Mum… And I know how it can feel to be criticised. Being knocked at the beginning of your career. I LOVED working on ‘Young Talent Time’ last year. The mentoring side of things.
MA: You’ve always been really good at that.
RM: I loved working with the kids.
MA: And you love talking to people and hearing people’s stories.
RM: Yes. Totally. You just treat everyone the same. Except for your close friends, which you have to…-
MA: – tongue pash sometimes?
RM: Yes!!! Ha ha!!!
Feel the Fear. And Do It Anyway.
MA: As someone who is not trained, how do you approach acting? Is it all instinct for you?
RM: Yep. I worked at a video store when I was younger, so I watched heaps of movies and always loved good stories and performances. I love everything about movies and film. But I think it’s instinct for me. Even when I started out, I was so nervous about remembering lines, and then I thought, ‘Mills, you’ve remembered how many song lyrics over the years? It’s no different!’
MA: Same thing!
RM: I’ve since realised that over the years, every time I sang a song, I listened and thought through the lyrics.
MA: It’s a monologue!
RM: So I was acting all along. For years. 3 or 4 nights a week from the age of 17.
MA: Can we quickly talk about ‘Idol’? Cause that’s what got you started. How old were you when you did that?
MA: How old are you now?
RM: I’m 31. Can I just say… I was a pretty young 21…
MA: Well yeah, that’s what I want to talk about, cause I think people now forget that was TEN years ago. That’s a long time ago. Especially in an artists career.
RM: Yes. And I was a baby.
MA: What sort of person were you at 21? What sort of artist?
RM: I was a cover band singer. So I would mimic the shit out of everyone. All that 90’s rock stuff that was big at the time (starts emulating ‘With Arms Wide Open’ by Creed)…right through to soft pop ballads and stuff… so…I didn’t know what I wanted to be! But the I went on a TV show, and they cut up all the footage of you, into maybe the three and a half minutes per week of what gets seen on television. And people go – “He’s that guy!” And because I didn’t know who I was, I thought, ‘Yeah, I am that guy!”
RM: Yeah oops, I fell into that.
MA: How did that experience change your life?
RM: It just gave me a leg up. I think I still would’ve been a performer…The year before, I’d been auditioning for cruise ships, so I was sort of getting a feel for the industry… I didn’t want to be a cover band singer. I had friends older than me, that had been doing it for ten years and I was thinking, ‘I can’t do that…I’ve got more to give”. I’d done drama throughout high school, so after I did ‘Idol’ that I realised that-
MA: You wanted to be an actor?
RM: Yeah, but I was always too scared to do it. Even in high school I was scared of drama.
MA: Why is acting more scary than singing?
RM: Um…Singing is easy for me. I have a pretty good ear. I don’t want to sound cocky or whatever, but I like singing because I know I can do it. I love it. I like entertaining people.
MA: And acting?
RM: It’s me wanting to be other things. To try something else. To challenge myself.
MA: Who inspires you? Which colleagues have you learnt loads from?
RM: Ummm, Rodney Dobson, who I shared a dressing room with in ‘Wicked’. And as far as his acting, and how he approaches things, he’s amazing. Very clever. But I watch everyone and learn lots from everyone. I mean, I look at Hugh Jackman and think, ‘Yep, I want to be Wolverine’s son’! What about you?
MA: Ummm, my idols are… Essie Davis. I’ve always loved her and everything she’s ever done. Meryl. Meryl Streep of course. Mine tend to be ‘straighties’ to be very honest. But ‘straighties’ who sometimes may sing. And you know, I think that’s the world I personally sit best in too. I think I’m an actor who happens to have a voice at her disposal.
RM: And you can be an actor forever. Pop stars can’t say that.
Let’s Talk About That Time We Were Married…
MA: What’s been the most challenging role?
RM: The one with you I reckon. The Last 5 Years.
RM: Well, even though there isn’t much spoken word in it, you have to carry a whole story without the other person physically involved. The best thing about it was us sitting down and writing out our timeline together…and working with the director (Luke Rogers) – going through every moment.
RM: And it’s just you out there. Not much set. No props. Well, a few props.
MA: What do you mean?! That beer bottle you held was instrumental. Amazing even ;p
RM: It was!
RM: You did formal training though, right?
MA: Yep. ‘Straight’ training. You and I couldn’t have had MORE different backgrounds before working together. And I met you at the audition for The Last 5 Years.
RM: Yeah. But I’d heard of you before.
MA: I’m sure we’d met inconsequentially, but I don’t remember anything before we were suddenly in a room together doing scene-work.
RM: I loved it.
MA: Me too. But I remember thinking as I was driving to that audition with you, “this is either going to REALLY work, or it’s going to be fucked and awkward”.
MA: Cause I thought you were from such a different world to me, and vice-versa. We were either going to learn loads from each other and have a blast, or have an energy clash. But I felt immediately, “this is going to be great!”
RM: I just felt… ‘I really want to make a good impression. I really want to do this show!’ I’d wanted to do it for probably 5 years before that. I’d been introduced to the music by a girl, who played it with the preface, ‘Rob, this is YOU’.
MA: I do enjoy that a woman plays that for you saying-
MA & RM: (unison) ‘THIS IS YOU!!!’
MA: Gee. Thanks.
RM: I was like, ‘aw c’mon! I’m not that bad!’ But I loved the music, and thought, ‘yep. I could do that’… And it is a little bit me. I mean, I’ve not been a cheater before, but I’ve been in tumultuous relationships where one person is succeeding and the other isn’t, and that is rife in our industry.
MA: Yes. It can be the hardest thing.
RM: It’s great when you’re both doing good. But when it’s one or the other…
MA: It’s haaaaaard.
RM: Without even realising it, you just get jealous of the other person’s success. You don’t mean to, but-
MA: You just want it.
RM: You just want it.
MA: Because we have a hunger within us for our work. It’s different. The thing I’m proudest of though, in our production, and I don’t know if it is how the piece is intended, but I think it might be… I enjoy that most people who came to see our version of The Last 5 Years did express that they didn’t side with either character. They felt very strongly about both of them being more or less good people doing the best they could in those circumstances. And that perhaps in a parallel universe, they might have made it.
RM: Yeah. Let’s say she’d gotten a gig.
MA: Or if his book hadn’t been so successful they might be still together. You know? I’m glad we managed to do that.
RM: High five to us!
(laughter and high five)
RM: And to Luke as well
MA: Yes, to Luke – mainly to Luke in fact…!
Lights, Camera, Action!
RM: What about you? Did you always just want to do musical theatre? I mean you smash out cabaret now. And write.
MA: I’m still working out what I want to be in some ways. I think I love working in all areas. I just want to keep doing different things. I’ve been doing a lot of hosting and presenting in the last year, which is something I never thought I would do.
MA: And I’m finding that, not only do I not suck at it, I like it. I’m good at it. I’m more comfortable doing that stuff than I realised. So it’s cool to go, ‘oh, I didn’t know I could do that! That’s fun!’
RM: Do you know what it is? Do you know why you’re so good at that? Cause you’re SO comfortable in who you are as a person. Years ago, I was watching some presenter reels cause I was doing ‘The Mint’ and it was like, (impersonates fake super enthusiastic presenter voice) “Hiiiiiii!!! I’m Sophieeee!!!”
RM: And these people obviously wanted to be on TV, but they didn’t know how to be… they didn’t know how to be…-
MA: – a person…!?
RM: Yes. I think you fall into being a presenter through journalism, or music or stage work whatever it is that makes you ‘you’.
MA: That can be totally true. Look at David Campbell. Fierce actor. Amazing vocalist. And now so great and natural on TV hosting ‘Mornings’.
MA: What about your TV work? Most recently ‘Winners and Losers’.
RM: I find that the hardest.
MA: Really? Why?
RM: Cause you only get one go at it.
MA: Yeah, but that’s the life of a guest actor…I’d love the experience of doing something long-running, just to learn. And learning new stuff about your character all the time. When you do a guestie, you’re coming into an already established family and it’s such a different thing. Bring on the re-occurring role. I’d love to do that.
RM: You will.
MA: Would you do a ‘straight’ play?
RM: Yeah! Love to. I think my face is made more for straight plays than TV. I mean, my face moves ALOT.
RM: Too much Jim Carrey as a kid! But I haven’t really had time so far to do a play. I’d love to do ‘Once’ (the musical)… not sure about my Irish accent though…have to go listen to some Irish mates…
MA: Well, that’s already a re-occruring theme in this chat. Cause you haven’t had ‘proper’ acting training…
MA: …but your ear, and your ability to listen is probably the key component to how you work as an artist. I think. And certainly that was my experience working with you too.
RM: Well yeah…when someone has got information…I just listen.
MA: Yes. (laughter)
RM: If you think you know everything, you don’t learn. So, everyone can tell you something. You can learn something from everyone. Just listen. If it doesn’t resound in your bonce-
MA: Your what?!
RM: Your ‘bonce’ – your brain.
RM: Yeah, my Mum says ‘your bonce’ a lot.
MA: I love that! Thanks Bill (Rob’s Mum).
RM: Thanks Bill…
MA: What’s in the future?
RM: Um… I really want to study with Larry Moss over in New York at some point… I think I would really benefit from it. But my aim with work is to always just do a good job. Be a good person. Then hopefully it will pay forward. It’ll come back around. And that seems to be what happens.