Ian Roberts is feeling a little emotional. And it’s obvious these feelings have been a long time coming.
He’s talking about the time, almost a year go now, when he famously dubbed himself the only gay man in Australia who can’t dance on the TV show Dancing With The Stars.
The not-too-nimble-footed Roberts was hurling himself around the Channel 7 studios every week, proving that as a dancer he made a brilliant League front-row forward.
But week after week, the viewing public loved his best efforts and kept voting for him all the way through to the finale with the eventual winner Tom Williams.
For Roberts, the reality that he had the Australian public on side proved what a long way the country had come with him since his bold outing 10 years before.
Most mind-blowing for me was that I was not there because of my dancing prowess but because the public kept me there -“ that was the most gratifying experience for me, Roberts says.
It was like the Australian public was saying, -˜Okay, at least he’s always been honest and truthful about himself, and now he’s out there having a go -“ you’re okay, mate!’ That is really how it felt.
With a catch in his voice, Roberts says, When I think about that time now, it gets me pretty emotional. I felt like it took a long time to get there.
These days, outing, dancing and football all seem such a long time ago on Roberts’s r?m?The 40-year-old would now much rather talk about his life as a working actor.
He retired from sport seven years ago, spent three years training as an actor at NIDA and is now on the circuit, auditioning along with the best of them.
In the coming weeks, his efforts can be seen on both the small screen and the stage. Roberts appears as a thug accused of murder on TV cop show Blue Heelers, and as a German miner working in the outback in the classic Australian play The Last Of The Knucklemen.
I’m playing the muscle in both, but I don’t mind being typecast, as long as I am in work, Roberts says.
The Last Of The Knucklemen was first performed in 1973 and tells the story of a group of labourers, all attempting to escape from their pasts while working in a remote Western Australian mining town.
Roberts plays the role of Carl, a German miner whose appearance towards the end of the story unsettles the future of all of the other hardened miners.
He is the new generation of miner coming through, and all the way through the play they keep talking about the German guy who cracks heads better than anyone else.
Well, when he arrives, it turns out he is everything that has been said about him, but something else takes place which changes everything. I think the audience will get the message of what is really going on.
Roberts is becoming something of a regular on the Sydney stage, having already appeared in the plays The Plough And The Stars, Once In A Lifetime, The Pitchfork Disney and King Lear. He also appeared last year in the Cate Blanchett film Little Fish.
But it is the upcoming movie Superman Returns Roberts seems most excited about. He spent months in front of the cameras filming the blockbuster in Sydney, starring alongside Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey who plays villain Lex Luthor.
In keeping with his other recent roles, he is playing the character of Riley, one of Luthor’s thugs.
It is the biggest thing I have done, and I got to work with Kevin Spacey, he says. To watch someone like Kevin work was just extraordinary, and he is an exceptional actor and such a professional.
Once the play is over and, as he awaits the release of the movie across the world, Roberts is taking off for an indefinite period to try his luck in landing more acting work -“ and a variety of roles -“ in Hollywood.
I think a lot of people earlier on thought I was not fair dinkum about acting as a profession, but I have loved this art form longer than I loved the game of Rugby League, he says. It has only been in the past few years that I have been able to nourish and nurture it.
I know people have this expectation and I know being typecast as the brute and the muscle isn’t exactly helping that perception, but at this point in time I don’t have that many offers that I can choose from. Really, I am happy to be working, which is how most other actors feel most of the time too.
Blue Heelers screens Saturday 22 April on the Seven Network.
The Last Of The Knucklemen plays 18-29 April at the Bondi Pavilion. Book on 1300 306 776.