It’s no small irony that Richard Roxburgh is not a fan of social media, starring as he does in SBS’s searing new Australian drama, The Hunting, which is all about social media.
But the high-profile actor, producer, director and writer had plenty to say about it in a wide-ranging interview with SBS Guide recently.
In The Hunting, Roxburgh plays upper-middle-class, misogynistic lawyer Nick Luke, who attempts to protect his teenage son Andy (newcomer Alex Cusack) after he posts a nude selfie of a female student online. The actor chats with us about why he took on the divisive role, how the way society deals with teen sexuality and technology isn’t working, and the responsibility of fathers to raise respectful sons.
All episodes of The Hunting are now streaming at SBS On Demand.
Why did you want to be involved with the project?
The project, it’s brought so many elements [together], from the world of adolescent sexuality and the expression of adolescent sexuality, to parenting and role models, the whole conversation around what is appropriate, what are the new modes of behaviour, and how to find a way – both in terms of parenting and legislation – of dealing with the way that kids choose to express themselves. Really key conversations that are incredibly pertinent now.
Nick’s not a very sympathetic character is he?
It’s not really about trying to make a character sympathetic, as kind of explicable or understandable or human. He wants to do anything to look after his son and that takes him to a sort of dark and dangerous place, in the sense that those decisions about the way that he chooses to go forward and manage this situation that Andy’s got himself in to, they’re not morally engaged. So they’re done in a sort of amoral environment, they’re done without respect for the moral repercussions.
The show holds that sort of behaviour up to the light but also, there’s a sense that all of these behaviours, they’re learnt behaviours. So if there’s an adolescent boy behaving a certain way that’s inappropriate, there’s an extraordinarily high chance that that boy has been exposed to that behaviour elsewhere, in the home environment.
Did you get a sense from the young cast about what they think about the issue of expressing sexuality online?
Some of the most interesting things that were my takeaways from working on the show were listening to the younger cast talk about sexting, talk about that way of communing with one another and what it means. Because it’s all very well to say, ‘It’s a dumb idea, don’t do it’, but they are doing it, so we have to understand why. I heard some really interesting angles on why that might be and how it’s a kind of expression of something that doesn’t involve physical contact, so there’s a kind of beauty in the act in and of itself. The only real problem with it is that if it gets in the wrong hands, then it’s up online forevermore, which is obviously a sort of ghastly outcome.
There are all kind of conversations around that stuff which I found really interesting, because I don’t think the conversations that have been happening so far are helpful, I don’t think that they’re working.
Do we mean with the argument that young people just shouldn’t send these things in the first place?
I don’t think any of that works any more than, and I use this example quite frequently in this regard, telling kids to not take pills at music festivals. Again, save your breath and cool your porridge, it’s not working. We need to find another solution to stop killing our kids, so what can those solutions be? The solutions are not going to be to legislate your way out of it, either in terms of sexting or getting more police dogs outside music festivals, that’s not it. We need to really engage more with kids and to listen to their part of the story to understand more what propels them. And it’s not to indulge it, but to listen to it, so that there’s a proper channel of communication. Otherwise we’re just kind of trying to constantly stomp on something that’s not going to go out.
Did being part of the show give you pause to think how you would approach this issue with your boys, when it came to it?
Yeah. Part of what I feel in the end, though, is that they do learn, they take their cues from us. They learn about decency, they learn about ways of being, from what they see us do, and so as a male parent of male children in this time, you’re duty bound. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you raise boys with an understanding of what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate, what’s decent behaviour and what’s not.
What did you think about the backlash to the Gillette toxic masculinity ad, men coming out and saying ‘We’re not all like that’?
I think it’s kind of obvious that we’re not all like that. We’ve reached a kind of tipping point culturally where it’s become clear that there is a problem. And you only have to look at the numbers of women who have been killed every year in a domestic environment to know that there is a problem and it needs to be looked at. That starts young. That starts with the way that we’re talking to our boys, because they’re learning from above.
You’re not a fan of social media. Why is that? Is part of that because of your concerns for your kids, the impact on them?
No, look, really my choices about social media are just to do with my kind of personal [laughs] distaste for it. I just don’t dig it, I’ve never liked it. I don’t like always being able to be found. I love quiet, I love silence, I love quiet time. I don’t like constant accessibility. If I want to know how somebody’s going, I’ll reach out to them and find out. If I want somebody’s opinion – I’m mainly thinking about something like Twitter now – then that’s a kind of mad instrument that I would never expose myself to willingly. I don’t read film or theatre or TV reviews of my work, so why would I expose myself willingly to the kind of free-for-all opinion fest that is Twitter? It doesn’t make sense to me.
It’s a monumental piece of social engineering and nobody really knows about the outcome yet, they’ll know a few generations down the track. But I feel sorry that my kids are the guinea pig generation for an instrument that may or may not have really incredibly serious mental health outcomes. So I take that really seriously as well, because I don’t think anybody knows. I find that the most scary thing of all in a way.
You’ve played some characters that are quite politically incorrect. Is there a freedom to be able to play some of these characters and kind of let loose?
Yeah, there is. There’s a lot of fun to be had in playing a character that has a casual disdain for rules, and in a sense it’s the way that we would all kind of love to be ourselves. I do find that as time goes on, that the world, rather than becoming a sort of freer, easier place, that there’s a sense that the rule book of life about ways that you can and can’t be and things that you can and can’t say are becoming ever more structured and oppressive.
There’s a kind of ‘thought crime’ thing going on now which would have previously been unthinkable, if you’ll pardon the pun. I take issue with it, I have a real concern about it, because I find it kind of alarming. So yeah, to be honest there is great freedom and fun in playing a character that doesn’t give a toss about that stuff and says whatever he likes. Whether that character is always right – generally they’re not, a lot of the time they’re wrong – but at least they’re expressing themselves, their true self.
The Hunting, also starring Asher Keddie, Jessica De Gouw and Sam Reid, is now streaming at SBS On Demand.