Roy Billing

Author: Kristina Foster

“Playing Trimbole required a lot of preparation and research in order to bring the
character to life. I had read a lot of books and watched a lot of footage from

As I wait in the art deco French neighbourhood café in Coogee to interview Roy Billing, a stylish white panama hat is thrown nonchalantly onto the table. I look up and see a familiar face: we have all grown up seeing Billing’s crinkly, welcoming smile across our big and small screens for the last 30 years.

Billing, now 68, has starred in films such as The Dish, Rabbit Proof Fence and The Chronicles of Narnia, and has filled our TV’s with meaty roles on Packed to the Rafters, All Saints, Blue Heelers, and Jack Irish. And most memorably, played crime boss Robert Trimbole on the hit series Underbelly.

On the surface, Billing resembles many traits of the mob boss. An engaging, likable matter-of-fact guy, Billing also has a real life fondness for fedoras, panama hats and horse racing.

“Playing Trimbole required a lot of preparation and research in order to bring the character to life. I read a lot of books and watched a lot of footage from that period. It was a character that I really got inside of. Sometimes when I came home from the Underbelly set, I found it hard to get out of character. My wife once yelled at me, ‘you’re not the mafia boss under this roof ‘,” he laughs. “But at the [race] track, many people who knew Bob Trimbole came up to me and said I captured what he was like,” he recalls proudly.

Billing grew up in Ruawai, a small rural village north of Auckland in New Zealand, with a population of just 400. “My dad was the local panel beater in Ruawai, but I always escaped and went to visit my grandparents in Auckland. I’m really a city person not a country boy,” he admits.

Leaving a job in advertising in his 30s to start acting, Billing was a relative late bloomer in the industry but has not stopped working since he began his acting career.

“I’ve been really lucky. Many of my friends at my age have been made redundant but I have a high paid, exciting part-time job,” jokes Billing, underselling his remarkable acting skills, which earned him a Medal for the Order of Australia in January last year.

Part of the appeal of Billing and the characters he plays is their unpretentious earthiness. As we finish our lattes and get up to leave, I wave goodbye and see him take a seat at the bus stop outside the café, striking up an easy conversation with a fellow commuter. He may be an actor with a mobster’s face, but Roy Billing is a man with undeniable ‘everyman’ appeal.

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