The man who played underworld killer Carl Williams so convincingly in Underbelly tells Alison Grinter about messing with a different kind of predator for his latest role in The Reef…

You star in The Reef which was shot with real, 14-foot great white sharks. Did you actually get near them?
We [the actors] shot our part at Hervey Bay and Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, and all the sharks were filmed in cage in the icy cold waters of South Australia at the other end of the country. We swam with a few other sharks, and manta rays and stingrays. [Actor] Damian Walshe-Howling stood on a stonefish which is extremely poisonous and causes excruciating pain, so that was a bit scary. It’s not only the sharks that are dangerous out there.

After making that film do you now fear going in the water?

I grew up in Queensland so I’m a self-confessed water baby. I’ve surfed with sharks and have come very close to them. At Bondi I’ve been out when there was a shark attack – it’s bloody scary – you swim in as quickly as possible.
Are you for or against the killing of sharks in tourist spots?
I don’t agree with it. In the end it is their domain and that’s the risk we take going out there but it’s good to take precautions with nets and sonar etc. But then there are many accounts of rogue sharks having it in for us as well.

You came to inhabit the Carl Williams role so well in Underbelly that people still stop you in the street to tell you their “I knew Carl Williams” stories.

The best ones were usually when I was in a bar or nightclub. I had some really  colourful characters talk to me. They would never go into too much detail because, if they were who they said they were, then they wouldn’t be telling you too much, which is slightly unnerving. That’s the thing about Underbelly, especially for Melburnians, it’s a story they grew up with on their doorsteps – so people are keen to tell you their affiliation with the whole saga. I checked into the Crown Hotel at the Crown Casino and the concierge whispered in my ear: “We used to serve the real Carl Williams here and he used to stay in the penthouse.” I’m like: “Right: can I stay in the penthouse?”

Did you get a chill when Williams got beaten to death in jail last year?
When he died my phone rang for three days and I had to turn it off cos I just don’t see why I need to comment on it. I had nothing to do with the man. I guess, personally, when he died I felt sad and I felt it was a shame that someone who is in a maximum security prison is still able to be murdered – it doesn’t give you much trust or faith in the system.

You played a cameraman in the film Balibo, and that scene where you’re being hunted by the Indonesian army is terrifying. Was it hard
to shoot?

In was really hard because in one of the very first takes I pulled a hamstring cos my camera the Arriflex BL [used in the 70s] was very heavy and was awkward to run with – we had to keep running all day. But, yeah, it’s a tense scene and what makes it more harrowing is that it’s a true story and we know how this chase is going to end up.


Ever been mistaken for someone famous (other than Carl Williams)?
I often get referred to as Bill Murray by my friends or a young Russell Crowe – it depends on whether I’m shaven or not.

What song would you have played at your funeral?
Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. But that might make people cry even more.

Tell us your porn star name?

Rufus Westlake. Rufus was a dog.

» The Reef out on DVD on January 24 through Momentum Pictures.