By Dov Kornits

Working in the entertainment industry since his early childhood (he made his small screen debut in 1990’s telemovie, Sky Tracker, at the age of thirteen), industry veteran, Justin Rosniak, has had a long and winding career, appearing on popular TV dramas (A Country Practice, Home And Away, Blue Heelers, Rush, All Saints, Packed To The Rafters, Laid, Underbelly) and in high profile feature films (Sweet Talker with Bryan Brown and Karen Allen, and the acclaimed Animal Kingdom). Making the successful transition from child to adult actor, Rosniak now has four more impressive film roles coming round the bend: Abe Forsythe’s dark satire, Down Under (which uses Sydney’s infamous Cronulla riots as its springboard), which sees him playing the dopey Ditch, whose face is wrapped in bandages for much of the film’s running time; the intense drama, Broke (in which he plays a pawnbroker come crime boss opposite Steve Le Marquand’s broken down ex-rugby league star); the knockabout comedy, Dick’s Clinic, where he dispenses unqualified psychiatric advice; and the highly anticipated War Machine, a US military satire from David Michod (Animal Kingdom, The Rover) starring Brad Pitt.

How did you get into acting? “I started in 1986. My mother saw something in the paper for an acting school in Mona Vale. I’d just turned nine, and I had a big mouth and didn’t shut up. I was always impersonating, mimicking, and stuff like that. She just found something that suited me, and it all started from there.”

So you grew up in Sydney? “Yep, Mona Vale in Sydney on the Northern Beaches. I’m a proud, one-eyed Manly Sea Eagles supporter. I tried my hand at surfing, but once I realised that I couldn’t stand up, I gave up… it was just too hard for me.”

You’re in Melbourne now, though? “I’ve been here for six years. I moved here for personal reasons. Sydney was costing too much too…”

Justin Rosniak in Broke
Justin Rosniak in Broke

But you have so many credits! Is an actor’s life tougher than people think? “Don’t let the credits fool you. If you had this career in another country that supports its artists, then financially you’d be sitting in a different situation. The money has gotten worse and worse based on the state of the industry itself. I’ve always been up and down about where my place is within the industry. I’ve questioned whether I want to do it, and whether I really love doing it. I pretty much stopped for three or four years at one stage of my life, when I had my first child. I moved to Canberra and just painted houses. It gave me the $1,000 regular income, but I was dying inside. It forced me to have a look at what makes me happy, and I found my way back into acting again. It’s been a weird ride, and you’re never in it for the money.”

With low budget films like Broke and Dick’s Clinic, you’re obviously not doing it for the cash… Broke was a great story, and there were a lot of great people involved. Dick’s Clinic was a great opportunity to play a lead in an Australian comedy. With both, it’s about mates helping out mates, and being enthusiastic about it and really wanting to make it work. So yeah, I was able to buy a few meat pies and have a few beers afterwards…living the high life! But the excitement was still there because you get to immerse yourself inside this story. Everyone is there for the same reason, and none of us are in it for the money. I’ve always had the mentality that when you rock up on set, no matter where you are, you’ve got to be doing this together, and you have to go and get your own teas and coffees.”

Justin Rosniak in Dick's Clinic
Justin Rosniak in Dick’s Clinic

Was there ever a transitional period for you as an actor? “Definitely. When I first started when I was eight or nine, I never thought about it much or cared about what I was doing. But within two weeks of starting, I had a Grace Bros commercial, and then two weeks later, I had a guest role on A Country Practice. Then it really motored along, and in 1989, I scored a main part in Sweet Talker with Bryan Brown and Karen Allen. I still didn’t think too much about what I was doing, but I was spending a lot of time away from school, and Camerons Management poached me from this Take One Kids Acting School that I was in, in Mona Vale. Work was pretty solid until I was 21 or 22, and then I took off to Italy for a year. When I came back, it really dried up for me. From about 22 to my early thirties, it was a real grind. It still is now that I’m 38, but it was a real slog then. That’s when I questioned it all. I moved back up to Sydney from Canberra. One of my best mates is [actor, writer, director] Anthony Hayes, and I moved in with him. We’re massive rugby league enemies – he’s a Bronco and I’m a Sea Eagle, so we really give each other shit. That’s pretty much the basis of our relationship; we just happen to do acting. Tony is one of the hardest working people that I know. He doesn’t sit around just waiting for roles to come. He motivated me, and really helped me during that transitional period. I have a lot to thank him for.”

You’ve been very busy of late with Broke, Dick’s Clinic, and Down Under, where your head is covered by bandages for nearly the entire film… “That required me to be more instinctive. I was just flying by the seat of my pants with that role.”

You seem to be cast as certain types. Is that frustrating? “For many years, I was always the wayward person, the criminal, the loveable rogue, or something like that. That became tiring, but in the Australian film industry, you can’t really fight that kind of stuff. Work is work, and that’s what you’re here for. For me, there’s no in between; it’s either the clown, the funny guy, or the bad guy. There’s no middle ground for me.”

Justin Rosniak with Steve Le Marquand in Broke
Justin Rosniak with Steve Le Marquand in Broke

How did Broke come around? “I got a personal email from [actor] Steve Le Marquand, who said that I’d be great for a particular role.”

You steal every one of your scenes in Broke; your character, Neck, isn’t just a standard issue bad guy… “Thanks! Being older, I have more awareness now of the story, and how an audience engages with it. I want to find something in my character that the audience will like, otherwise they’ll turn it off because this guy gives them the shits.”

And Dick’s Clinic was a chance to do a lead role… “First of all, the story was just fantastic. It’s about a guy whose psychologist goes to the loony bin, and he decides that he’s sane enough to start his own practice from his shed out the back. He waits for the plebs from the local neighbourhood to roll through and have a smoke and a drink and to talk about their problems. Playing the leading role was a bit daunting because of the responsibility to the story, to the audience, and to the fellow actors. As silly and dicky as some of the stuff is in there, I always tried to keep a normality to it.”

You obviously had a relationship with [director] David Michod from having worked on Animal Kingdom, which presumably led to you being cast in War Machine…how was it working on this big budget production? “I remember heading off set quite a few times to get my own water or a cup of tea, and the AD runs up saying, ‘You stay there! Whatever you want, anytime, just ask.’ It was hard to swallow at first, because on an Australian set, it’s, ‘Who wants a coffee or water?’ when you’re on your way anywhere…that’s just the way it is. So getting my head around that was strange…next I’ll be throwing a hissy fit and locking myself in my trailer.”

Justin Rosniak in Down Under
Justin Rosniak in Down Under

How did you get cast? “I got an email from Dave. We have a pretty good relationship. In Bondi, he buys his vegetables from my stepfather at the markets. We’d see each other on quite a regular basis on those terms, and you always have a bit of a yarn about what’s up and coming. It was very casual. My character is the only Australian in the film; he’s an Australian commanding officer at The International Security Assistance Force or whatever they’re called. David’s always been very clear about what he wants, and he did a lot of work to get me over there. I felt very spoiled in terms of how it all came about. All of a sudden, I’m jumping on a flight overseas to work on a $60 million film to do a couple of scenes with the biggest bloody star in the world. So I felt very lucky. And that goes back to having a relationship with Dave. I didn’t even know how it started, but it was on a role that I didn’t get. It came down to me and Brendan Donoghue for The Square. I didn’t get that role, but I got a call from my agent a few months later saying that David Michod wants to cast me in his short film, Netherland Dwarf. I had no idea why. I turned up on set and asked, ‘Dave, why am I here?’ And he said, ‘I was in the audition room for The Square…I was shooting the making-of doco for the DVD.’ That’s how it started. It’s a small industry, and if you love what you’re doing, you keep chipping away and everything counts…even when you don’t get the role.”

Do you hope that this role, along with Dick’s Clinic, Broke, and Down Under, will lay a foundation for your future as an actor? “You basically want to get yourself in a position where you can self-sustain. Not asking too much, but you just want to be able to support your family. I’ve got two girls – one’s thirteen, and the other is eighteen months – and it basically comes down to that. But at the same time, you love doing what you do. It’s like all of us. You want to be able to self-sustain on something that you love doing. The more roles that come up that do well can only be a good thing. And that’s pretty much where it’s at for me.”

Down Under is released in cinemas on August 11. Broke is screening throughout NSW, Queensland, and New Zealand in August. For all dates and ticketing information, head to Broke’s official website. For more on Dick’s Clinic, head to the official website.


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