Rob Mills, performer, Bang! Bang!
Going to see something live is so inspiring – whether it’s a stand up comedian trying out some new gags, or a play that’s thought provoking and new, or a musical that’s showcasing some of the best talent in the world ...
It seems like an age since the first season of Australian Idol broke television records in 2003, but its undeniable that the show has spawned numerous household names. Rob Mills was undoubtedly one of the most beloved members of the finalist cohort – winning over audiences with his cheeky smile and lovable demeanour. Since his time on the show, Rob has forged his own post-Idol success as a performer of stage and screen. These days, Rob is a fixture of Australia’s musical theatre scene having scored notable roles in Grease – The Arena Spectacular, Wicked and Legally Blonde. Rob will be performing at Brisbane Festival alongside Australian theatre legend Rhonda Burchmore for Bang! Bang!, Rhonda’s jam-packed show of sassy entertainment. Before he takes the stage, we chased him down to discuss life after reality television, the transition to television and what Rhonda has in store for us all.
Judging by your vibrant career so far, it seems like you were born to be a performer! Can you remember your first time entertaining a crowd?
The first time I entertained a proper crowd – that wasn’t just my family – I was nine years old at my school’s end of year concert. There were bands, dancing and singing at the school hall – I sang a song called ‘I Believe’ by Blessed Union of Souls – who later went on to create ‘Hey, Leonardo’, which is an awesome track!
Usually a life performing in front of crowds is a calling, rather than a mere occupation. At what point did you decide working in the performing arts industry was something you couldn’t deny?
At the end of grade 10, I changed schools because my high school didn’t have music or drama. My dad was always cautious and made sure I had a backup plan, so I completed an electrical apprenticeship. When I got out of school and realised I was colourblind, my plans had to change so I ended up working in a factory and doing a lot of labour jobs. On top of that though, I was always doing three to four gigs a week in bars and pubs at night. It was really after Australian Idol that I realised I could probably make a real go of music and performing.
You were thrust into the public limelight through the juggernaut that was Australian Idol. Post competition, how did you utilise the momentum to push forward with a career on your own terms?
I had a record deal and went into the studio and recorded for six months, wrote some songs and did a tour around the country. That was quite short lived and my record label didn’t continue my contract. I went back to labouring and did some pub gigs here and there – I think it was 2005 when I met some musical theatre people and did Grease – The Arena Experience. I went on to see some shows at the West End in 2016 and really fell in love with musical theatre from there.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the transition from your break on Idol to the world of theatrical performance?
Growing up as a 20-something but having to do it in the public eye. The general public had an idea of who I was but I had no idea – I was self-conscious and trying to figure out my way in life. That was definitely the most challenging thing – working out who I was, what I wanted to do and how I wanted to get there.
You’ve amassed an impressive resume of roles! What would you say is a career highlight for you?
It has to be getting into Wicked – I’m really proud to have been part of the show. I worked really hard and completed four auditions over four months – all cast by an American creative team. Having the opportunity to be the original hero in a story I love so much was a big deal. Wicked teaches young people all about being different, and really reinforces female empowerment – without wicked, there’d be no Frozen, and girls wouldn’t grow up thinking they don’t need a man to save the day. Wicked has changed a lot of lives around the world.
We’re excited to catch you at the Brisbane Festival when you guest star in Rhonda Burchmore’s new show Bang! Bang! How did you come to be involved in the show?
I got a phone call form the producer asking if I wanted to be part of the show, I checked my calendar and I was in! I would never say no to Rhonda – she’s a theatre stage legend. When Rhonda calls, you just say yes.
We hear that audiences will be in for a wild time – what can we expect from the performance?
We start rehearsals on Monday – Rhonda’s kept me in the dark, so I don’t really know what to expect. All I can say is, I looked at the costumes and I’m in chaps and a cowboy hat at one point. Of course, there’s plenty of great songs – a lot of 80s and 90s bangers – and a lot of circus and dance. It’s going to be a great time!
You’ve also recently appeared on our screens as part of the Neighbours cast – what do you love most about acting for the screen as opposed to stage?
I love them both, but they’re so different. With TV like Neighbours, you’re still storytelling but you’re trying to make realness out of something that’s heightened on paper. I’ve been really excited and proud to be part of Australia’s longest-running TV show. Growing up in that area of Victoria in Melbourne, the set was always just down the road from me. I’ve had the best time and have thoroughly enjoyed playing the villain, when I so often play the hero!
As far as your stage career goes, are there any iconic productions that you’d love to play a part in down the road?
The Last 5 Years was another bucket list performance – but I did that as well (laughs). There’s a new show that’s out in America called Waitress, which I loved when I saw it, and it would be incredible to be part of.
What is something that is a source of inspiration for you these days?
Any kind of theatre, film or storytelling! Going to see something live is so inspiring – whether it’s a stand up comedian trying out some new gags, or a play that’s thought provoking and new, or a musical that’s showcasing some of the best talent in the world. Any time I go out, I try to see as much live theatre as possible. It’s thrilling, and I wish there was more new Australian work coming out.