As Rake gets political reboot, Roxburgh fires up

In a grand old sandstone mansion in Sydney's northern suburbs, Richard Roxburgh is back filming a much-loved role.

The actor-producer is returning as Cleaver Greene for a new season of the hit ABC series Rake. Only instead of being a charmingly roguish criminal barrister, he has become a charmingly roguish independent senator.

"It's always a pleasure," Roxburgh says about getting back to what he calls Rakeland. "We're all so used to the lie of the land that it's always just great to crack all those characters out again."

He thinks politics was the logical next step for the narcissistic Greene as the series moved into a fifth season.

"There was a great playground in law because it's full of eccentric people who are highly self-opinionated and it has an air of pomposity," Roxburgh says.

"Well, what's the next step up from that? Politics has certainly opened up a great new frontier for us."

As well as Curzon Hall in Marsfield, the series has been filming at what Roxburgh describes as "various strip joints and strange locations" that double for Canberra, including apartments around Sydney Olympic Park. The production will head to the real Canberra for exterior filming before shooting wraps in 10 weeks.

Continuing the tradition of casting stars - among them Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Jack Thompson and Rachel Griffiths - the new season has Anthony LaPaglia as the US Secretary of Defence, Jane Turner as a conservative politician and William McInnes as the minister for homeland security.

Fellow producer Peter Duncan calls the new season a reboot - Rake 2.0.

"There is a lot to parody because of the ridiculous state of our politics but the story is still about Cleaver," he says. "He unwittingly creates chaos, gets involved in cross party factional nightmares and there are assassination attempts."

The new series has Helen Thomson (Top Of The Lake: China Girl) as the prime minister, though Duncan says there will be no less than five PMs over the season.

After a day of filming, it's clear that Roxburgh remains upset about an issue that has followed the series for years - criminal barrister Charles Waterstreet's claim to be the inspiration for the character.

"It gets up our nose when he's suddenly in the papers for things and hashtagging Rake this andRake that, especially since none of us have seen hide nor hair of him for years," he says.

Two weeks ago, when allegations emerged that Waterstreet had sexually harassed a young paralegal and personal assistant, Roxburgh declared that Greene was an entirely fictional creation.

Having discussed making a series about "a brilliant, mercurial but deeply flawed character" for years, Roxburgh and Duncan approached Waterstreet, a friend of a friend, and agreed to credit him as co-creator when he contributed a story that they adapted for one episode. But that proved to be his only contribution to the series.

Responding that Roxburgh was "a brilliant actor but poor historian", Waterstreet pointed to a 2008 episode of Australian Story that had the actor saying he would be playing "a younger, much more dashing and handsome version of Charles" in a series loosely based on Waterstreet's life.

Roxburgh now describes that episode as a tongue-in-cheek attempt by friends and acquaintances to "big up" the barrister more than two years before Rake actually reached the screen, accusing Waterstreet of clinging to the comment ever since "with the zeal of a desert apostle".

"If Rake is supposed to be a biographical work of Charles Waterstreet then we should hang our heads in shame because we've done an incredibly shoddy job: not a single character in Rake is drawn from his life, not a single event, there is only one half of a court case described that he was involved in (and it didn't go to trial, as opposed to our show)," he says.

"Rake could equally be claimed as a biographical work of Phyllis Diller, Andre Rieu or His Serene Highness Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg."

Roxburgh says Waterstreet gets a payment for each season plus another one when they sold the rights for a US remake in 2013.

"Every series he gets paid precisely what Peter Duncan and I get paid as co-creators, only we haven't even crossed paths for a great many years," he says. "He has done exceptionally well for somebody who told us a good story."

Roxburgh says he has learnt a lesson from the experience.

"When we first started Rake, we made some decisions that we wouldn't make now," he says. "We were novices and we did and said stupid things that we wouldn't say now."

Waterstreet responded that it was not a time for temper tantrums, chest thumping or further comment.

"It's time to lay down swords that slay and let the past go," he says. "All I can say is that every episode carries Peter, Richard and my credits as co-creators ... I do, however, wish all in Rake 5 every good outcome."

This story As Rake gets political reboot, Roxburgh fires up first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.