From Australian Idol to musical theatre to television screens, Rob Mills is a triple threat. He chats with Anna Rawlings about his career, that Paris Hilton fling, and how he’s dancing through life to find his place on centre stage.
Back in 2003, as a pre-teen I remember watching Australian Idol and being somewhat enamoured with Rob ‘Millsy’ Mills, the cheeky, handsome, unofficial ‘bad boy’ poster child of the first season of the show.
So it’s a pinch-myself moment to watch the 33-year-old, now-established performer stride towards me across the foyer of a Noosa resort.
He was in town for the Noosa Long Weekend Festival to perform his hit one-man cabaret show Rob Mills Is … Surprisingly Good, the title drawn from ‘surprisingly good’ reviews of the early performances.
“It (the show) is my life story from back when I was a kid wanting to be a footy player and dare I say it, the ‘journey’ from Idol to finding my way into musical theatre and finding my own voice,” Rob explains.
Growing up in Melbourne, Rob studied music and drama, and was part of both an original and a cover band singing a few nights a week, covering Creed to Pearl Jam.
I was literally dancing through life trying to find my purpose.”
“I loved the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins as a kid, and my grandma would have those old school movies like High Society so I’ve always loved musicals,” says Rob.
At 21 years old, Rob auditioned for Australian Idol, something he credits with giving him a “leg up”, and after finishing in the top five, he was signed to a label, released a single, then debut album, and away from entertainment, made headline news during a publicised fling with Paris Hilton at the Melbourne Cup, something he covers in Surprisingly Good.
“I need to say it to put it to bed,” he reveals, somewhat ironically. “I get asked about it everyday, what’s unfortunate is sometimes it’s when I’m with my partner, but she’s fine with it. But I do talk about it during the show, have a laugh, take the mickey out of myself.”
Post-Idol, Rob began to take singing, dancing and acting lessons, and small roles in productions, including a three-week performance of Hair (2007) and after multiple auditions and “time spent waiting by the phone” was picked for the role of Fiyero in Broadway blockbuster Wicked in 2008 for a two-year contract and over 500 shows in Melbourne and Sydney. This was followed by roles in Into the Woods (2010), The Last Five Years (2011), Legally Blonde in 2013 and Danny in Grease from 2013-15.
“Fiyero is probably my favourite character because I think at the time that was really me, sort of a lout, a rebellious kid, I was literally dancing through life trying to find my purpose,” Rob reflects.
“I really loved the character … he has morals in the end – he’s a good guy.”
Rob’s also forayed onto the small screen, most recently appearing in Channel Seven’s Peter Allen TV mini-series Not The Boy Next Door as Chris Bell, has television acting credits for Winners & Losers and Underbelly – Razor, and featured in shows from Celebrity Apprentice (2013), to The Project, Dancing With The Stars (2009) and The Footy Show; and went on to host Young Talent Time in 2012.
Fiyero is probably my favourite character because I think at the time that was really me, sort of a lout, a rebellious kid.”
“Young Talent Time was incredible and what a gift of a job to get, being handed the mantle of hosting and mentoring the kids,” Rob smiles.
As a reality television alumni himself, Rob appreciates quality mentors in the industry, counting Cameron Daddo as one of his own mentors after starring in Legally Blonde together, and reels off the inspiration of working with the likes of Maggie Kirkpatrick, Bert Newton, Todd McKenny and Rob Guest, and “incredible” musical directors Stephen Amos and Kelly Dickerson.
“I think musical theatre people are the most outrageously talented people in the country. They work so hard now, they are legitimate triple threats. They sing, dance, act and they party as well,” he laughs.
It was also through musical theatre that Rob met his longterm girlfriend, choreographer, actor and dancer Ellen Simpson, with the couple based out of Sydney as Rob pursues TV and film opportunities around the world, this year focusing on corporate work, playing Sam in Ghost the Musical, and wrapping up Surprisingly Good.
“The story itself has a shelf life – it’s all about me finding my voice and if I’m still singing it 10 years later, it’s probably, ‘why are you still doing Paris Hilton stories Rob?’, so time to move on from that,” he says.
“I will have to work on a new show, I don’t know what the next subject will be, as cabaret generally stems from your own experiences, but hopefully it’ll make people laugh – that’s what I want to do.”