Bill Young: Water Rats

Veteran actor Bill Young (Hacksaw Ridge, Chopper, The Matrix) appeared in the first 19 episodes of Water Rats as Chief Inspector Clarke Webb. TV Flashback caught up with Bill to learn more about his short run on the highly successful action series.

1) How did you become involved with Water Rats?

It was through a standard audition process. I think my agent had done quite a sell on me to Hal McElroy the producer and so the audition at Faith Martins (the casting director) went well. I remember feeling good about it when I left.

2) Any similarities between Clarke Webb and Bill Young?

Well…he looks like me and is exactly the same height! My career in this industry has seen me primarily play two types of characters – man of authority, and rural f*ckwit. Clarke Webb sat comfortably within the ‘man of authority’ parameters. I think my height (197cm) has convinced directors over the years that I would have a degree of authority. I have played many, many cop roles in my career – starting with a Probationary Constable in ‘Listen to the Lion’ in 1977, through to Chief Inspector in ‘Water Rats’ (1996), and then back to long serving Sergeant in ‘The Cut’ (2008)

3) What was it like playing a character that had a working class background but had risen to a senior role in the water police? Did that level of depth make it easier or harder to play Clarke Webb?

It’s always easier when there is a career arc for a character rather than just a description. We received a detailed personal history of each character which was handy. Much better than the familiar ‘he’s a hard but fair man’.

4) Your character had a strong relationship with Frank (Colin Friels) and Goldie (Catherine McClements), what was it like to work closely with Colin and Catherine?

Friels and I got on well and scenes with him were always enjoyable. We both had a healthy degree of cynicism about the industry and I think that’s where we clicked. Both Colin and Catherine were highly professional and a pleasure to work with which makes life easier on the set with a tight schedule.

5) Water Rats was a big action series, did you want to be more involved in the action scenes or were you happy mostly staying at water police HQ?

I would’ve loved doing more action stuff out on location around Sydney Harbour but as the boss my stuff tended to be in the office or in a hallway. It was always a pleasure to go to work on Goat Island – lovely way to start the day! A coffee, a boat ride, and then a wander around the island – what could be better? In the opening double episode I actually did get to do a bit of action, but as the schedule tightened, things started to become more office bound. In fact even the divers spent less and less time in the water.

6) What was it like shooting on Sydney Harbour day in and day out? Did you ever get bored of the view?

Never. It was a glorious location. One thing however was problematic. One would think that being isolated on a small island on Sydney Harbour would be quite quiet and good for the sound recordist, but that was not the case. Water, harbour traffic and trains crossing the bridge is VERY noisey. We had to be miked very tightly and pitch up if we were outside the Water Rats’ offices.

7) The shooting schedule for Water Rats was very gruelling, how did the cast and crew cope with the long days?

It was tough for others, in particular the principals, but not so much for me. Some days might be flat out, but generally Clarke Webb wasn’t worked too hard! However those like the divers and the boat crew would sometimes spend a long day out on the harbour and in the sun and that would certainly see them earning the money.

8) Your character left Water Rats in the first series, was this always planned? How did you feel about your character leaving early on? Do you feel that Clarke had more to give?

It was always planned that way. I knew I was only doing the first series. I was very happy with that because Webb was just a supporting character and I didn’t wish to be typecast as that character as that makes it hard to get future work. Also I believe the series slowly went downhill the longer it went. I think the first 26 eps really represented the show well. The longer it went it just became yet another cop show – the hook of having divers and boats and Sydney Harbour receded, and the ‘water rats’ element disappeared. If the role of Clarke Webb had expanded, rather than as it was (desk bound and “I’ll have your badge, Frank!”), then I could possibly have been convinced to stay, but I was very happy with the decision to leave when I did.

9) Out of the 19 episodes you worked on, did you have a favourite? Or a favourite storyline?

Nope – not really. Maybe the marriage bust up was an interesting one for me, as Webb could be seen in a different light, rather than just ‘The Boss’. Working with Linden Wilkinson and Liz Birch was a nice change – lover and (ex) wife.

10) What made Water Rats different from other productions you’ve worked on?

The location. Pure and simple. It had a point of difference and Sydney Harbour is also one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Also having Colin Friels on board was terrific as he added serious cred to the show. Colin’s a fascinating actor to watch and to work with. We became pretty good mates. I shot a short film with him a few years later and it was great to catch up.

11) What will you treasure most from your time working on Water Rats, from both a professional and personal perspective?

My ‘Clarke Webb’ desk nameplate that the art department gave me! Sits proudly in my office. But seriously, it was a great experience to work with a professional ensemble of actors and watch a greaty crew work seamlessly to a very tight schedule.

12) What have you been up to recently?

I continue doing voiceover work on a regular basis and have just finished a 12 week run in a new David Williamson play which was highly successful – packed houses. And I’ve had the good fortune to appear in films such as The Great Gatsby and Hacksaw Ridge, as well as on TV in shows such as House of Bond and Rake. I also co-directed a documentary, A Very Short War, for The History Channel and the ABC. So, can’t complain – get you nowhere, anyway!

You can purchase the complete Water Rats on DVD here.

Thanks to Bill Young for a great interview. You can see Bill in action in Water Rats below: