A chat with the actor whose character sails up the Hawkesbury in Andrew Bovell’s award-winning adaptation.

Did you know Kate Grenville’s book when you were first asked to be in The Secret River? And how impressed were you by Andrew Bovell’s script?

I had read it and I, like so many, found it just so compelling. It was confronting. Andrew’s work takes place as the Thornhill’s are launching their journey to go up the Hawkesbury. So our tale starts at that point where William Thornhill has seen this piece of land as a blank page on which a man can write a new life. I think Andrew’s abstraction of Kate’s novel is really quite incredible. He has really written a story that is based around twofamilies, so he’s given the Dharug people a voice within it.

Nathaniel Dean and Toby Challenor in rehearsals for The Secret River. Rehearsal photos by Hon Boey

The character of William Thornhill takes a massive emotional journey. Do you think his story was unique or was he kind of typical of that period?

I think it’s a very common tale from that time. These convicts...