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He's Ba-ack!

Bill Hunter climbs aboard Priscilla after 13 years

He's Ba-ack!

By Diana Simmonds

The description "icon" is overworked in a society where "awesome" can be used to describe anything from a gelato to a tsunami. But if there is an awesome icon - other than Uluru - it is that other force of Australian nature: Bill Hunter.

With a career as the archetypal rock-solid, good old Aussie bloke that goes back to 1978's Newsfront, Hunter is as familiar as a favourite uncle - or granddad - to generations of Australian. His credits include Strictly Ballroom, Muriel's Wedding, The Last Days of Chez Nous, Kangaroo Jack rugged commercials for, among others, BHP and the ALP, and, possibly most delightfully, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

In Priscilla Hunter played Bob, the outback motor mechanic who falls for gorgeously tragic trany Bernadette (Terence Stamp). It was one of the less likely and more charming romances ever committed to film. And now, Hunter is doing something rare in showbiz: returning to a role after more than a decade in the stage musical version: Pricilla Queen of the Desert: the Musical.

"I think it's probably unique," Hunter says. "I can't ever recall a film that became a stage show." For Hunter, being offered the role of Bob while his mate of many years Michael Caton takes a well-earned holiday, was "a real curve. I had little time to think about it, said yeah, I'll do it. I can do it. Then I thought - jeez, you've taken on something here. It's not the words, it's the mechanics of the thing."

He's not talking about the innards of the temperamental old bus that he nurses through the outback to the Alice, by the way, but the tightly choreographed, well-tuned Ferrari that is the major musical.

"That's right, it's so complicated. I spend more time running around backstage than I do on it and I have to remember where I'm going and where I am!"

Hunter is quietly at ease with his role as the macho man who falls for a transsexual whose heyday was Carlotta's Les Girls, the Cross and wolf-whistling soldiers. It's touching, grounded and somehow very Australian.

"I knew Carlotta very well back then," he says. "I see her from time to time and she's still something. I think attitudes have changed a lot since those days. I mean, who'd a thought the Mardi Gras would start - and then become the biggest gay event in the world? It says a lot about tolerance and it's the same as the ridiculous attitudes towards Muslims now."

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