Rob Parker – from Grand Final forward to Leicester Square’s red carpet
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If you’ve been watching the BBC’s primetime hit drama Taboo starring Tom Hardy, look closely and you’ll spot another familiar face on screen.
For most Rugby League players, the closest they come to starring on Saturday night primetime television is a Grand Final appearance but for Rob Parker, his time to shine has come post-retirement.
The former Super League front-rower did make a solitary Old Trafford appearance during his playing career but in the early part of 2017, Parker has become a Saturday night regular starring alongside close friend Tom Hardy in the BBC drama series Taboo.
Appearing for the first time in episode five of the eight-part series, Parker plays the role of Cole, a member of a gang of smugglers in early-19th century London led by a character called Atticus, played by Stephen Graham.
But how did a former Rugby League player from Bolton end up sharing a screen with the likes of Hardy, Graham and other international movie stars?
He was first introduced to Hollywood A-Lister Hardy through mutual friends at a corporate shooting event in Shrewsbury in late-2014.
“We were in a valley in the middle of nowhere, with no phone signal or anything,” he told Rugby League World.
“There was just me and him around and we were sharing stories, telling jokes, just being normal blokes.
“I was telling him a few rude things that had happened in rugby changing rooms and he just asked me if I’d ever done any acting before.
“So I told him, in not such a polite way, to go away.
“But he just turned round and told me that he could get me in a new series that was coming up and that he thought I’d be really good.”
The unlikely pair exchanged numbers and kept in touch before Parker received a call from Hardy’s personal assistant inviting him and his wife to the premiere of the movie Legend in Leicester Square.
“I’d never been to a premiere or anything like that before, so I thought let’s have it.
“We drove down to London and had an amazing time.
“I’ve played in front of over 70,000 people at Old Trafford and the Millennium Stadium but this was a different kind of buzz.
“It was a real adrenaline rush and a moment to cherish.
“And for probably the biggest British actor in the world at the moment to send me a message thanking me for coming was a really nice touch.
“I must’ve passed the test because I then got an invite to The Revenant premiere.”
After rubbing shoulders with the film industry’s elite on the red carpet, it was back to life as commercial manager at Bradford Bulls, where during a sponsorship shoot with a commercial partner in the city’s centre, Parker received another unexpected call.
“It was from a number I didn’t recognise but never wanting to miss an opportunity, I answered.
“It was a guy claiming to be the executive director of Taboo, asking me if I’d like to be in the show.
“So, thinking it was my mates trying to wind me up, I told him where to go.
“But he rang back and that was where it all started.
“I’d already handed in my notice at the Bulls because I wanted a change of career, so the timing couldn’t have been any better.
“I went down to London the following week for a wardrobe and make up test – I think I probably got the role because they thought they could save a bit of money on make-up – did a couple of shoots and it all went really well.
“I didn’t call any favours in from Tom and paid for my own hotel.
“I didn’t turn up demanding pink M&Ms and water from a thousand virgins or anything like that.
“I thought I’ll turn up, do what’s asked of me and just enjoy it.”
He did enjoy it, and so did Hardy and the rest of the directors.
Suddenly, what was expected to be a week of filming became in excess of a month in the role of Cole.
“Tom sent me a text and told me that I was better than he thought I’d be and asked me if I’d like to do more filming.
“And if Tom asks you if you want to do more filming, you’ve got to take that opportunity.
“I’d started a new job and it was hard because it was nowhere near as fun as riding around the country on horses shooting and stabbing people.
“On set, I was playing cowboys and Indians again and it was amazing.
“There were a few scenes that I did where we had to kill a few people.
“Tom and all the other directors called me into this room where they were watching it back and I was walking in thinking what have I done wrong.
“One of the directors said, ‘Parker, this is brilliant acting!’
“I turned around and said I wasn’t acting, I wanted to kill him.
“Because I’ve been paid to be physical and fight for a living as a rugby player, it just came so naturally.”
Enjoying his new role as general manager at ambitious Championship side Swinton Lions, Parker’s focus in on the new season but his desire to be a success at whatever he tries his hand at means the door to an acting return is most certainly ajar.
“I can’t play rugby anymore.
“I’m a bit too old and I’m losing half a finger, but I still want to be successful and I still want to win at everything.
“It’s something you never lose and I never want to lose it.
“I never started out wanting to be an actor.
“I wanted to be a Rugby League player.
“I wanted to be Super League player, I wanted to play for my country and I wanted to win the Challenge Cup.
“I did all that.
“And now I’ve had a taste of acting, I’d definitely be keen to do more.
“But if nothing ever happens again, I can turn around to my grandkids and tell them that I was in a TV series with Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott was the director.”
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