Robert Rabiah makes a comeback in ‘Below’

Robert Rabiah in ‘Safe Harbour’

After a self-imposed exile, Robert Rabiah is returning to the screen early next year in Maziar Lahooti’s Below, an action-drama set in a refugee detention centre.

The actor decided he needed a break after playing Bilal in Matchbox Pictures’ SBS miniseries Safe Harbour directed by Glendyn Ivin.

Bilal’s brother Ismail (Hazem Shammas) and sister-in-law Zahra (Nicole Chamoun), Iraqi asylum seekers, were struck by tragedy when their nine-year-old daughter died after their vessel sank.

Rabiah tells IF: “Bilal was such a draining character to play. Even though a lot of scenes didn’t make the cut (normal, in order to get it to a TV duration), feeling my stomach turn every morning was intense and I just needed to travel for a while.”

Produced by Nick Batzias of Good Thing Productions, Veronica Gleeson and Kate Neylon and due to shoot in WA in January, Below stars Ryan Corr as Dougie, a directionless dreamer who is recruited to work in the detention centre. He soon discovers the centre is home to a Fight Club-style underground operation where detainees are blackmailed into fighting, which awakens his dormant conscience.

Anthony LaPaglia is Dougie’s stepfather Terry, the centre’s security manager. Alison Whyte is Cheryl, Dougie’s mum, with Phoenix Raei as Azad, a detainee and fighter. Zenia Starr is Imogen, a social worker, with Morgana O’Reilly as Michelle, a detention centre guard who is Terry’s offsider.

Rabiah has been cast as King Ciggy, a prize-fighter who was one of the first arrivals at the detention centre and is burdened with the task of keeping order among the detainees.

He is looking forward to teaming again with Corr after Ali’s Wedding and with Raei, who directed and wrote 7 Storeys Down, a drama which co-starred Raei and Kate Lister.

Most of all he is excited about the opportunity to work with LaPaglia, his childhood idol, observing: “I remember watching him as a kid in a TV movie called Frank Nitti: The Enforcer back in 1988 and you couldn’t take your eyes off him – such a formidable screen persona. The only lines I’ve been rehearsing is saying my name correctly. I have this recurring nightmare that I shake his hand, open my mouth, and no words come out…”

Next year Rabiah will also be seen in Foxtel/Matchbox Pictures’ Secret City: Under the Eagle. Directed by Tony Krawitz and Daniel Nettheim, the sequel to Secret City again stars Anna Torv, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Cormack, Rob Collins, Sacha Horler and Marcus Graham.

In the six-part political thriller Rabiah plays Sami Almasi, a shady Canberra businessman who is the main antagonist to Torv’s Harriet Dunkley, the former journalist who, after being released from jail, discovers a military and political cover-up.