Australia’s 50 greatest actors (40 to 31): From Aaron Pedersen to Elizabeth Debicki and Richard Roxburgh

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Hugely talented, these actors are the best of the best.
Hugely talented, these actors are the best of the best. Credit: Olivia Desianti

Here are The Nightly’s top 50 Australian actors — some are up-and-comers, some are legends. What they all have in common is their skill in making us making us cry, laugh and rage.

We’ll reveal 10 names each day, so come back throughout the week to see who took out the top spot.


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Aaron Pedersen has played his iconic role of Detective Jay Swan four times, in two films (Mystery Road and Goldstone) and on two seasons of TV. The tough but empathetic cop has a rugged magnetism, harking back to a bygone era, but without the unsavoury attitudes – and Pedersen infuses the character with gravitas and personal history. It’s a character worthy of an actor with depth, who has spent most of his career as a reliable face in myriad procedurals but is now finally getting the meaty roles his talents deserve.

Must watch: Mystery Road (iView, Stan), Wildside (DVDs on eBay), The Secret Life of Us (Prime, Netflix)

TOD TV Mystery Road - Aaron Pedersen
Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road. Credit: John Platt


It’s not easy to be precocious and charming at the same time but Angourie Rice has been striking that balance since her breakout performance in The Nice Guys, playing Ryan Gosling’s daughter and opposite Russell Crowe. Holding her own against two acting heavyweights, Rice’s agile talents propelled her into more big projects including as Kate Winslet’s angsty teen in Mare of Easttown. Her outsized charisma and warmth has also seen her performances rise above mediocre projects including Ladies in Black, Senior Year and The Last Thing He Told Me.

Must watch: The Nice Guys (Netflix, Stan), Mare of Easttown (Binge Foxtel), Mean Girls (cinemas)

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Angourie Rice in a scene from "Mean Girls." (Jojo Whilden/Paramount via AP)
Angourie Rice was the lead in the Mean Girls remake. Credit: Jojo Whilden/AP


A relatively latecomer to the acting game (he was in his 30s before he nabbed his first screen credit), Rob Collins already has a series of memorable performances under his belt, including the quietly captivating intruder Yadaka in The Drover’s Wife and a man wrongly suspected of his sister’s disappearance in Limbo. In between, Collins has been a charismatic presence on the small screen, putting his charm and NIDA training to use in the likes of Glitch, Mystery Road and RFDS, and stealing every scene he’s in.

Must watch: Firebite (SBS, AMC+), Limbo (iView), Cleverman (digital purchase)

Rob Collins hosts The First Inventors, coming to NITV and Ten.
Rob Collins was also the host of The First Inventors. Credit: TheWest


Anna Torv doesn’t go for the easy, likeable role. When it comes to flawed women with a righteous soul but a prickly exterior, Torv understands how to render these characters real and relatable, even as they sometimes behave in ways that could turn off the audience. There’s The Newsreader’s Helen Norville, someone who is often her own worst enemy, Secret City’s Harriet Dunkley, a political reporter who isn’t afraid to poke the bear, and, of course, in David Fincher’s superb, suspenseful crime series The Mindhunter as the clinical professor Wendy Carr, whose interior life is full of fire.

Must watch: Mindhunter (Netflix), The Newsreader (iView), The Last of Us (Binge, Foxtel)

Anna Torv in Secret City
Anna Torv in Australian political thriller Secret City. Credit: Supplied


By the time Mia Wasikowska nabbed the title role in Tim Burton’s live-action remake of Alice in Wonderland, the Canberra-born actor had already impressed American audiences in the HBO series In Treatment. Her nuanced and understated performances and an instinct for interesting projects saw her work with cinema masters including David Cronenberg (Map to the Stars), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) and Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak). Her Jane Eyre in Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 version pulsed with quiet intensity, speaking to Wasikowska’s ability to impose her presence without ever making it known.

Must watch: Jane Eyre (Binge), Judy and Punch (digital rental), Bergman Island (Foxtel)

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in the 2011 movie production.
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Mia Wasikowska in Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre. Credit: Supplied


Sophie Wilde is only at the start of what should be a promising and long career but what an impact she’s already made in a handful of years. On the TV side, Wilde has had lead roles in British miniseries You Don’t Know Me, Tom Jones and Everything Now (and was nominated for a BAFTA Rising Star award). But it’s the past 12 months that’s really propelled the star. In particular, everyone took notice of her grief-fuelled performance as Mia in the Australian horror Talk to Me, an indie that went on to make $US90 million worldwide and she beat out Cate Blanchett at the AACTA Awards.

Must watch: Talk to Me (Netflix), Boy Swallows Universe (Netflix), Everything Now (Netflix)

Sophie Wilde in Talk to Me.
Sophie Wilde won an AACTA for her role in Talk to Me. Credit: A24


Jason Clarke is another actor who has had so much success in the US for the past two decades, many don’t realise he’s even Australian and was once a steady presence on our TV screens on the likes of Blue Heelers and Stingers. His role as the compromised politician brother of a gangster in American series Brotherhood supercharged his big screen career, which has seen him work with Christopher Nolan, Damien Chazelle and Kathryn Bigelow. Clarke is not a loud presence, but he’s a memorable one.

Must watch: Mudbound (Netflix), Chappaquiddick (digital rental), First Man (Prime, Binge)

Film stills from Chappaquiddick
Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick. Credit: Supplied


Elizabeth Debicki’s first prominent roles (as Jordan in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and opposite Cate Blanchett in a stage production of The Maids) were an indication of the things to come. From the goofy comedy of The Man from UNCLE and Guardians of the Galaxy to the sensual and thrilling performances in The Night Manager and The Burnt Orange Heresy, Debicki has shown a grasp of depth and levity. But it’s her sensitive and nuanced performance of the emotionally tortured Princess Diana in The Crown that has been her greatest triumph to date.

Must watch: The Crown (Netflix), The Night Manager (digital purchase) and Widows (Stan, Mubi)

Elizabeth Debicki arrives at the 81st Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Elizabeth Debicki won a SAG for her performance in The Crown. Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP


As the spiky and fierce Rhonda, Rachel Griffiths stole almost every scene she appeared in in Muriel’s Wedding, and her performance won her both the AFI and international attention, following that up with Cosi, Hillary and Jackie and My Friend’s Wedding. Successful stints on American TV included the long-running Brothers and Sisters and Six Feet Under, one of the most well-regarded dramas of the 21st century. Her performance as Brenda on SFU led to an appreciation of Griffith’s depth for complex portrayals, something she put to great use as the ruthless PM in Total Control.

Must watch: Six Feet Under (Binge, Foxtel), Muriel’s Wedding (Stan, Foxtel), Hilary and Jackie (DVDs on eBay)

Great Southern Landscapes host Rachel Griffiths.
Rachel Griffiths has had a successful career in the US and Australia. Credit: Emma Louise Murray/TheWest


Richard Roxburgh is well-known for his roles playing real-life Australian figures, including former PM Bob Hawke and his chilling portrayal of notorious corrupt cop Roger Rogerson. We know that when it comes to drama, Roxburgh can frighten us, move us and earn our respect. But, in some ways, it’s his comedic performances that are the most beguiling, from the foppy, cuckolded Duke in Moulin Rouge to the acerbic, irreverent and self-destructive Cleaver Greene in Rake, a series he co-created. An adaptable talent for all seasons.

Must watch: Rake (Netflix, Stan, iView, 7Plus), Blue Murder (Netflix) and Moulin Rouge (Disney)

Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh) is on the wrong side of the prison fences in the season three premiere of Rake
Richard Roxburgh in Rake. Credit: Lachlan Moore/ABC TV


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