Diversity Spotlight – Interview with actor Max Brown

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Max Brown is an Asian Australian actor (half Chinese-Singaporean / Anglo-Australian) known for his television roles as Robin Dawal in Neighbours, David Goldman in Glitch Series 2 and Kevin Dang in Secret City and the feature film We’re Not Here To Fuck Spiders (2017).

JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

MAX: Story telling. Everyone in the industry has personal goals, but I reckon one thing we share is that we all watched a film or TV show at some point in our lives that had an impact on us and we’re all looking to recapture the moment that moved us and give it back to audiences through story.

JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MAX: I was a bit starved for Asian representation so I grew up identifying with the majority white characters and actors on my screen, but thanks to my Aunty bringing over Hong Kong DVDS when she visited, I got to grow up watching Brigette Linn and Adam Cheng. That recent scandal where the Hollywood Casting Director said Asian actors were expressionless? They obviously never got to see Adam’s charm or Brigette’s depth and presence on screen. I watched their movies again and again as a kid and I still have them on high rotation today. I’ll also add Dante Brasco from Hook as a childhood role model! Such a bad ass. Ru-fi-ooo!

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JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MAX: I actually wanted to be a director and someone told me the best directors knew how actors worked, so I took a part time NIDA course which was being taught by Sam Worthington; he ended up convincing me to ditch directing and give acting a go. My first professional gig was a small part on Home and Away, which involved some complex blocking with cars and guns on my first day…it was a steep learning curve!

JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?

MAX: A lot of actor friends from diverse backgrounds who were struggling for ages are now getting auditions and booking roles and that’s not because they all coincidentally became better actors overnight, it’s because diverse roles are finally starting to be written. The key word there is “starting”. It’s not just about upping the numbers but specifically writing characters that challenge preconceptions across all minorities. I’ve still had to say no to racially stereotypical roles as recently as this year…so we still have a long way to go until we achieve true parity in the industry. But we’re on the right path.

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JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?

MAX: All my friends in this industry inspire me, because I see their constant struggle to be recognised and contribute. Watching them hold down multiple day jobs, deal with the constant rejection and disappointment while still pushing themselves to improve…that always amazes and inspires me.

JOY: What are you working on now?

MAX: Wrapped a small role on the second season of the ABC Netflix series Glitch earlier this year and just got back from LA where I was in the final rounds for a lead character in a TV new series.That was an opportunity that came about partly due to the push for diversity we’ve seen recently, they’re definitely looking for more Asian faces on screen internationally. Coming up, I have a role in a queer short film starring Ra Chapman from new director Chloe Wong. It’s a great script that pokes at society’s views on queer behaviour.

JOY: What is your dream role & why?

MAX: I’d like to remake one of those old Hong Kong movies like “Lover Beware” or “Swordsman II” which also starred Brigette- I think there’s nothing like them in the west and I’d love to bring the ideas and themes from the Chinese fantasy genre to a new viewership. Hero and Crouching Tiger opened that door but they both portray a very stoic interpretation of Asian heroic fiction, and I think the “smiling wanderer” trope would be fresh. It would be interesting to see how the role of a gender fluid character like the Dongfang Bubai would be cast today.

JOY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What do you think you’ll be doing?

MAX: Hopefully I’ll be a lot healthier than I am now haha. But I’m the worst with plans…I have no idea what next year looks like let alone 10! Helping to redefine the depiction of Asians in Western media and diversity in general, would be great.

JOY: What’s your advice for graduates / up and coming actors trying to get in the industry?

MAX: I’ve heard people call acting a marathon, and I reckon that’s good advice. Beyond talent and skill, succeeding in this business is about not giving up and outlasting those who do. Its hard and you’re going to hate it and have no money a lot of the time, but f you want it bad enough, you’ll eventually get a chance. Never give up and be ready for it when it comes.

 

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Interview with Michelle Lim Davidson about Australian Films, television & diversity.

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  1. What made you want to do acting as a career?

I started dance lessons when I was five & had a keen interest in singing too. Even though I was up on stage dancing in competitions almost every weekend I was extremely shy. Acting started for me when parents sent me to drama lessons to ‘bring me out of my shell’. It worked and I feel in love with acting. I never in a million years thought I would be an actress.

  1. What were the challenges you found when you started?

I graduated from WAAPA in 2010. At my graduation showcase I had some industry professionals tell me ‘As an asian girl you’ll never work on television, it’s not us it’s the networks they just won’t hire you’ and ‘You should learn karate if you want to have a career on film’. I was shocked, this may sound completely naive but during my time at drama school I was never aware that my ethnicity could possibly limit my future employment. Ironically I booked my first job on television and there was no karate required.

  1. Who were your role models growing and why?

I honestly can’t remember having specific role models growing up, I didn’t have any people in particular that I idolised. However there was a lot of people growing up who supported and encouraged me to believe in myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today without people like my dance teachers, high school drama teachers, my family & friends guiding and supporting me.

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4.What is your career highlight (or highlights?) & Why?.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on a diverse range projects. One highlight is being a presenter on Play School. I had one mother tell me her daughter was watching Play School & had never seen an Australian/Asian woman on tv. She was so excited & said‘Mummy she has the same eyes as me, one day i’m going to be on tv like Michelle’. It’s so amazing to hear your work can encourage & inspire a little girl who just wanted to see someone like her on the T.V.

  1. What do you think about Colourblind casting in Australia?

In my 6 years of being a professional actress I have witnessed many excellent changes in colourblind casting. For me i’ve never understood why it’s not just common sense to reflect the diversity of our society on stage and screen, it seems so straightforward in my mind. I hope in years to come this is no longer an issue. For now we need to continue to fight for diversity until we see equality for all who work in this industry.

  1. What do you think about the diversity issue in Australian TV/ Film / Theatre?

I like to remain positive about the diversity issues in our industry for I truly believe change is happening. I am also grateful for all the people who have campaigned for change over many years so artists like myself in recent years have had better opportunities to work in this industry. We still have a long way to go but i’m positive that we can continue to move forward. There is a keen and vigorous discussion around diversity in the industry which is exciting to be a part of. I find initiatives such as the Equity Diversity Committee very encouraging and inspiring and I would like to continue to be part of the change.

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  1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? (What do you want to achieve?).

This is a tricky question to answer for me. I haven’t thought about what i’m doing tomorrow let alone if 5 years time. I’m very much take each day as it comes along. I hope I still have to opportunity to act in tv/film/theatre. I hope I can venture overseas to the USA and challenge myself as an actress. I would like to continue to grow and become a better artist and I hope I’m doing an interview in the future about how diversity in the Australian entertainment industry is about how diversity in the Australian entertainment industry is no longer an issue.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Lim Davidson – Play School (ABC), Utopia, Goldstone

Interview with Australian martial artist & actor Maria Tran

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Maria Tran is an Australian-Vietnamese. Her work includes short films such as “Enter The Dojo”, “Gaffa”, “Hit Girls” as well as Hollywood legend, Roger Corman’s upcoming mix martial arts movie playing killer assassin Zhen. Tran also starred as Yoshiko in the Chinese action film “Death Mist” in 2014 starring Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle). In 2008 she acted in “Downtown Rumble” Kung Fu action micro-series on JTV-ABC TV and her short film “Gaffa”; another action comedy, won Hoyts People’s Choice Award for the Joy House Film Festival in 2013.

Maria Tran won a “Breakout Action Actress” award at the 2013 Action on Film International Festival for her portrayal of the character Charlie Vu in the female assassin comedy, “Hit Girls”. She also played supporting character “Mai Le” in Logie award-winning children’s ABC TV series “My Place”, stunt double for the character “Petal” in ABC’s TV series Maximum Choppage – Australia’s first Kung Fu comedy and acted in her first theatre production called “It’s War!” directed by Alex Lykos.

What made you want to do martial arts & acting as a career?

I recall growing up and being bullied quite often in school. I was called “Ching Chong” or “Gook” at times and the bullying became physical in an incident where I got slapped in the face, my hair pulled and I was shoved around a group of girls. The moment left me shocked, frustrated and confused why I was subjected to such treatment and it left me angry. My parents must of picked it up and suggested that I try martial arts to learn self defence to protect myself from those cases.

In 1998 I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do in a local school based in Cabramatta and become quite invested in it. Martial arts allowed me to let go of my external inhibitions, become stronger, with more focus and discipline. I performed my craft during school show and tells, spoke extensively about it, and I noticed that I carried myself differently; with a strong air of confidence and since that moment, no one ever confronted me again.

Acting came around in 2007 during a local project I produced called “Maximum Choppage”. It was an independent movie made by predominately Asian-Australians from Western Sydney. It was during this time that my acting bug was ignited and only several years later did I publicly embrace my passion in this, as prior I was unsure about my abilities and being Asian sometime means you have to make choices that also make your parents proud.

What were the challenges you found when you started?

I love martial arts but loathe begin boxed into this. After a string of martial arts short films and movies made in China and Vietnam, I was beginning to be labelled as the “kung fu girl” and nothing else. I was pigeon holed as a “stuntie” which I had no accreditation for, which in turned infuriated the stunt community as well. I wanted to be seen as an actor but didn’t have enough dramatic credits to show for as well as not formally trained. The challenges can be felt immensely when you are doing things the less conventional sense and going against the grain. I found that I had to gear myself psychological for the fight; the fight and rebuttal against all the subtle forms of racism that people often questioned if it was real or imagined.

Who were your role models growing and why?

My roles models stemmed from the martial arts action cinema of the 80s and 90s in Hong Kong. I grew up huddling around the TV during family gatherings to watch VHS tape of Jackie Chan’s latest flick or get excited seeing female fatale onscreen action queens such as Cynthia Khan, Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Film and television at that time was super white; a Country Practice, Neigbours and Home and Away with storytelling that just doesn’t gel with who I am. But Hong Kong cinema allowed me to think of the possibilities and the relief that Asian faces were heroes and heroines in their lives and adventure in other places in the world despite the dire lack in Australia.

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What has been your career highlight/ highlights?

My career highlight would have to be being invited to work with my long-term idol; Jackie Chan on the movie “Bleeding Steel” as it was shot in Sydney in mid 2016. Screen NSW gave me the call to take part as a stunt attachment and be around on set and learn the ropes. It was an insightful experience to see the difference between the Chinese way of filmmaking; which is fast pace and intuitive in comparison to the Australian way; which was much more structured and formal. Both had its pros and cons and seeing how cultural differences also affect how people relate to each other. Regardless, Jackie Chan is perhaps one of the most humbling person I’ve ever met. He takes on multi roles, works very hard, pushes himself and people and makes it a duty to look after everyone. It’s a reminder to me that if everyone took the time to implement what the value in human beings, the world would be a better place and things like “racism” just won’t exist.

What do you think about Colourblind casting in Australia? Are we getting better?

I think the Australian film industry have always been veered towards their Anglo-saxon audiences for decades, hence there’s always been an inequality between white and diverse actors. In addition, there are moments in the casting system that allows for ethnic roles to be taken away in favour for those who are privileged enough to enter prestige acting schools and can afford to focus on this craft for several years. From my experience, I’ve had several instances where I would see roles made for a particular culture casted to those from another ethnicity, quite possibly because “All Asians looks the same” mentality and if the majority of the Australian audiences can’t pick out the differences, then that’s fine. The truth stand that it is not, and I think there is a movement happening in Australia from the Asian demographics that with time, will lead to change.

What do you think about the diversity issue in Australian television / Film / Theatre?

It’s still an issue that affects all Asian actors as well as stories from this demographic. The issue is multifacet as well as still unexplored. I feel like sometimes when us Asians mention the word “diversity” we are perceived as attention seekers in the media eye. But this is what we want, and why is it such an issue when we raise our voices? Is it possibly because mainstream prefer to stereotype Asians as submissive, nerdy, quiet types? If this is so, I think we still need to continue the movement for change, inspire and activate more people in understanding the issues and find our own ways of representation.

Where do you see yourself in five years time? (What more do you want to achieve in your career?)

In the next 5 years I see myself internationally in China and Vietnam in both acting and filmmaking roles in their movie system. In 2015 I worked on Vietnamese blockbuster “Tracer” and this movie got released all over Vietnam as well as across Australian cinemas and it just shows that maybe to bring more diversity on Australian screens is to think laterally and work internationally. I still see Sydney, Australia as an anchor for my career and possibly delving in more TV series and movies roles as well. Of course there’s also the big smoke of Hollywood that I will venture off to; with broad imaginations that one-day I can also play a super hero of some sort.

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Interview with Aussie actor & Bollywood star Nicholas Brown

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Nicholas Brown is an Australian actor, singer, songwriter, and screenwriter. He grew up in the Western Sydney suburb of Greysteins. Nicholas attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts in years 11 and 12 as an auditioned drama student and is an acting graduate from Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art.

Qu.1. What made you want to be in the acting industry?

Music was the catalyst without a doubt. I was a child singer and did a lot of musicals when I was young. I sang in a professional boys choir and got a taste for showbiz through that. We did lots of gigs around Sydney and recorded albums with several singers. Through song lyrics I became interested in acting. I always loved drama classes when I was young but the entry point was definitely through musicals. My dad hired a video camera back in the eighties to film one of my school musicals  and we were able to have it in the house for a few days after. At seven, I had planned a film shoot with the kids up the road and I was going to use the hired video camera to direct and act in it. That’s when I first became interested in film making.
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Qu.2. Where are you based now and what are you working on?
I’m based in Sydney after a good nine years going back and forth between Mumbai and Los Angeles. Right now I’m in rehearsals for my self penned play Lighten Up for Griffin Independant. I’ve just finished shooting a feature in Arnhem Land called Myth which is an art house road trip film engaging with the Indigenous community in remote Northern Territory. This year I’ve also shot two Indian feature films. One Bollywood horror film called Prattichhaya  and the other a spy thriller called Sedition. Both will be released next year. I’m feeling very grateful as it’s been a good year.
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Qu.3. What is your favourite role in your career & why?
Sedition is the film that I just shot in the Himalayas. The character’s name is Shiva. It was by far the most challenging role I’ve played. In Australian film and TV I’m often a supporting role so it was refreshing to play a lead. It was extremely psychologically and physically challenging so in that sense it was my favourite. The experience was rather harrowing but in hindsight I think it’s my favourite role so far for those reasons. Other favourite roles would have to be Jesus in the Indian Jesus Christ Superstar, Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, Tony in the Bollywood film Kites and Sachin in Network Ten’s The Cooks.
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Qu.4. Who were your role models growing up and why?
In Australia there were no diverse actors on TV. My role models were all Caucasian actors. I didn’t actually realise I was ‘ethnic’ until I was older. A lot of my identity issues would have been dealt with in an easier way if I’d grown up looking up to other non Caucasian actors. If only I grew up watching Bollywood. That all came later.  In my early twenties Ben Kingsley became a huge role model. I remember feeling very inspired by Jay L’aagalia on Water Rats and by Deborah Mailman on Secret Life Of Us.
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Qu.5
 What do you think about colourblind casting in Australia? Do you think we’re doing enough?
We’ve been lagging behind for years. It’s something that has left me exhausted, frustrated but still hopeful. It’s a hot topic now and I’ve been vocal about it for sixteen years. I just get on with things these days. I’ve been slowly chipping away, creating my own work when doors were closed. Moving to India was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. If Australia didn’t have place for a brown actor then I would go somewhere that did. Things definitely are getting better and that makes me very happy. I’m all for quotas. I know it’s a controversial subject and that people argue that the best person for the job should get the job but in an industry saturated by Caucasians actors – all of those people seen as the best are white and have reached that point because of the way the industry once was. To create a diverse industry in the future I think we need quotas to get new diverse actors (who’ve been devoid of opportunity) trained and experienced so they can be the ‘best.’ Let’s reach a state of equality, then scrap the quotas, then the best person for the job can get the job.
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Nicholas Brown will be starring in Lighten Up which will be performed at Griffin Theatre. A play produced by Bali Padda and written by Nicholas Brown and Sam McCool.
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Crowd funding Pozible campaign for Lighten Up https://pozible.com/project/lighten-up
Crowd funding ends 4th November 2016.
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Director & Dramaturge

Shane Anthony

Cast

Katie Beckett, Nicholas Brown, Vivienne Garrett, Julie Goss, Sam McCool, Bishanyia Vincent

Producer Bali Padda | Stage Manager Lauren Tulloh

Set & Costume Design Tobhiyah Stone Feller | Lighting Design Christopher Page

Sound Design & Composer | Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers

Written by Australia’s own Bollywood leading man, Nicholas Brown and stand-up comedy star, Sam McCool, Lighten Up is a cross-cultural romantic comedy about racism and triumphantly owning your identity… and bleaching your bits!

Lighten Up is a laugh-out-loud comedy that follows John Green, an Indian-Australian man living in Western Sydney. John, an actor, dreams of being cast in his favourite soap, ‘Bondi Parade’ where blonde-haired, blue-eyed people abound. The problem for John? His skin is more brown than white, his eyes more brown than blue, his hair more brown than blonde – in fact, he’s just entirely too brown. Meanwhile John’s overbearing, skin-bleaching mother Bronwyn has high hopes for him to procreate with a white Australian woman and so cleanse the family of any further ‘ethnicity’ in their bloodline. However, Bronwyn’s dreams are shattered when John falls in love with a beautiful Indigenous woman named Sandy. Despite everything and everyone in his way, John is determined to be recognised as ‘true blue’… or whatever colour it is that Australians are supposed to be!

In Sydney, there is a large amount of ‘white’ theatre and a welcomed rise in Indigenous theatre, however the mainstream theatre landscape seems somewhat devoid of the cultural melting pot – the in-between of mixed races and cultures that typifies the backgrounds of many Australians. With so many of us from mixed and migrant backgrounds, it is from these communities that many of our stories will spring. Lighten Up is the first play by an Indian-Australian creator about the Indian-Australian community staged at a professional theatre company in Sydney.

For creator Nicholas Brown, an Indian-Australian NIDA-trained actor who has gone on to great success in Bollywood, starring in numerous films including the blockbuster Kites opposite Hrithik Roshan and smash-hit Love You To Death, the idea for Lighten Up first came 11 years ago. Initially a film script, Lighten Up was a reaction to Brown’s own experiences as a mixed-race actor in the casting arena in Australia. Of this time Brown says:

“After graduating from NIDA in 2000 it became very clear to me that I was treated very differently because of my skin colour and cultural background. At that time there was so much systemic racism in the entertainment industry. Writing about it was therapeutic. I also wanted to write a story about being stuck in between two different cultures, about being mixed race and the complications that go with that.”

Brown finally embraced his heritage and moved to India where his career soared, but he also took note of the fact that race and appearance in India seemed equally as skewed as it was in Australia – the most popular cosmetic product in India being a skin-lightening lotion. Brown recognised that there was a cross-cultural story in all this hypocrisy of human nature and so turned his attentions back to his script for Lighten Up. Brown contacted comedian Sam McCool after seeing some of his hilarious and even-handed material that focussed on race. McCool jumped at the chance to work with Brown on a new theatrical version of Lighten Up. The new script was put into development with Sydney Theatre Company for their Rough Drafts program in 2015 and caught the eye of Bali Padda, actor, producer and Co-Chair of the Equity Diversity Committee who decided that he wanted to produce the show for Griffin Independent 2016.

Lighten Up is a very clever and very funny show that tackles some very touchy subjects and treats them with both dignity and humour to highlight the multicultural, ‘real’ Australia that we see out on the streets and in our neighbourhoods. Lighten Up is a play that shines a light on human prejudices, understanding of cultural identity and what we can all learn from one another if we could all just lighten up a bit!

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SBW Stables Theatre 10 Nimrod St, Kings Cross

Season:                         30th November – 17th December 2016

Previews:                        7pm Wednesday 30th November, Thursday 1st December

Opening Night:                        7pm Friday 2nd December

Performances:                        7pm Monday – Saturday. Matinees: Saturday 17th December 2pm

Tickets:                                    $38 Full | $30 Concession, Seniors, Groups 8+, Previews, Under 35s. | $20 Monday Rush Booking fees apply

Ages:                                    15 years +

Bookings:                         www.griffintheatre.com.au or 02 9361 3817

Photos courtesy of Nicholas Brown and Griffin Theatre.

Interview with Takaya Honda (The Family Law/ Play School) and now Neighbours!

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Takaya Honda is an Australian stage and screen actor. He’s known for his role as Klaus Thomson in the 2016 comedy TV series, The Family Law , Play School and now Neighbours.

He was born in Canberra, but moved to Sydney at a young age and attended Sydney school Barker College graduating in 2005. He then attended the College Of Fine Arts (UNSW) in 2006 studying a Bachelor of Digital Media before transferring to the University of Technology Sydney in 2007 to study a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (MediaArts and Production) which he graduated from on the 29th April 2011.

JOY: Congratulations on landing a regular role for Neighbours. Please tell us briefly about the whole casting process.

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TAKAYA: The audition process began with a self test. I had originally been sent the sides for the role of my twin, Leo but was able to get my hands on the sides for David from a friend, filmed both and sent them through to casting. About two weeks after that I got a call back and had to fly down to Melbourne. For the call back I had to prepare for both roles, so had to know both scenes and they also sent a scene through between the two brothers and I had to learn both roles in that as well. The callback was with about 7 others, all of varying Asian mixes, we were called in at different points to either play the scenes either with the actors playing the roles opposite (in this case Zoe Cramond and Matt Wilson) or one of the other auditionees and we were at the studios for about 4-5 hours. About two weeks after that I had to fly back down to Melbourne again for another callback. This time we had to have all three previous scenes ready, as well as three new ones, two with another character in the show (who I don’t think I can name) and another between the two brothers, again learning both sides of the scenes. This call back had us down to the ‘final’ four. It was another lengthy audition lasting a few hours and with a lot of chop and changing between different combinations of people. In this callback we were fortunate to be able to run the scenes with the current cast members prior to going into the room, which was a huge help. After that callback it took around 2-3 weeks before I got the call from my agent saying I had gotten the role of David.
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JOY: Would you say Neighbours is your breakthrough role?
TAKAYA: It’s hard to say what my breakthrough role is, whether I’ve had it or even whether Neighbours is (will be) that. I feel it is something for others to judge. However I have been awarded some amazing experiences, from my first role (and audition) with A Gurls Wurld through to The Family Law, My Great Big Adventure, Play School and now Neighbours. To a degree I feel it’s hard for those of diverse backgrounds to have breakthrough roles in the same way as our caucasian acting brethren. I feel that the opportunities I have had would have opened more doors to a caucasian actor than have been for me. But, I must be clear in saying that I am truly very grateful for these opportunities.
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JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

TAKAYA: Growing up I kinda wanted to do everything. I wanted to be the doctor, the lawyer and the fighter pilot and I came to realise that acting would allow me to play all of those things and more! I’ve also always had a passion for the visual – ever since I got my hands on a camera I have not been able to help myself but to try to capture the things I see around me.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?
TAKAYA: I had some fantastically supportive teachers at High School (Barker College), namely Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas who really gave me an understanding of what Acting is and the reality of what a career in acting can be. Damien then invited me to perform with Sport For Jove Theatre Company where I have performed in a bunch of Shakespeare plays which lead to getting representation and the slog of years of working odd jobs with a peppering of Acting gigs. I’ve been a videographer/editor, photographer, light and sound rigging crew, cinema usher, web administrator, promotional model, casting assistant and the classic actor job – a bartender. I have done my best to keep my work as relevant as I could to the industry and am cherishing the time I am given now to be working as an actor full-time.
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JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?
TAKAYA: I think there is, the efforts that Neighbours are making are very positive and I do believe they are trying to do it the right way. With our characters, rather than be the two asian guys moving into Erinsborough, we are two Australians who have Japanese heritage and our storylines are like any other characters on the show, not ethnically specific, which is quite refreshing. We do not feel any pressure to be representatives for Japan or the immigrant experience – we just get to play within the world of our characters, which is rich with ‘Neighbours’ drama. The Family Law is another great example of a positive move within the industry and I hope that there are more opportunities like these ahead across the full gamut of Australian media.
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JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?
TAKAYA: Those who inspire me in the industry are those who give back to it, and the broader community. Those who use the platform of celebrity to increase the amount of joy in the world are really who I look up to. In terms of acting I could rattle off the usual suspects but to me the likes of Miranda Tapsell as seemingly the industries voice of diversity, Charlotte Nicdao for being a friend who is so incredible at articulating her wisdom not just to me but the broader public (even in the face of denigrating criticism), Waleed Aly for the reasoning he brings to arguments and when thinking towards the international industry, Seth and Lauren Rogen for their work on Alzheimer’s, Aziz Ansari for so cleverly integrating the struggle of diverse actors into ‘Master of None’ – I could go on, but these humans who have taken the gift of popularity and used it for something outside of themselves, and who work towards bettering us as a whole. These people inspire me.
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JOY: What do you want to achieve in the future?
TAKAYA: Everything. haha. I don’t know – it is so hard in this industry to predict or dictate your own career that for me I like to provide myself with options and be happy with whatever path appears to me. Even just a couple of weeks before auditioning for Neighbours I wouldn’t have thought that it would have been a part of my journey. So, I like to stay open and positive because you just never know.

In Conversation with the actors & creators of “Here comes the Habibs”

A ratings success for Channel Nine with 1.249 million people tuning in for Here comes the Habibs – a drama comedy about a Lebanese-Australian family from Sydney’s western suburbs who win the Lotto and move to a mansion in the exclusive suburb of Vaucluse, angering the white neighbours next door. On Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, the Equity Foundation held a wonderful Q and A with the actors and creators of the show.

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Rob Shehadie, the show’s creator and writer, said he wanted this to be a family show because there hasn’t been many shows since Acropolis Now (1992) where families sit down and watch a show together every week. He didn’t want the show to be Aussies versus the Lebanese. He said the kids particularly loved watching Here Comes the Habibs and once the kids loved the show, the parents then watched it. Rob did not want the show to be in any way controversial, he just wanted stereotypes set up with an unexpected twist. It was written so viewers would examine the stereotypes through comedy.

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Photo courtesy of 9jumpin.com.au

Rob said he first started in comedy as a comedian and then worked with Tahir Bilgic  in Fat Pizza. Together they had a concept and wrote a 12 page document pitch which had photos of the characters. They used photos of friends and family and themselves. They then invited Phil Lloyd on board who they knew from Home and Away and who worked at The Jungle Boys production company. Phil knew Rob and Tahir’s work well. Together they fine tuned the pitch, added a catchy log line and synopsis.

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photo courtesy of robshehadie.com

“Fou Fou Habib won $22 Million in the lottery, and bought a house (mansion) next door to the O’Neill family. A Comedy satire of both Lebanese and British background Aussies.” Together they approached Andy from Channel Nine who rarely leans forward after hearing many pitches, but after hearing their pitch, he did. Director Darren Ashton was then asked to join the production and the casting process began, to set the tone of the show. They had 5-6 actors in mind for each part to audition. After the audition process finished, the final actors were chosen. Darren Gilshenan was cast to play Jack O’Neal. Darren said what he particularly liked was that his character Jack, represented the voice in every day society. He enjoyed having a say in his character right from the start. Kat Hoyos was cast as the 16 year old, Layla Habib, because she represented the average, every day, social media obsessed teenager with great attitude. Tyler De Nawi played Elias Habib, who said after reading the script,”This will be big!” He said he was finally getting the opportunity to play someone positive in society. Michael Denkha played Fu Fu Habib (the father). “Playing anyone but a terrorist is cool!” he said.  Sam Alhaje played Toufic Habib, who said when he first read the script, it was instantly something he wanted to be part of. He finally wasn’t playing a gangster or a criminal. This was a great opportunity to not play a stereotype.

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Photo courtesy of Here Comes the Habibs

When the question of diversity came up, Andy (Channel nine) said, “Yes, commercial networks are always wanting to be part of something new.” New stories and characters reflecting our multicultural society in which we live in today? We all hope so, as new writers, creatives and actors were encouraged to make a stand to be heard in this conversation forum. The wheels are definitely in motion. So let’s keep the conversation going so changes are made across the board with diversity at the front of all network executives minds!

 

Q and A Interview with screenwriter / producer / director – Tony Ayres

Tony Ayres (born 16 July 1961) is a Chinese-born Australian screenwriter, director in television and feature film. He is most notable for his films Walking on Water and The Home Song Stories, as well his work in television –The Slap and teen adventure series Nowhere Boys. He’s Executive producer on Maximum Choppage (a six part kung fu comedy series for the ABC starring Lawrence Leung) and The Family Law (six part comedy series for SBS based upon the memoirs of Chinese Australian journalist, Benjamin Law).

Tony Ayres

Q. When you were growing up who were your role models on Australian TV & Film?

Tony: When I was a kid, I actually avoided Australian film and TV.  There was nothing that I watched, except for getting the occasional guilty glimpse of “Number 96” or “The Box”.  Perhaps it was because I felt a typical Australian cultural cringe?  Or perhaps because there was no one on the screen who represented “me”?  Or some weird amalgam of both.  The shows I loved were mainly American TV shows.

Q. What made you want to break into Australian TV / Film?

Tony: I had always loved words and wanted to be a writer, but half way through my university degree, I realised that academia was killing my passion for literature.  I ended up changing to a visual arts degree at the Canberra School of Art.  If I had found a creative writing course, I probably would have done that.  Film and TV for me was never a driving  passion, more a logical deduction.  Words + plus pictures = screen.  It was only when I started getting into the area that I grew to love it.

Q. How did you get started in your career? 

Tony: After film schools (both VCA and AFTRS), I started work as a TV writer, and was fortunate enough to get work from the start.  Lucky, because I entered the industry relatively late (my late twenties).  Those were the days when SBS was starting to produce scripted drama, and there was a greater appetite for multicultural stories.  I wrote a number of TV plays for a number of anthology series- “Under the Skin”, “Six Pack” and “Naked-  Stories of Men”- which gave me a grounding in writing drama.  As well, I started directing documentaries and short dramas which gave me a taste for directing.  I feel like I was at the right time at the right  place because I was able to make an early career out of the marginal identity politics which I was personally grappling with-  being Chinese, being gay, being Chinese and gay.  I think that’s harder to do these days.

Q. Do you see a positive change to colour blind casting in Australian TV / Film and Theatre and do you incorporate this method of casting in your own productions? 

Tony: Honestly, whilst I think the rhetoric has evolved, in the scripted area  I don’t think that there has been a substantial change in terms of colour blind casting.  Every few years a non-Anglo actor will do a significant film or TV role and in the press junket raise the question of diversity as a public issue.  There will be a flurry of associated articles, and these days a bunch of “likes” on Facebook, but soon after the status quo will settle again.  The network mental “default” will still to be to white.  Non-white cultures will still be massively under-represented.  It will be just as hard for non-Anglo actors who attract attention through a breakout role to sustain their careers.  Diversity for the Australian entertainment industry is like “gay marriage” for Australian politics.  A lot of people believe in it, but few people are prepared to cross the floor to vote for it.

For there to be substantial change, I think that it’s about the people who are genuinely invested in the issue of diversity (ie people from diverse backgrounds themselves) becoming the decision makers, the commissioners, the network executives, the makers.   I guess I’d look at my own work as an example.  Diversity is important to me because I have personally felt the effect/damage of growing up Chinese in a white culture.   So, it’s one of the determinants of what I do.  My kids show, “Nowhere Boys” has a recurring role for a Chinese Australian actor (and the actors playing his family).  I’m currently executive producing “Maximum Choppage” (six part kung fu comedy series for the ABC starring Lawrence Leung) and  “The Family Law” (six part comedy series for SBS based upon the memoirs of Chinese Australian journalist, Benjamin Law).  And I’m also EP’ing a feature film, “Ali’s Wedding”, a Muslim romantic comedy.

Q. What changes do you want to see happen in the entertainment industry?

Tony: In terms of diversity, I’d like the Australian government funding bodies to take this issue seriously enough to create some kind of quota system in terms of representation.  The US and UK industries have both found relatively benign ways to legislate for diversity, and I don’t think it’s harmed their products or their share of the world market.

Finally what projects are you currently working on? 

Tony: Aside from the shows listed above, I’m also executive producing a new show for ABC Drama called “Glitch” which is the ABC’s first supernatural TV series, and EP’ing and co-writing the feature film version of “Nowhere Boys”.   There are some exciting new projects in early days as well, yet to be announced.  But a recurring theme of diversity can be traced through them all.