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.
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Diversity: Building a platform for change!

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Julianne Schultz, former journalist, academic and editor of The Australian Financial Review was one of the first speakers of Diversity: Building a platform for change at AFTRS. She spoke how Australia has come a long way in the last 20 years. Having a welcome to country has come into place within the last 10 years as a gesture of respect for our Indigenous people-this is a big change. Julianne grew up in the 70’s where there was casual racism and sexism. She had always wanted to be a journalist and when she was going for jobs, people would always ask, “What’s wrong with teaching or nursing?” She recalls going for a job interview for the Australian Financial Review where the interviewer said, “OK, I guess we can hire girls who can work twice as hard as men for half the price!” The interview took place in a pub where she was then hired. She has since witnessed how things have changed and how we’ve come a long way since then – feminism in the media. She says today the bar has lifted higher and we have to raise the bar each year. Everyone is an outsider, everyone has a story and it’s important to recognise people’s uniqueness and their perspective on life and have that story shared and reach others who share similar stories as our differences give us strength.

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Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia presented insights into Screen Australia’s recent study of on-screen diversity. Seeing ourselves: reflections of diversity in Australian TV drama. It’s important to have relevant data as it’s pivotal in how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. So how diverse is Australian Drama? He says, “We want Australians to identify with the onscreen characters.” The data focused on – Cultural Background, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Programmes like Please Like Me was life changing for young people in the study. Screen Australia also used the same categories as the Human Rights Commission. For cultural background they focused on Indigenous, Anglo-Celtic, European, Non-European. For disability it focused on physical, psychological, intellectual, sensory. They researched five years of drama and studied 199 programmes. They looked at programmes like Home and Away and Neighbours. They looked at the cultural background of actors, county of birth and parent’s birth place and 989 main actors were researched – thanks to surveys, interviews, biographies etc. They compared this to the actual Australian population where 67% are of Anglo background and in TV drama 82% of characters were Anglo and 76% were Anglo actors hired on screen. There was improvement in the representation of Indigenous on screen however those with a disability and minorities were well underrepresented.

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What’s ideal? To have programmes that normalise diversity. There’s a need for authenticity. More opportunities for creatives with lived experience needs to be hired as consultants or writers. More ongoing bench-marking / research and colour blind casting.

The Good News Every channel and production company is up to the challenge and this creative issue. Reality TV such as The Voice, X-Factor, Masterchef & My Kitchen Rules and children’s online and TV shows prove popular due to diversity and use of colourblind casting and in business terms the profits are good.

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Mounira Almenoar (Senior Researcher) mentioned that the best practice & approach to addressing equality and inclusion is research. She stresses the importance of data. Screen Australia has the Black List and Indigenous tracking, ICE in Western Sydney is a great initiative, First Nations and Indigenous Schemes – Best Practice, Industry attachment schemes.

For the panel discussion, Benjamin Law chaired. He started off the discussion with the question, “Why in 1992 was there 0 representation?”

Monica Davidson (journalist) answered, “Shouldn’t TV drama be a mirror of our lives?”

Courttia Newland (author) replied, “Australia is better than UK. There’s more to be done. You’re better than where we are now.”

Ade Djajamihardja (screen media professional) “It’s probably too hard, too difficult, that’s what happened to disability on screen. There needs to be 1) dedication, 2) Training for the screen sector, 3)training for people with disabilities 4) Accessibility for people with disabilities to screenings / conferences / workshops etc 5) inclusion.” One in five people in Australia have a disability. Time for a checklist.

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Rosemary Blight (Producer) stated how Ryan Griffen (Cleverman) was an intern which Screen Australia helped and that it was a four year process for him to get his project up and running, thanks to that support. Also the Indigenous unit at ABC contacted her and said she should have an Indigenous consultant, which Ryan soon came on board.

Chrissie Tucker (ABC Diversity manager) said that the target for ABC diversity is 17% and they’re currently at 7%. This bench-marking scheme has only come to place in the last year.

A closing question from Bali Padda (MEAA Diversity) “We need a media action room. Let’s unite and take action together…NOW!”

Everyone in the room agreed. Diversity is a hot topic at the moment and in order for change we all need to unite, encourage and support each other. Actions speak louder than words.

 

 

 

 

Q & A with The Family Law’s Trystan Go

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Introducing The Family Law‘s Trystan Go, the actor whose credits also include The King And I and plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s, Queensland.
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Joy: Congratulations on a wonderful performance and season of The Family Law on SBS. How did your acting career start?
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Trystan: It all started when I was in a play called ‘The Quiet Brother’ which I did in the quaint little country town of Harrietville. The play was a dark, period drama about the Chinese gold field riots so it was quite the opposite of this cringe-worthy comedy, ‘The Family Law’. I guess I caught the acting bug so I took various classes at NIDA and Brent St to broaden my knowledge on performing. Since then, I’ve done several other plays and was recently cast as The King of Siam’s eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn in Opera Australia’s ‘The King and I’. Performing classics like ‘Getting To Know You’ with Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes at The Sydney Opera House every night was one of the most sumptuous experiences of my life! ‘The Family Law’ was my first breakthrough role on screen and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work in Theatre, Musical Theatre and Television!
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Joy: Who were your role models in film and television growing up in Australia?

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Trystan: In primary school, I watched Play School. Even my Grandma would marvel at the fact that there was someone with Asian heritage on television. This is why I’m loving that channels like SBS and ABC are introducing and promoting multiculturalism in the media. I also admire Jay Laga’aia from Wicked The Musical for his versatility in performance as he has done films, television, theatre and music.
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Joy: What would your dream acting role be?
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Trystan: I think any role that is wacky and unique is the role I’d enjoy playing, which is partly the reason why I loved playing Benjamin Law so much. I mean, how often do you get to dress up in a watermelon costume, with a stark red face and dance around in front of hundreds while playing the clarinet?! Then again, I’d also love to play a really dark, serious and scary character…maybe a Chinese ​Phantom from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ as there has already been ​an African-American one.​ Or I could move up the hierarchy and play The King of Siam in ‘The King and I’. So I guess you could say that I would be happy with any challenging role that is thrown my way.
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Joy: Do you think there’s enough diversity in Australian Film and TV?
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Trystan: Growing up in the 21st Century, I haven’t seen too much diversity on our Australian Screens. Of course there would be the odd Asian typecast here and there but apart from that, I think our screens are lacking a bit of ‘colour’.
Australia is an incredibly multicultural society, however I don’t think that this is reflected enough in Australian productions. It would be wonderful to see an ethnic lead in an Australian feature film or sitcom​.​ This is why I am so pleased that Matchbox Pictures has produced ‘The Family Law’ and that I’ve been a part of this ground-breaking production.  It’s a sitcom about an Australian family which just so happens to be Asian.
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Joy: Where would you like to see yourself in 20 years time and why?
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Trystan: I definitely would want to be in more productions, however I’d also really love to run a major hotel chain​ as I’d practically bathe in warm dessert buffets and international canapés. I might even make use of the 50metre heated pool​ before hand!

 

Q and A with Fiona Choi from The Family Law

The Family Law  is a six-part television adaptation of Benjamin Law’s 2010 collection of personal essays on SBS. (Thursdays 8.30pm) The show focuses on his parents’ marriage breakdown and how the young Benjamin Law copes through humour. It stars Fiona Choi who plays his mother, Jenny Law. I had the pleasure of interviewing Fiona for Equity magazine 2016.

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Qu.1. When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models in film and television?
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Fiona Choi:
Growing up in Melbourne during the 80’s & 90’s, role models were scarce. There was the occasional Asian actress who made it in American shows/movies, like Joan Chen in The Last Emperor & Twin Peaks, and later Lucy Liu in Ally McBeal and Ming-Na in ER; otherwise it was the Chinese actresses starring in the Hong Kong soaps my parents rented from the video store.  There was certainly no one on Australian TV that looked & sounded like me, so the whole idea of even considering a career in entertainment seemed so unattainable.  When I first started out, seeing an Asian on TV was such a novelty –  the big joke among my friends was that people would often come up to congratulate me for my work in All Saints or Miss Saigon or Blue Heelers, when it hadn’t been me at all, but another Asian actress.
Qu.2. What made you want to be an actor?
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Fiona Choi:
I grew up watching glamorous movie musicals and that’s what I wanted to do – dress-up, sing, dance, make people laugh and cry.  Then I discovered I loved to connect with people, to tell stories that make us realize we are all driven by the same needs, fears and desires.
Qu.3. How did you get started in your career?
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Fiona Choi:
I started my career in theatre.  My first big show after graduating from WAAPA was the musical RENT starring Christine Anu & Rodger Corser.  The show is set in New York City, and the original Broadway company was 50 percent African American, so ironically when it came to filling those roles in Australia/NZ they had to turn to Asians & Indigenous performers to create their ‘rainbow’ cast.  I have also worked for Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth, Melbourne Theatre Company and was in the original Australian production of Mamma Mia!  All these shows were specifically looking for multicultural casts, so I guess being an Asian actor has helped me as much as it has at times been a hindrance.
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Qu.4. Do you think diversity is becoming more apparent in the film and TV industry here in Australia?
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Fiona Choi:
Things are definitely moving in the right direction.  Early in my career I felt like I was truly going to fall through the cracks.  At first, I only got auditions for the stereotypical Asian roles – immigrant factory worker, prostitute, nerdy student – and when I did get the part I would always cringe hearing myself speak these preposterous lines in the exaggerated accent.  That wasn’t my voice at all.   But I never got the opportunity to audition for those roles I thought I was the right type for – the industry just couldn’t picture their main protagonists looking ethnic.  I was lucky to break out from those constraints occasionally – my breakthrough television role was a 6-week stint on Neighbours playing a character named Laura Wallace.  She wasn’t written as Asian at all, just an Aussie girl dating one of the main cast, and I was stoked that they didn’t feel the need to change her last name to ‘Wong’ or ‘Chan’ when they cast me.
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Today the big difference is the increasing predominance of creatives (writers, directors, producers) that are ethnic or understand & respect the multicultural voice.  That want to tell that story. People like Benjamin Law, Lawrence Leung  & Tony Ayres. Their voice is authentic, so not only are more shows being produced that speak about the multicultural experience, but the characters are well-written.  Even though Jenny Law speaks with a heavy Chinese-Malay accent, she is actually the most fully realised, three-dimensional character I’ve ever had the privilege to play.   I am truly looking forward to the next step though, to see Aussie actors of all colors play the main cast Detective or Wife or Love Interest without the need to even mention that they might come from a multicultural background.
Q.5. What do you do when you’re not acting?
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Fiona Choi:
When I’m not acting (or trying to find my next acting gig) I’m raising 2 sons so that keeps me pretty busy.  I am also a freelance casting director and director.   I do the occasional singing gig, and look forward to recording and touring with my music one day.
Q.6. What advice would you give to up and coming actors?
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Fiona Choi:
I would encourage up & coming actors to just be themselves, to find what is unique about you and be true to that in your marketing and auditioning.  Particularly for those from different multicultural backgrounds. I believe it’s our time on Australian TV & film – audiences are looking for unusual and authentic, so don’t try and mold yourself into an existing ‘type’ – create your own type.
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Qu.7. What would you like viewers to take away after watching The Family Law?
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Fiona Choi:
I hope that viewers from all backgrounds and cultures will laugh, cry and recognize their own crazy & love-able family in the characters of The Family Law.  Yes, the story is told through the adventures of a Chinese immigrant family, but at the end of the day their struggles and triumphs are universal and I hope this show points out just how ‘the same’ we all are.

 

My Melbourne Trip (AAFFN)

On Saturday 28th November 2015, I flew to Melbourne to be part of AAFFN’s panel and spoke about diversity in the arts and curation of content for the Joy House Film Festival. The event started by showcasing a selection of films that were chosen from Singapore Festival, Persian Film Festival and The Joy House Film Festival. The event was chaired by Amadeo Marquez Perez. The other guest panelists included: Sukhmani Khorana, Kevin Bathman (Carnival of the Bold) and Sanaz Fotouhi (Persian Film Festival).

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Photo by Mayu Kanamori

We all spoke about the importance of showcasing content that is relevant and reflective of the society in which we live in today. Kevin Bathman spoke on how Carnival of the Bold focuses on emerging talent and Sanaz Fotouhi spoke on how they sometimes bring in big name artists, because they bring in an audience for the Persian Film Festival. Sukhmani Khorana spoke about the importance of being true to your audience and showing integrity on choice of content. I spoke about the importance of “story” when curating short films of joy and diversity, despite having “famous” filmmakers submitting to the Joy House Film Festival, I always go with the filmmaker who told their story well.

Afterwards we had a wonderful Q & A session followed by lunch. It was great to socialise with other people with the same passion for story telling and films as myself. Thank you to AAFFN for putting on such a successful event.

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Even though my trip to Melbourne was short, I throughly enjoyed seeing the popular tourist sites.

I hopped on a tram which took me around Melbourne City.

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I went to the Queen Victoria Markets and enjoyed all the foodie treats.

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The Melbourne State library

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The Wheeler Centre (they just so happened to have an event chaired by Benjamin Law – Is Australia Racist?)

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Melbourne City

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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).

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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.