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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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 interview with writer Benjamin Law about Diversity

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Benjamin Law is a Sydney-based journalist, columnist and screenwriter, and has completed a PhD in television writing and cultural studies. He’s also member of M.E.A.A. as a freelance writer.

Benjamin is the author of two books—The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012)—and the co-author of the comedy book Shit Asian Mothers Say (2014) with his sister Michelle and illustrator Oslo Davis. Both of his books have been nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards.

Benjamin is also a frequent contributor to Good Weekend (The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age).

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What made you want to write your story – The Family Law?
I’d been writing personal columns for frankie for a while, and I noticed the ones that made reference to my family – especially my mum – got a great response. Which isn’t surprising, really – my mum is pretty hilarious, unique and baffling, in the way that only mothers can be. And after I wrote longer pieces for an anthology called Growing Up Asian in Australia, my now-editor approached me, asking if I had a book up my sleeve. Part of what motivated me to write The Family Law was this idea of writing a book I wish I’d read as a teenager. One with a hilariously dysfunctional Chinese-Australian family.

 

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After writing your story, what steps did you take in order to get your story / screenplay seen by a network or producer?

I didn’t actually seek out screen options myself. I think my publisher would’ve had chats with production companies, and the book was also on people’s radars after a certain point. But when I heard Matchbox Pictures and Tony Ayres – whose work I’d admired for years before we even met  – were interested, I knew they were the ones for me. 
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Your screenplay will obviously open doors for diversity…however will your screenplay also be open for “colourblind casting?” 

I’m only on the show as a writer, so I don’t get to call those shots.
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Can you reveal how many roles will be Asian? 
What I can say is that roughly 90% of the cast is explicitly written as Chinese-Australian, so we’ll need the majority of actors to have Asian faces. There are a handful of other roles which are specifically for Eurasian actors, and some roles are definitely white. As for the other roles, I reckon that can and should go to as many different actors as possible!

 

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When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models on television and / or film and why? 

 
There weren’t a huge number of Asian faces on telly when I was growing up. My family and I used to point at the TV and scream in excitement if there was an Asian on TV: “THERE’S AN ASIAN ON THE TEEEE-VEEEEEEEE!” But there was definitely celebrity chef Elizabeth Chong, on Good Morning Australia, and Dr Cindy Pan on sex/life, and I remember seeing Clara Law’s beautiful feature Floating Life, which affected me a lot. But I’d usually look overseas for Asian representation on screen. I mean, I watched The Joy Luck Club A LOT. But it’s getting better nowadays, and reality TV has done heaps to reflect how diverse Australia actually is. You see a lot more Asian-Australians in local comedies and dramas, but not nearly enough.
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What are you looking forward to in the future on Australian television?
I’m really looking forward to Lawrence Leung’s kung-fu comedy Maximum Choppage on ABC2 next year.
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Does the Australian arts truly represent our modern society?

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Members of the Diversity committee

Does the Australian arts (film, TV, theatre etc) truly represent our modern society?

The simple answer is No…not yet, but the wheels are in motion.

On the 5th  July, 2013, MEAA (Media Entertainment Arts Alliance) established a Diversity Committee to promote and advocate for more realistic representations on Australia’s screens and stages for a more inclusive industry. About forty performers from varying performance backgrounds, ethnicities and areas of Australia are on the Committee, as well as a panel of arts industry professionals who together look at the current state of the arts. The Equity Diversity Committee considers diverse casting to include the casting of ethnic minority performers, women performers and performers with disability in roles where race, ethnicity, gender or the presence or absence of a disability is not essential to the plot.

The Guardian recently reported that five Sydney and Melbourne theatres have been criticised for an absence of curatorial ideas in their 2015 seasons, failing to engage with the contemporary Australian and world politics for being very “white”.

Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company tend to be “about big names” and “driven by star power”, says Lachlan Philpott, chair of the Australian Writer’s Guild playwrights committee.

At STC, only Kylie Coolwell’s Battle of Waterloo, a portrait of a contemporary Indigenous community, seems to be driven by a wider ambition to reflect contemporary Australian society.

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Playwriting Australia is, however, to be commended for having a diverse cast of readers for their 2014 National Play Festival. Two plays which showed a diverse cast includes – Moths by Michele Lee and Thieves by Kathryn Ash. With Thieves, two characters in the play were non-specific in race, actors Pearl Tan and Haiha Le played the “Australian” female characters. This clever “colour blind” casting decision is something that needs to be more apparent in all areas of the performing arts casting in order to correctly represent our society as it stands today, as our younger generation need to feel that they belong in society, our culture. The only other two plays this year which notably showed “diversity” were Kim Carpenter & John Bell’s Monkey (Bell Shakespeare) with Aljin Abella, Aileen Huynh, Ivy Mak and Lia Reutens and Alex Lykos’ (BullDog Theatre Company) “It’s War” starring Maria Tran in the title role.

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Television ,however, is the more powerful medium because it is more accessible to everyone, especially online. When I was growing up we didn’t have computers and there was very few people who I could identify with on television who looked like me apart from news journalist Lee Lin Chin, who Dad used to watch on SBS news and Alison Fan on Channel Seven News in Perth. It wasn’t until I was on university prac when I had a discussion with school students who said that they wanted to work in television but they didn’t see anyone looking like them on screen. This motivated me to audition to be a presenter on Play School. After two audition attempts I got the role but it wasn’t luck in my case; it was pure hard work and determination.

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In the last few years I have slowly noticed a change in television as reality television has dominated. I’ve watched the rise of outstanding talent with Dami Im and Marlissa winning X-Factor due to public voting, as well as Poh Ling Yeow being runner up in Masterchef. This shows that Australians want real representations of our multicultural society.

 

On the 26th October, 2014, it was M.E.A.A.’s 75th Anniversary and they held a special summit with Creativity and Diversity as their main two themes. Adam Moore, SAG’s National Associate Director of Affirmative action and Diversity was the keynote speaker. He stated in his address to the audience that in the United States, statistics prove that films and T.V. programs which show “diversity” attract a much wider audience, hence more dollars in the networks’ pockets and at the box office. Moore encourages all people in the position of power to take note as “diversity is not a liability it is an asset!” After his speech he received a standing ovation from the crowd. Visionaries like him are rare, but hopefully becoming more common. I hope his speech inspires those who work in the industry to take note and put his words into action.

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FREE UPCOMING EVENT

A Multicultural Community Forum and Q & A will feature Equity Diversity Committee Member / actor Joy Hopwood talking about the importance of Diversity in TV, Theatre & Film and the success of Equity’s 75th Summit and the goals of the Diversity committee along with Greens NSW Spokesperson for Multiculturalism, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, Asian Australian Alliance convenor’s Erin Chew and Freelance writer, playwright and novelist, Saman Shad.

When Saturday 15th November, 2pm-5pm                     Where: Unions NSW Building, Lvl 4, 20 Wentworth St, Parramatta

Free Light refreshments will be available.

Please RSVP to matthew.hilton@parliament.nsw.gov.au by Friday 7 November

 

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All photos courtesy of the Diversity Committee, Dami Im’s, Marlissa’s Facebook page and the Play School photo and Poh Ling Yeow’s photo courtesy of A.B.C.