Sydney-based comedian Chris Lilley on his multi-character mockumentary
Time Out Bahrain staff
For most Aussies, two words come to mind with the mention of the name Chris Lilley: cultural cringe. The actor, famed for his disarmingly accurate representations of multicultural Australia, is enough to send many running for the linen press in embarrassment. His latest mockumentary Angry Boys, in which he plays an American rapper, a manipulative Japanese mother, a prison guard and a champion surfer, aired for the first time on OSN in February. Here, we caught up with him to get an insight into his cheek.
After your first solo show, Summer Heights High, you warned us you’d ‘go further’ next time… Yes. Angry Boys is bigger, more sophisticated, more challenging. We shot in more than 70 locations, including Tokyo and Los Angeles. We’ve also pushed the envelope further with the characters and gone deeper into their lives and what drives them.
The opening credits show boys in superhero outfits. What’s the message there? Young boys grow up wanting to be all-powerful, masculine and to save the world. The characters in Angry Boys are having their masculinity challenged. Daniel has his stepdad taking over and his brother being taken away. S.Mouse is chasing fame but dealing with decline, asking himself if he’s a real artist. The boys in the prison are aggressive, trapped and confused. Blake is 35 but holding onto his boyhood with his surf gang.
It’s funny, but Angry Boys is also much darker. It’s certainly heavier and more dramatic… but I don’t plan that, it just happens. In fact, the longer the series runs, the darker the road gets for these characters. There are lots of twists and turns and surprises in store, and people will be genuinely shocked by what happens later in the series. It gets pretty full-on.
Luckily we have a new graffiti tag to cut the tension… Last series it was [Jonah’s signature graffiti tag] people went crazy for. Three years on, I still get people – stewardesses, road workers, schoolkids, footballers – asking me to draw stuff on their chest!
Your dad was a chemist on Sydney’s upper North Shore. Is your comedy the result of many hours spent in his office? I guess it’s a little crazy, dressing up as different people and putting myself in these weird situations. Sometimes I’m so focused on making those moments seem real that it gets a little creepy. Often I’ll improvise to the point where I find myself wondering ‘Is this really happening?’
One of your new characters is ‘bubblegum hip-hopper’ S.Mouse. I won’t lie to you. It’s a very intimidating thing to do – wear make-up to appear like a black person and act opposite African-American actors. I found that personally to be a very confronting situation. I grew up in suburbia so that is not my world and, while I’ve learned a lot about African-American culture, I had to be brave to try and pull that off… but it’s scary.
Does high risk equal high payoff? People see and feel risk on screen. As a viewer, it’s what excites me, thinking ‘how did they do that?’ But risky stuff is hard work. There are characters I love – the twins from [fictional Australian town] Dunt, Daniel and Nathan, are my favourites and easy to play – but there are other characters I find gruelling. Gran is one. So is Jen Okazawa. For them I have to inject the elements of risk and fear. For starters, it’s a hard thing to turn me into a woman – there’s a lot of undergarments and shaping that help that illusion. Also, it’s often just uncomfortable to be a woman in those worlds.
So what’s driving you to always ‘go further’? Rebellion has always been a big driving force for me. I like to be a little different. Ultimately I’m just trying to entertain people, and what I find entertaining is when I’m challenging status quos, pushing people to the edge. I’m not trying to be provocative and offensive for the sake of it, but if you’re offended – too bad. Angry Boys is OSN comedy on Wednesday at 10pm. Summer Heights High, from BD6, available at www.amazon.com.