Chris Lilley Of HBO's 'Angry Boys' On Playing Teenagers And Using Gay Slurs
Chris Lilley says he has no comedic influences, which, on the surface, is surprising because doesn't every comedian have influences? Then again, the Australian-born Lilley's style of comedy is so unique and ambivalent to anything that would dare be considered politically correct -- from his first show "We Can Be Heroes" to the cult favorite HBO series "Summer Heights High" -- that maybe his lack of role models is not surprising at all.
But with that uniqueness comes backlash and controversy. And there has certainly been some already about his new HBO series, "Angry Boys," which premieres Jan. 1 on HBO.
We spoke to the 37-year-old "Angry Boys" star, who writes and directs the series and also performs six separate characters: twin high school students Daniel and Nathan Sims; their grandmother, Ruth (a.k.a. Gran); an African-American rapper named S. Mouse; a Japanese mother named Jen Okazaki; and a surfer named Blake Oakfield. So, yes, it's not difficult to understand why there's controversy; and that's before even considering the homophobic slang often used by Daniel and Gran. Lilley addressed it all for The Huffington Post:
When you first developed "Angry Boys," did you know HBO would pick it up?
No, I didn't know. When I started working on "Angry Boys," it's more about what I want to do. "What's the vision?" Not so much, "Who's going to buy this?" I don't really talk to the networks at all until it's all ready to go.
Is it going to be just one season, like "Summer Heights High"?
I think one season. It's one story. I think it feels like a big, long movie. It's weird. It's a series, but it's not really designed to continue. But I always feel like the shows are kind of connected anyway. It is kind of like I'm doing another season, but I'm calling it something different. It's probably not very clever because people get confused.
You're 37 and you seem to like playing high school kids.
Yeah! Well, I mean, I like playing all sorts of ages and genders. There's a Japanese woman and there's an old lady -- there are all sorts of things. But probably my favorite characters are Daniel and Nathan, the twins, in this one.
It's interesting because you can pull off a high school kid.
Yeah, it's weird. But I can also, hopefully, be a convincing old lady. But, yeah, it's strange.
Is it rare, even in Australia, to have that much control over a series? The only comparison I can really think of is Louis C.K.'s "Louie."
It doesn't really happen in Australia. It's pretty rare to even have a comedy series in Australia because we don't do as much local production. But I think I came to the idea of the first series as, "This is what I want to do and I don't want anyone to ruin it."
Who would you list as your influences?
I don't know. I don't really have comedy heroes or anything. Mostly, what I watch are reality shows and documentaries. I'm not a big comedy show-watcher, but I love Ricky Gervais' stuff and Sacha Baron Cohen's things. But I'm not an expert on them. I've seen them once. And I love the mockumentary genre.
When "Angry Boys" premiered in Australia, there was some backlash over the content. Do you like the backlash?
I'd prefer that people just enjoy it and watch it. I just think about the audience and think about me. Yeah, I put stuff out there for the fans and having people assess it in between is just a necessity because that's how you get people to know that it's on. At first, "We Can Be Heroes" was this cult thing that critics loved, but not many people watched it. And then "Summer Heights High" was this massive, mainstream hit in Australia. For some reason, everyone watched it. And so there's been a lot of expectation and build up for "Angry Boys." So there's a lot more analysis than I would have liked.
Characters in "Angry Boys" use the word "faggot" quite often. Brett Ratner just got in a lot of trouble for using that word. I know these are different situations, but do you fear backlash from that in the U.S., especially since it's a recent news story?
Not at all. It's an HBO show and it's an Australian thing. ... I try to make this as real as possible. And when I met all of these teenage boys in country towns, that's how they spoke. It's a parody of that kind of a teenager. It would be weird to censor myself. But certainly, nothing like that really worries me. In Australia, they have this tabloid that always runs stories like, "He's a bad influence on kids. We shouldn't spend our money on this kind of thing." And the ratings go up whenever they do that. People like the naughty side of it -- television that is pushing the boundaries a little bit more. And I know people who are victims of homophobia who say that they think it's hilarious. They're like, "This is great." And if anything, you're pointing out the homophobic culture and sort of actually making fun of kids like that.
Was "Crocodile Dundee" a good or bad thing for Australian actors?
Um... I don't know. I guess ... It's so long ago that I think people have moved on. I actually think people in Australia are pretty proud of that film. Paul Hogan was a massive star in Australia and I was just a child. You would have been a child as well.
It's a funny movie, but it brought along all the "G'day, mate"-type satire as well.
Yeah. You know, I actually think most Australians would be quite proud of that film and that type of persona. And Steve Irwin, he was kind of the real Crocodile Dundee. People in Australia are pretty proud because they're pretty iconic characters and I think they like that association. So, yeah. And at the time, in the '80s, Paul Hogan was the big television star of the moment. So for him to make it big, everyone was pretty proud of it.
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