By Ryan A. Berenz
Chris Lilley, the Australian creator and star of mockumentary series We Can Be Heroes (titled The Nominees in the U.S.) and Summer Heights High, presents another hilarious race- and gender-bending surrealist soup this with Angry Boys, premiering Sunday, Jan. 1 at 10pm ET, on HBO.
“Hopefully this series is really compelling,” Lilley says. “It’s shocking and confronting at times, and hilarious at other times. It has you laughing one minute, crying the next.”
As with his previous series, it’s the characters that drive Angry Boys, and Lilley’s skill in convincing you that he’s a Japanese woman one minute and a young black man the next.
“I just really wanted to push it a little further, so I took on some pretty interesting characters this time,” Lilley says. Indeed he does. Meet the six characters Lilley plays in Angry Boys:
Daniel and Nathan Sims are obnoxious teenage identical twins who live on a farm in Australia. The Sims boys are the central characters in Angry Boys, tying the rest of Lilley’s characters together. “They’ve been with me ever since We Can Be Heroes,” Lilley says of his favorite recurring characters. “I just love the relationship between the two of them. I love writing for them and playing them.”
Blake Oakfield is a surfing legend from a small Australian seaside town who lost his testicles to a gunshot wound suffered during surf gang turf wars. Blake sees it as something of a badge of honor, letting his mates repeatedly kick him in the crotch to prove it. “When we shot that, there were a few kicks that went a little too far,” Lilley says. “But I had to get into the performance of it as being completely fine … but it wasn’t always fine.”
Jen Okazaki is the overbearing mother of young skateboarding prodigy Tim. Jen moves her family from America to Japan to transform Tim into the first gay skateboard star (though Tim vehemently insists he’s straight). As enterprising as she is imperious, Jen launches Gay Style Enterprises to cash in on Tim’s manufactured gay image. “Tokyo was amazing, because I hadn’t actually been there before,” Lilley says of shooting Jen’s story in Japan. “I wrote about it without having experienced it.” This led to a little culture shock at times. “I realized that the character of Jen is nothing like a Japanese woman,” Lilley says. “Also, the gay thing was interesting because I had this idea that in Japan this idea of being gay was cool.” Lilley discovered otherwise when a Japanese actor refused to say his lines. “For some reason it was culturally sort of a bad thing to do to mention gayness,” Lilley says. “So I got around it by saying, ‘Well, no, it’s Gay Style. It’s a brand name. It’s Gay Style. It’s cool. It’s not about being gay.’ And then he agreed to it.”
Ruth “Gran” Sims, grandmother of Daniel and Nathan, works at a juvenile detention center for boys. “The idea was to have this woman that you just think is horrific and nasty,” Lilley says. “She’s racist. She’s this mean person who seems to not care about what she does to people. But by the end of the first episode, she’s revealed to be this really nurturing, loving person that’s probably just a bit old-fashioned and doesn’t understand her way of communicating with the boys is sort of in a really racist way, but it’s actually getting through to them. And she’s the only one they really listen to, and talk to.”
S.mouse is a black rapper from Los Angeles who projects a thug image despite growing up in a wealthy family. In a life-imitates-art way, S.mouse’s “Slap My Elbow” track became a hit in reality. “The S.mouse thing was crazy in Australia,” Lilley says. “The ‘Slap My Elbow’ single did really well as well, and it’s still going. We have the Australian music awards, it’s called the ARIA Awards. It’s like our Grammys, I suppose. The S.mouse soundtrack for Angry Boys won an ARIA Award for that. Unbelievable. And this sort of phenomena happened where people were doing remixes of all those S.mouse songs and all those tribute videos. There’s stuff everywhere. It’s so exciting, because I write the music myself, so it’s so thrilling to hear people interpreting it.” S.mouse also performed full live shows, complete with a DJ and dancers, to crowds of about a thousand people in both Melbourne and London. “I’m trying to do a big TV awards in Australia,” Lilley says. “I’m trying to get S.mouse to do a performance, and I don’t know how I’m going to get around the language. It’s tricky.”
Photo: Credit: John Tsiavis/HBO