“You can’t force it” -Josh Thomas gets a quick lesson in casting diversity

2014-08-06_2307Josh Thomas is a bit torn over the fact that despite having been somewhat critical about a lack of diverse casting in Australian television, his own series is, by his own admission, pretty “white.”

While it’s relatively easy to be critical from one side of the screen, making television can be eye-opening in its own way.

Please Like Me has been so successful for Thomas it has once again been snapped up by US cable network, Pivot, who had a representative on set throughout the shoot.

While Thomas says they weren’t demanding of changes they did have one concern.

“They bought Season One because they really liked it, they’re the biggest fans,” he says.

“They were really worried about our racial diversity casting, but so was I. The show is quite white, and I get really frustrated that Australian television is quite white.

“It’s always been something I’d criticised, but we cast with who we could find and they were quite white. But also a lot (of characters) were family members, so you kind of get stuck. We tried to do better, but we didn’t do that much better in Season Two.

“It’s a thing I want there to be more of on television, but then when you’re casting you can’t really force it. You can’t go with someone who you don’t think is as good a match to a character, just because they are a different race.”

But it does have diversity in its sexuality, and Thomas also casted diversely in the age of his characters, including one character who befriends his on-screen mother.

“‘Ginger’ didn’t have an age in the casting process. We looked at 20-somethings to Denise Drysdale,” he explains.

Drysdale eventually landed the role and appears in the second episode along with new cast members Keegan Joyce and Hannah Gadsby.

They’re not the only changes. There’s another cute puppy and another cute boy, ‘Patrick’ (Charles Cottier).

“If you have your own TV show and you don’t put some good puppies and some good boys in there, you’re an idiot. But we also have good-looking girls and ‘normal’-looking people. Me, for example,” he insists.

“My mediocre face gives us license to cast some pretty people in the show without it looking too ‘television-y.’”

Thomas is across all stages of the series, from writing with Liz Doran and Thomas Ward, to shooting and post-production. With lashings of bittersweet comedy peppered with drama, Please Like Me has won a legion of fans. But Thomas struggles to explain his plot.

“They want me to put plots in the Press Releases, but not that much happens,” he concedes.

“There’s drama but it’s not the point. It’s not like Homeland. I find it really hard to talk about. Tom’s friend is annoying –that’s one of the storylines.”

The press release, in case you were wondering, eventually tells us:

After moving back in to keep an eye on his mother last season, Josh is back living in a share house with his best friend Tom, John (the world’s most adorable cavoodle), and a new flatmate, the very good-looking (and a bit too cool) Patrick. Josh’s dad is still embarrassing and Dad’s girlfriend, Mae, is still hilarious, whilst dealing with a new baby sister for Josh. His mum, despite not having any friends or hobbies or purpose, seems relatively stable, which gives Josh a bit more time to get on with his own life. Or so he thinks. But things are never that simple. In fact, at least for Josh, things are generally a lot more complicated, awkward and embarrassing.

“There are smaller friendship moments, smaller romantic moments. We only had 6 episodes last time, so it had to be slightly more hard-core than I really wanted it to be,” he suggests.

“But there are a couple of bigger events along the way, and I think it’s definitely funnier.”

Returning are Debra Lawrance, David Roberts, Thomas Ward, Renee Lim, Caitlin Stasey and possibly an appearance by Wade Briggs as Geoffrey.

“He isn’t in it as much because I just don’t think Josh would keep hanging around with his ex-boyfriend. Even though that’s a weird commercial move to get rid of every 16 year old girl’s favourite character. So we’ve tried to be honest with those things,” Thomas explains.

The show was also awarded an AACTA Award, Australian Directors’ Guild award, Australian Writers’ Guild plus nominations from the Logies, GLAAD Media Awards, and the Rose d’Or Awards. Yet it still managed to draw its detractors.

“One article said ‘Please Like Me rates less than Bananas in Pyjamas’ and that sounds really bad but actually that’s one of the best-rating digital shows,” he says.

“We were the highest-rating scripted show they’ve ever had, we were #1 on iview over every ABC channel, or maybe second to Bananas in Pyjamas to be honest. It also got replayed later on ABC1 and did really well.”

Yet it will premiere first in the US, this weekend on Pivot. Thomas hasn’t given much thought to whether that will make the show prone to illegal downloads in Australia.

“It goes to air there on Saturday our time and then here on Tuesday, so it’s not a big difference,” he decides.

“It has to reach a certain level of popularity to be ‘pirate-able.’”

No, it’s not Homeland, Josh. But we’re so pleased it isn’t.

Please Like Me premieres 9:30pm Tuesday on ABC2.

11 Comments:

  1. Diversity does exist on our screens.. on SBS, and just look at how much multicultural Australia tunes in to its offerings. It really is getting tiring this continuous argument for increased diversity just for the sake of it. If it doesn’t make sense to the storyline.. ie a story based around a white family.. having African or Asian characters just smacks of tokenism. It needs to make sense to the overall story.

  2. The casting on many US shows shows can be quite political. Notice for example how many black people are cast in positions of authority. And then there are shows with mainly white casts that will have a hispanic or black person playing a Judge or Doctor. Hopefully they don’t interfere too much with Josh’s show. Oh and just to let Josh know, having an exceptionally good looking suiters be interested in an ok looking lead character is kind of a tv thing. Donna Martin on BH 90210 is an example I saw recently, but there are probably others.

  3. I found it unwatchable but it does seem that there is an audience for it. Remember this is the show the abc moved to ABC2 and ran the first two eps back to back to get it done in 5 weeks rather than 6. As for casting if Josh cared enough about it he’d write a character who wasn’t white. It’s not his personal responsibility to change the industry but it’s disappointing the Melbourne you see on the streets does not match the one on TV. Ever been to a Melbourne hospital? It’s not as white as Offspring. I think Please Like Me worked better when pitched as a drama. We were expecting gags and it wasn’t really funny.

  4. If you don’t force it, it never happens. Diversity is not a zero-sum game. Choosing funny and giving a reasonably accurate picture of Australian diversity are not actually mutually exclusive options. No one’s asking him to pick poor talent but there is no shortage of smart, funny actors available to josh that he could draw from. Nazeem Hussain? The problem josh has now is that he has complained about a problem in australian tv and done nothing to fix it when he is in an enviable position to do so. But look, it’s okay, the ABC Entertainment and Comedy has tonnes of other diverse on screen talent like… um… Jonah from Tonga?

  5. Just make it funny……that should be the overriding concern with any comedy. Cast for funny, not for diversity. Try to be a slave to too many masters and you end up with a watered down though ‘socially acceptable’ version of what the initial vision was.

  6. Love this show.
    Yes, of course it’s self indulgent but gently self -depreciating at the same time.
    This show just works somehow -very warm and wryly funny, with some memorable characters.

  7. It seems to me the issue of having little diversity on screen stems from the fact that the people who are given money to create so many of our shows are – wait for it – white. How about commissioning a show created by someone from a diverse background? Surely then it would be populated with diverse casting, reflective of actual society.

  8. Please Like Me really does come across as the most self-indulgent tosh. It doesn’t help that the ABC insists on advertising the show as if it’s the greatest comedy the world has ever seen.

    The entire show should just be called “Josh Wants To Pash A Hottie (And Play With Cute Puppy Dogs).”

    If Josh is so frustrated about the whiteness of Oz TV, then why doesn’t he do something about it? He is in an enviable position where no matter what he writes, someone will instantly buy it and produce it. This is every writer’s fantasy. All he has to do is fire up his computer and write some non-white characters. Doesn’t sound that hard.

  9. Really looking forward to series 2 hope it is as fresh a series 1

    All 6 episodes from series 1 repeated on ABC2 from 8:50pm this Saturday night

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