When David (Takaya Honda) and Aaron (Matt Wilson) tie the knot tonight in Neighbours, it will mark the first same-sex wedding in an Australian drama since Australia voted for marriage equality.
Yet the timing wasn’t driven by the vote for same-sex marriage at all. It had been a long time in the planning according to Honda (pictured, right) who has been on the soap since 2016.
“When I had my first script meeting after being given the role of David, they said he was going to come out and Aaron would be the long-term partner, ‘and we want you guys to be married by the end of it,'” he recalls.
“The day after it passed in Parliament was the (first) proposal by David to Aaron. We filmed it 3 months beforehand without any clues it would happen.
“So it was just by chance that it came together.”
“This will save lives.”
Indeed, it is a historic moment in local drama. While House Husbands featured a backyard wedding in 2015, it was before marriage equality was legal in Australia.
Since the days of Scott & Charlene, a Neighbours wedding has practically become an Australian institution. Across two episodes the Erinsborough community will celebrate the legal union of Matt & David, with ‘marriage equality ambassador’ and actor Magda Szubanski fittingly officiating the nuptials.
‘Magda said, ‘This is a huge moment for Australia and the gay community. This will save lives.’ So that was nice for us to hear,” Honda explains.
“Not that we weren’t taking it seriously. Matty and I have both understood the responsibility we have in playing gay characters on screen since we started.
“It was a manic day because we had journalists on set, which we don’t often do. Matty & Magda were having to do interviews in between takes, and I was really sick on the day, too.
“But it was a lot fun.”
As with any Neighbours episode the occasion is a mix of comedy and drama and whilst Szubanski turns on the comedy as celebrant Jemima Davies-Smythe, she turns serious for the crucial moment when TV history is made.
“We need to give the moment the weight that it needs.”
“That was something she drove,” he continues.
“She went to Production and said, ‘We need to give the moment the weight that it needs.’
“Filming with Magda was like a masterclass, really! Watching her in rehearsals trying out different kinds of comedy and jokes and then watching her pull It together in the take was quite impressive.
“The rate at which we shoot on Neighbours is so fast. Often a lot of veterans come on and they get shaken by the speed we do, and how few takes we get. So she was on the ball using rehearsal takes, and then hitting all the comedic moments.
“The comedy is nicely balanced with the sentiment of the episode, as well as the other storylines that are going on.”
Yet in TV soap conflict and relationship break-ups are also par for the course. Honda’s character has worked through his own internalised homophobia, as well as encountering dissenting voices, if vocalised by guest characters.
“It isn’t something they’ve tried to shy away from but at large it’s been a supportive community, without too many consistent negative voices. I think it would have been difficult to maintain if one of the regular characters was openly homophobic, because it’s quite limiting in storylines,” he admits.
“Erinsborough as a whole has been really supportive.”
“Erinsborough as a whole has been really supportive. But we’ve have guest characters who have driven that conflict. David has had to deal with some pretty blunt homophobia, so it has been explored.
“It would be the same if there was a racist on Ramsay Street.
“People coming out on television are also generally younger, so that side of the story is often told. But the ‘mature adult side’ isn’t told a whole lot and it’s a common one.
“When David started on the show, he didn’t know what he was. He was questioning a period in his life where he believed he was straight. That’s how I played it with Amy (Zoe Cramond).
“But she was part of the catalyst that helped him come to terms with the idea that maybe he was gay, and what that meant for him. He grew up with the image that he was supposed to be a straight doctor with a family and a perfect dream -rather than come to terms with who he actually is.”
Honda, who has a Japanese father, is appreciative that his on-screen character’s cultural background is merely part of the mix, as it is for his on-screen brother Leo (Tim Kano).
“I don’t speak with an accent, I’m not expected to represent the whole of the Asian community in Australia. I’m an Australian with a Japanese background who is just living on the street,” he explains.
“At my first producer’s meeting with Neighbours, I said, ‘Thank you from me and Leo for making these roles what they are.’
“Neighbours doesn’t get the credit it deserves”
“Neighbours doesn’t get the credit it deserves, because there are resident characters who are not only gay, but different racial backgrounds, or in storylines such as surrogacy, pregnancy, which aren’t often explored in other shows. So it is trying to be inclusive.
“The amount of people who personally messaged me …either about someone they know, or they themselves…. (saying) that storyline gave them courage to come out… that’s why as actors we do what we do.
“It makes me immensely proud of the opportunities the show has given me.”
Neighbours wedding airs 6:30pm tonight on ELEVEN.