From John Paul and Craig to Christian and Syed, the world of soap has provided us with some of the most beloved LGBT screen characters of all time.
Neighbours is continuing that proud tradition with poular couple David and Aaron, played by Takaya Honda and Matt Wilson respectively, who are are making TV history Down Under with the Australia's first same-sex TV wedding.
Ahead of the episode's broadcast in the UK on Channel 5 today (Monday 3 September), Attiude's Will Stroude caught up with Takaya to discuss the big day, the hatred sparked by the Australian government's controversial poll on marriage equality, and why the 30-year-old actor is proud to represent a "3-D" Asian-Australian character on screen...
How are you feeling about being part of Neighbours' first ever same-sex wedding?
I’m really excited. I can’t wait for the audience to see what we’ve come up with. I think the audience is going to respond really positively to it, as anyone who’s had any involvement in this so far has. The feedback we’ve been getting so far has been great. I’m really excited – there’s a small bit of anxiety leading up to but I think it’s gonna be great.
Has there been any backlash at all?
You can never really be sure of anything with the storylines you get in Neighbours, but overwhelmingly the reaction has been positive and I’m super happy it’s gone that way. It’s symbolic of the time, it’s 2018 now and people have grown up I think. Not only is the wedding symbolic but the reaction to it is symbolic too. The thing that gives me hope is that for every negative comment, there’s a bunch of replies from other fans of the show ganging up against it. I think that’s a really great step forward for us as a society.
Neighbours has been on the air for over thirty years now - are you shocked it’s taken so years for this to happen?
I think for some people it was important that it was legalised first for this kind of event to occur. For some people it’s a painful thing to watch a ceremony to occur without it being given the legitimacy of being legalised by society. What the reaction would have been had this occurred earlier, I’m not sure. I think the timing has worked out really well – I mean, it was coincidental in a lot of ways, the initial [onscreen] proposal came I think the day after it was legalised or passed in parliament in Australia. But from the very start when I got on the show, there was a long-term plan of the direction David and Aaron’s relationship was going, and they said ‘We want you to get married’. That was always the goal for those two characters - the situation wasn’t taken advantage of in that way.
So what can you tell us about the big day itself? This being soapland we’re expecting a few twists and turns along the way…
Well it is Neighbours, so you can always expect a few bits you weren’t expecting! But it was a really beautiful day that the episode was shot, and I think the writers knew there was never a need to do too much, because what it is is special enough. There’s enough drama around being the first marriage on TV since legalisation that we didn’t need to do too much else.
What’s it been like working with your onscreen other half Matt and sharing this experience with him over the last two years?
Oh I can’t ask for a better partner in crime than Matty. He’s a super hard worker along with being a super nice guy. He’s always there trying to make the scenes bettwr, trying to make sense of the scripts and the characters. I couldn’t ask for more than that in a partner. And we get along really well, we’re really comfortable with each other, which is important with anyone you’re doing a romantic relationship with. You want to feel safe and we trust each other in that way, so It makes it easy of set to play that intimacy. The little things that you do when you’re in a relationship – when you’re sitting down next to each other, how you sit, how you touch each other, and just physically how you position yourself – those things are made easy when working with someone like Matt. It’s been a privilege, really.
Is that chemistry something that came naturally?
To a certain extent you just have to have a certain amount of chemistry. There’s only so much that can be fabricated. There might be bits where we kiss or something, and we’ve either had it or taken it away where we’ve felt like ‘that kiss doesn’t feel right’, or ‘oh this is a moment where we kiss’ and worked to make it feel more natural and more realistic in that sense, because we’re more comfortable with how it feels. It’s really just making the feeling between the two characters strong and truthful so the audience feel the same way.
Actress and LGBT activist Magda Szubanski gues stars at the the wedding officiator – was important for the show to make a nod to real-world political events?
To have Magda Szubanski come on board as our celebrant was an absolute delight on set. I’m super excited to see the audience reaction to her too, and she was such an advocate for marriage equality in Australia. She was such an icon and still is. She does a great job and we were so lucky to have her on board.
While it’s not uncommon to see same-sex couples on soaps these days, it’s still rare to see black and minority ethnic LGBT people represented. As an Australian actor with Japanese heritage, has that been something that’s important to you personally?
Right from the beginning. In the first meeting I had once we were cast I said to the producer ‘Thank you so much for this character, because you’ve created a character that’s Australian but has a background. In role that I’ve auditioned for or been cast in [in the past] the background has been the character. The fact that they might be Australian was kind of irrelevant. It’s a frustrating thing to have to deal with, so when you have someone who’s been brought up in Australia, has an Australian accent, everything about them is Australian except for the fact that their parents have come from wherever they have, is really exciting. Just to have a 3D character that hasn’t been reduced to that label. For David to come out on the show, yes he had Asian heritage, and then he came out, you were able to track a character that see that he was 3D, and not as one thing and then representative of that entire community. To see how these worlds collide and interact with each other, I think that’s a much more interesting story. I think to me that is so important. It’s so important that movies, films, TV show represent that diversity, because people need to feel like they’re seen and part of the community. I feel a great privilege to be a part of that.
That Australian government’s national poll on marriage equality was criticised by many for putting a human rights issue down to a public vote and bringing lots of homophobia to the surface – what was your feeling about it seeing that campaign unfold?
Whether it was right or wrong, I think it was a huge waste of money! To me, I think the outcome was no. All that was really allowed for in that moment was the negative voices: They were allowed to be loud, they were allowed to be offensive, and to say things that shouldn’t be said these days. There was a lot of hate that was aloud to be spread in that moment, so I don’t think it was necessary. Every other poll that was done was well in the majority of ‘Yes’ vote. So for me at the time it did feel like a stall[ing] tactic, and just giving a moment to those who were against it – giving them a voice they really shouldn’t have. I’m a big believer in spreading positivity, and when you allow those voices to be strong I don’t think it leads to good things. If that poll had gone the other way, the detrimental effect of that is certainly not worth it. Our leadership should always lead the country in a positive manner, to a future of inclusion where people don’t feel ostracised for being different. You want to fee like you’ve got leadership who stand up and say ‘this is the right thing to do’. So for me, I wish we had stronger leadership who stood by what they had said in the past and took the country in a positive direction without giving a voice to the negative people out there.
On a slightly more positive final note, what does the future hold for Aaron and David? Kids perhaps?
[laughs] Well you know I can’t give away too much! But let’s just say there’s plenty of storyline left for ‘Daaron’ on the show. There’s going to be a few little surprises, butt here’s going to be a lot of positivity. They’ll be ups and downs but they know where they stand with each other and they know they’ve got each other’s back. I’m looking forward to where they end up over the next year and possibly into the future. I’m sure the audience is going to enjoy watching them grow as a couple.
David and Aaron's wedding scenes will air on Neighbours tonight (3 September) at 5.30pm on Channel 5.