• Kat Hoyos as Layla on Here Come the Habibs. (Nine Network)Source: Nine Network
The actress addresses the controversy surrounding the new show - and explains why it’s hard to be a non-white performer in Australia
By
Gavin Scott

9 Feb 2016 - 11:02 AM  UPDATED 9 Feb 2016 - 11:29 AM

Kat Hoyos plays Layla Habib in Nine Network comedy Here Come the Habibs – a show that’s generated a considerable amount of attention before a single episode has even aired.

But the 25-year-old actress thinks the series is a positive step forward in terms of diversity on Australian TV. And for her, it couldn’t have come at a better time. “We tend to fall behind the times compared to what’s on American TV and how diverse that looks at the moment,” says the newcomer, who shared her thoughts on the series and the fiery debate it sparked…

 

There’s been a fair bit of outrage surrounding Here Come the Habibs before its premiere. What’s your take on it all?

Due to the power of social media, it’s very easy for anyone to have an opinion and for a lot of people to read that opinion.... The fact that people are really quick to judge and [want to] take a show off air makes this even more of a reason that this show needs to come out. A high percentage of us are happy taking the mickey out of each other and that is what Australian comedy is.

If you look at the shows we’ve had in the past – Kath & Kim, Summer Heights High… Chris Lilley is a Caucasian male who’s portrayed different ethnic characters, and even though I think his work’s great, I would think that’s a bit more outrageous than what we’re doing.

 

The question has to be asked: Is Here Come the Habibs racist?

By using the term racist, you’re immediately dividing people. I don’t think we are dividing people – we’re just showcasing two families of different cultural backgrounds, putting them next to each other and seeing what comes of it.

Yes, it’s a Lebanese family from the inner west moving to the eastern suburbs – of course, there are going to be differences. I remember when I lived out west and I moved to Cronulla – there were differences. The people were different; the way of life was different… It was just about taking it in in a positive way. As the season progresses, you’ll get to see there is commonality as well as the differences, and through both commonalities and differences, we can learn a lot from one another.

By using the term racist, you’re immediately dividing people. I don’t think we are dividing people – we’re just showcasing two families of different cultural backgrounds, putting them next to each other and seeing what comes of it.

The show does, however, use race and racial stereotypes to generate laughs…

We all know that people judge people based on a stereotype, but it’s not like we drive the show through a stereotype. More so, we make a comment and say, “Yeah, people do think like this, but we can say that. That’s a joke,” and move on to the next joke.

So it’s more about acknowledging and poking fun at the stereotypes, than reinforcing them?

One hundred per cent. I think Elias (Tyler De Nawi) really does represent that guy who is from a Lebanese background but doesn’t play up to what people think a Lebanese person is. Elias as a character says, “I know you have this perception of Lebanese people, and it [can be that] but it also isn’t [that] because here I am.”

 

Then you have the other brother, Toufic, who is kind of the Effie (from Acropolis Now) of this show, right?

In a way. Those people do exist out there, but Sam Alhaje plays Toufic with a lot of heart. There’s a real genuineness to him as opposed to that slapstick sort of comedy where it’s very heightened. I don’t think Toufic is as heightened. We never wanted to play these characters as caricatures. It’s the same with Layla. She and Toufic are what people tend to perceive Lebanese teenagers to be like, but our main aim was to not take it to that level of being a stereotype.

 

Do you know girls like Layla?

Yeah, I grew up with them. When I lived in Sydney, I was in Fairfield so I grew up with a lot of Middle Eastern, Asian, South American and European friends. It wasn’t hard for me to access that – I just tuned back to when I was 16 and the friends that I was hanging out with.

We never wanted to play these characters as caricatures... [Layla] and Toufic are what people tend to perceive Lebanese teenagers to be like, but our main aim was to not take it to that level of being a stereotype.

You’re first generation Australian. What’s the cultural background of your family?

Colombian. When Modern Family came out, my mum, who is exactly like Gloria (Sofia Vergara) – just shorter and older – had this sense of being proud because there was another side to how Colombia is perceived. Colombia is a country that doesn’t always get looked at in a positive way so it was great for my mum to have this connection to Gloria, because people now say, “Oh Colombia, I know this side of Colombia” and not just the other stuff. She always gets excited when she sees her on television.

And it’s the same with a lot of the Lebanese community – the ones that have spoken to us say they’re so excited because now they get to watch themselves on television, which is contrary to all the negative stuff that’s out there.

 

What acting opportunities have come up for you in the past?

I would get a lot of auditions for stuff coming from overseas during pilot season, or if any work from America was being filmed here or in New Zealand. Generally, I never really got [Australian] TV opportunities, even to audition. I just wasn’t the right look or the role wasn’t there for me. It is a bit unfortunate that that’s been the case, and speaking on behalf of a lot of actors from different ethnicities – they all feel the same way. With Here Come the Habibs and The Family Law, it’s really exciting to have these different families on TV. It’s a lot more relatable – we all know Australia is a diverse country and we need to see more of that on television.

 

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