The last time we saw Tyler De Nawi on Australian TV, he was a drug-dealing high school student named Karim Ahmad in the SBS series The Principal. In the Nine Network’s new sitcom Here Come the Habibs, Tyler plays a character who couldn’t be more different – and the 26-year-old actor is thrilled to have the chance to portray a positive role model for young Lebanese-Australian men.
Here Come the Habibs is not only the first sitcom in years for the Nine Network but it’s a huge step in terms of the diversity of their programming. Is it exciting to be a part of it?
Definitely. It’s a big step for Channel Nine to pick it up, and I’m so grateful and proud. Hopefully it just pushes the whole industry forward. We’re not trying to get out there and make a political statement. We just want to put together a nice light-hearted Australian comedy which is diverse in its nature. It focuses on a Lebanese family that is portrayed in a very universal manner which is relatable to a lot of different ethnicities.
Habibs is about a family that moves from Lakemba and The Principal was set in that same kind of Punchbowl-Bankstown area of Sydney. Are you familiar with those suburbs – where did you grow up?
I grew up in Riverwood/Punchbowl. Most of my life was in those areas. It was pretty rough. During the time I was growing up, there were gangs and a bit of violence. There were a lot of drugs and junkies walking around.
Habibs is a completely different show. The premise of the series has been causing a bit of a stir without an episode even having gone to air. How do you feel about that?
There are always going to be people who have something negative to say about anything. I’m not completely sure what they’re jumping up and down about. I do think any bad publicity is just going to attract more people to watch the show, and when they do, they’re going to get a nice surprise. The creators didn’t create the show to stir up controversy. Everyone’s intention was good, and we all worked hard – and you’ll only see that in the finished product. We’re not moving forward as a nation if we continue to stir up a fuss, and waste air time and internet space on negative thoughts, when it’s just coming from a place of prejudice.
Your character, Elias Habib, is also very different to your role in The Principal.
I was just so stoked the moment I got the audition because it wasn’t clichéd. He’s a 22-year-old uni student who is almost like the moral compass of the show. He wants to go to uni and make an honest living, which is what a lot of the younger generation is like. I was so grateful to be able to portray that among these larger-than-life characters that are funny.
The irony of all the controversy is that you’re saying it’s coming from people being prejudiced – but those people are the ones accusing the show of being prejudiced, specifically racist. How do you respond to that?
I want to know who they think it’s racist against. The creators of the show are Lebanese themselves – why would they want to tarnish their own name among their own people? It’s coming from an inside point of view. It’s time for Australia to move forward and stop being prejudiced about things that involve multiculturalism. The whole point of the show is that we’re able to now laugh about these issues.
Sometimes getting people to laugh about an issue is more effective than lecturing them about it…
Exactly. I’m glad that I’m able to even have a platform to talk about these issues – that was the biggest intention in getting into acting. I wanted a voice to speak up. TV is one of the strongest ways to influence and inspire people, or change their minds about something. And finally, TV in Australia is talking about these subjects.
Besides The Principal and Here Come the Habibs, which are both shows driven by multiculturalism, have you been getting auditions for other shows?
I haven’t been acting very long – The Principal was my second ever audition. Not many auditions come through, being ethnic, but it’s getting better. With this show, maybe it means that more colour will be on TV and there will be more opportunities for the younger generation. And maybe we’ll start playing other roles. Maybe I can play a doctor or a lawyer on Australian TV as I mature with the roles. We’re hopeful that it’s changing. It is a little frustrating because in any profession, anyone who’s good at what they do should be doing it. I hope I see the day where you can make an honest living doing what you love as an actor and have constant work – that would be the dream.
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