When we first started writing The Family Law for TV, I asked mum exactly the same question. I told her to go nuts. Think big. Think different. Think international, like the time Julia Gillard publicly declared she’d want Tilda Swinton to play her – which is a silly thing to say because everyone wants Tilda Swinton to play them, myself included.
“You can choose anyone you want,” I said.
“Anyone? Hmmm,” Mum said. She thought about it, then inspiration struck and she broke out into a smile. “Judith Lucy,” she said.
“Judith is so funny,” Mum said. “Have you been watching her Spiritual Journeyshow on the ABC? Oh and when she talks on stage about hiring a man for sex! So good! Hahahaha.”
“Mum,” I said. “Judith Lucy is white.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, but maybe she could, you know … paint her face yellow or something.”
You really know the diversity of Australia’s on-screen talent pool is limited when your mother suggests someone performs her character in yellowface.
Jesus. You really know the diversity of Australia’s on-screen talent pool is limited when your mother suggests someone performs her character in yellowface.
Even in the early days of the writers’ room, we knew casting The Family Lawwould be an interesting challenge. We had the wonderful Anthony Brandon Wong in mind for Danny from the outset, but who would play Jenny? Were there even enough young Asian-Australian actors out there who could play Candy, Andrew, Tammy and Michelle? Or the Thomson siblings across the road? And what loveable freak would be able to play the adorable weirdo (if I do say so myself) that was 14-year-old Benjamin?
I wasn’t involved in the casting process directly. (It’s weird enough to write a TV series based on your family; it’d feel like bending space and time to have to cast them too.) But as the audition videos came through, muscles I didn’t even know were tense started to relax. Every actor cast for the show was perfect. Fiona Choi – who lives in New York, but grew up in Australia – often has smaller roles in big shows like Homeland and The Newsroom, so it’s gratifying to see her play such a big role in a smaller show. Shu, George, Karina, Vivien and Trystan – who play the Law siblings – weren’t on my radar before production. And maybe I’m biased, but man, they’re as good as any other young actor on Australian TV right now. I wish I’d seen more actors like them on TV growing up.
But the happiest twist of the casting process was casting loveable Trystan Go as Benjamin. There’s something uniquely delightful about casting a young Chinese-Australian actor into the role of a Chinese-Australian wannabe actor. Now Trystan’s now living the dream – a Chinese-Australian actor with a lead role in a TV series. Man, the real teenage Benjamin Law would’ve be so jealous.
Meet the characters in the behind the scenes clip below
The Family Law starts Thursday 14 January on SBS.