Wil King chats to us about ‘Why Are You Like This’

Actor Wil King is one of the stars of the ABC’s new comedy series Why Are You Like This. In the six part series he plays Austin, who alongside friends Mia and Penny navigates the challenges of life.

Each 30-minute episode follows the adventures of Mia (Olivia Junkeer), Penny (Naomi Higgins) and Austin (Wil King) as they struggle to hold down jobs, maintain their social lives and deal with a myriad of obstacles from hiding hookups from your housemates, managing menstrual cycles, and perfecting your next drag number.

The show was created by Higgins, alongside fellow writers Humyara Mahbub and Mark Samual Bonanno. The pilot episode was produced in 2018 as part of the Screen Australia and ABC Fresh Blood program. This caught the attention of Netflix and the show was commissioned for a full series.

Graeme Watson chatted to Wil about making the show and perfecting his drag persona.

Have you ever asked yourself the question… Why are you like this?

I actually don’t think I have if I be completely honest with you. Naomi, who wrote the show will tell you that it’s not a question. Because we know how awful these people are. So it is merely a statement. That’s why there’s no question mark on the end of the title.

I did notice there was no question mark. It’s interesting to watch, because when I viewing it I thought I do know people a bit like this, and then you watch a little bit more and you go, am I like this sometimes?

I think we’re a little bit like this a little bit.

How would you describe the three characters in this show? What are they all about?

Nightmares! No, they’re very fun. I know that they’re hate-able, but I also find them so lovable. They’re definitely destructive nuisances, rascals, but they’re – they’re a great time. I think Mia is my favorite. It’s hard to say maybe that’s just because Olivia doesn’t care about anything.

So how would you describe Austin?

Austin is loud, energetic, a little bit manic. But very sweet and fun. And has you know his hearts in the right place. He just doesn’t say the right thing all the time.

Had you ever done drag before?

I did a little bit of drag when I was 18. I did a production of La Cage aux Folles at the Art Center in Melbourne. I was one of the chorus, what was my name? My name was Chantel. I had a red wig and a green costume was lots of fun. That was my first time in drag.

And I’ve done a little bit of baby drag since in preparation for the shoot, I went back and did some more drag at Molly’s Diner in the city, which was so much fun. Also very stressful. Again, so much judgment.

No, but mostly just getting ready is hard. Like I there was this rule at Molly’s Diner for baby drag. We have to get there like an hour before the first show, even if you’re in the last show. And I was like ‘yeah, easy. that’s fine. I don’t have to get there until 6:00pm’, at 5:30pm I still couldn’t get my frickin’ wig on and it was a nightmare.

The actual filming of this new show, it was quite spread out. What was the time between shooting the pilot version and shooting the rest of the series?

We shot the pilot more than two years ago now. I can’t remember. I think it was it was like May 2018 I believe, long time ago. So because we were part of the ABCs Fresh Blood program. We shot it a long time ago, we were up against four other pilots competing to get the series and then we got chosen.

And then it just takes a long time to get it going, I think because of the whole program. So we then started shooting the rest of the season right before COVID, and then Melbourne went into stage four lockdown. So, three weeks from the end of the shoot, we had to stop.

Then in our gap between our two major lockdowns, we got started again, and then we hit another stage for lock down, but we were all prepared to finish the shoot COVID safe at that point, so we got to finish it off. Thank God, everyone walking around in like COVID PPE moon-suits the whole time. It’s pretty full on, but we got it done.

Filming at the best of times is a uncomfortable process, does all the extra levels of COVID protection make it extra stressful or extra difficult?

The first day, I didn’t know what I was in for.  We were shooting on the street out, in the open and it was like, you got to where you were shooting. You did your little run through with all of your COVID gear on, then you took it all off, did a take and they were like “Cut! Alright go, got to go fix your hair and makeup, your mask ruined it.”

So you like run around the corner, because everyone has to be spread out for social distancing. So you had to like run like 20 metres down to hair and makeup with your mask on. Take your mask off and fix your makeup and hair. You put your mask back on, run back by that point, it’s all ruined again. It was a lot. But we made it we got there.

It’s a laugh out loud, funny show. I’ve watched almost all of it. I’m telling friends about it already. But while it’s funny, it’s also got this real realism, with your character we see mental health, we see depression, and we see lethargy.

I think in the pilot. Austin wasn’t necessarily going to be a central character. But as it as it turned into the full, first season, they decided to make it sort of with the three of us. Thanks Naomi!

Think that was a really cool way of giving Austin just an arc and stuff to do. And for me, me coming from like a method acting background. I was like, yeah, it’s something fun to grab on to, which was really cool in like, my preparation, I got to like, deal with a lot of that stuff and figure out where it was coming from and then let it all go because it’s a comedy. Because it’s, you know, it’s a sitcom. It’s not a drama.

It’s important and amazing to see these characters on screen, because that, you know, historically hasn’t happened that much. To have, you know, me, a southeast Asian, and a woman who isn’t just boy crazy in Penny. Austin – a drag queen as a central character. It’s cool to see those characters on screen. But it doesn’t mean that it’s like an earnest show, by any means.

He’s great representation. We do a daily, well we try to do it every day, a history post, something from the past. And the one on Sunday was from 1991.

So 30 years ago, there was an episode of LA Law where two women kissed and this was a huge, huge deal. There was a quote from GLAAD, the American organisation from the day after it aired saying that this character, this one bisexual character, was the only LGBT character, who’s a regular character on the show on American television.

In 1991 there’s not one, and if you look at the report that came out earlier this year, there’s over 1000 LGBTIQ+ characters now on US TV. But it’s it’s still refreshing where we see ourselves depicted on screen.

So refreshing. And we’ve got, you know, both me and Austin are queer. There’s actually a lot of queer characters, we’ve got Lawrence Leung playing a queer character. Like there’s lots of queers. It’s a good time. It was such a nice set to be on… it was nice to be surrounded by lots of amazing and queer people. A lot of our team was queer as well, which was awesome

What kind of roles Would you like to be playing in the future?

Everything, I want to do character stuff, Austin was quite like a bit of a different character for me, it was definitely unlocking something. It’s always been there, but it was nice to be able to lean into it so hard and really embrace the world of drag.

I love having something that I can dive into. I got to play teenage Charles Manson in 2019, and similarly, it was like just a whole world to dive into. I love having stuff where you really have an opportunity to kind of transform a little bit, with like a whole new world. When you get to learn a new skill, I think that’s what I really want to do, and as many queer characters as I can as well. Lots of different queer characters.

There are moments where Why Are You Like This pushes the boundaries, When you first see the the script, do you recoil or do you embrace it?

There was no recoil. I think when I when I first read the pilot, I was like, “Oh, my God!” But once once you got that first episode out of the way, I’m there, I’m like, “Give me more. Come on. I wanna I want to be more shocked.” If someone isn’t offended. We’re not doing it. Right.

Why Are You Like This airs on ABC TV, Tuesday nights at 8:45pm and all six episodes are available on iView.

This interviewed aired on the RTRFM 92.1 All Things Queer. Team members at OUTinPerth volunteer at the station. The interview has been edited for clarity. 

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