“I had recently returned to Melbourne when I got the Neighbours audition, so it was like the stars aligning.”
Interview by Joanne Kmaid
What inspired you to spread your wings outside New Zealand, your hometown?
During my childhood my parents travelled a lot, so I’d often go with them. I went to primary school in Tokyo and also studied at University there. I was born in Christchurch and I’ve always loved New Zealand, but after travelling overseas and living abroad, I had many friends move to Melbourne and everyone was raving about it, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Do you feel settled here?
Over the past year, I have started to feel more settled especially now after working on Neighbours. There’s a really nice vibe on-set; a really nice family atmosphere within the cast and crew. It’s amazing having a full-time job doing something I love. A dream come true to combine my work and passion.
What are some notable differences between a Kiwi and a Melburnian?
I’m from Wellington and it’s very similar to Melbourne. It has a really good café culture. Everyone is into their coffee, and it has a great cultural scene with a lot of theatre and music. So not much difference to Melburnians.
How did you achieve a role on Neighbours?
I auditioned with the casting director and after 2 or 3 call-backs, I got the role. They were trying to match the brothers because I have a twin brother on the show. I auditioned for both brothers until the very end. I had recently returned to Melbourne when I got the audition, so it was like the stars aligning.
Are you an avid Neighbours viewer?
I definitely try to watch it every day. It’s important to know where everyone’s at in their storylines. You often have scenes with multiple characters and there’s a lot of exposition, so you need to be aware of what’s happening in their plotlines.
Are you self-critical of your performance?
Yes definitely, I think every creative person would be self-critical of their work. It’s a healthy constructive process.
How similar are you to your character?
Leo and I share a few traits, not too many. We’re different in the way we approach situations. I’m definitely a lot more considerate and empathetic whereas he is a real go-getter. He knows what he wants and he will go for it, and does not worry about the consequences.
Why the long hair? A trait of yours?
No, I haven’t always had this hairstyle. I recently grew it out a bit longer. I feel sorry for the hair and make-up team on the show, because it’s really annoying for them, not to mention the continuity between scenes. But yeah, I just like it because it’s easy. I don’t have to worry about anything, I don’t have to style it. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to keep it (laughs). They do ask some people to cut their hair.
Who is your No. 1 fan?
My mum! She watches the show religiously and is very supportive. She messages me or e-mails me to tell me what she thinks and really gets into the storyline. It’s quite cute!
What is your best and most unusual fan experience?
I get some lovely fan letters from here and the U.K. It’s always nice to hear from fans and get support from people who watch the show, and really get into the storyline and follow Leo’s character. As for unusual, nothing original comes to mind except for some funny letters from people who don’t like my character.
Do people recognize you in public?
Occasionally. I’m a low-key kind of person, and I keep my head down and do my own thing. It’s usually when I’m tired or trying to do something quickly that someone will recognise me. [Laughs].
How challenging is it for an ethnic actor to get a job in the industry?
While it’s definitely getting better, unfortunately it’s still quite hard. Neighbours is fantastic, it’s always made a conscious decision to include ethnic minorities and present a fair representation of society in Australia. Apart from being lucky enough to get a role on Neighbours, I think it’s still a challenge in Australia to get a multi-cultural regular role. I know overseas, especially in the U.S., they have really taken to ethnic diversity and it’s a big drawcard at the moment. I really hope Australia catches up with this trend. That’s another great thing about the industry in New Zealand, they have always been inclusive of hiring all ethnicities and cultures. Their entertainment industry is fantastic.
Are you aiming for Hollywood?
It’s definitely on my radar for the future. It would be a great experience to work and live in the U.S. Some incredible productions come out of the States. I’m actually going on a road trip with Jodi and Matt from work. A fun visit to L.A. and Vegas!
What was it like growing up in a multicultural family?
Dad is Japanese and Mum is Kiwi. It was really nice to have two different cultures to grow up with and experience, from the kinds of foods to travel and different customs. It was imperative to my upbringing and who I am today. It has taught me a lot about acceptance of other cultures and different values.
Share something very few know about you…
[Laughs]. I used to be in a band, a punk rock band that I used to sing in. That was heaps of fun growing up. We used to do gigs and write some of my own songs. It’s something I really want to get back into.
What is your image of fun?
Definitely hanging out with a group of friends, having good food and lots of laughs.
What do you pray for at night?
I care about the state of the environment and global political issues. I feel like in the current political climate, there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. It would be great if we could start focusing on looking after the environment, and treating each other with respect for a more harmonious society.
This interview was submitted by Cinema Australia contributor Joanne Kmaid. If you have an article or interview you would like to submit for our consideration please contact us today.