Two worlds collide
Art definitely imitated life when Benjamin Law met the cast of his best-selling memoir, The Family Law. By SHANNON MOLLOY
IT WAS a warm Queensland morning last May when Benjamin Law’s real family members met his fake ones in the car park of a suburban shopping centre.
The television adaptation of his best-selling memoir The Family Law saw his parents and siblings, and the actors portraying them in the anticipated SBS series, come face-to-face in an outer-Brisbane Chinese restaurant.
“That was the strangest of experiences,” Law recalls.
“I was really nervous but just tried to keep it together – I couldn’t let my anxiety show, otherwise that’d freak my family out … my real family, I mean.”
But pretty soon, everyone was getting along swimmingly. His sisters and their on-screen counterparts snapped selfies while his mother Jenny and actor Fiona Choi, who plays her, chatted like old friends.
Later that day, the real-life Laws filmed a cameo for the
opening scene of episode one, while their fictional selves sat a table away celebrating Ben’s birthday, listening to Jenny recount the graphic details of his birth over dinner.
Taking his story from the page to the small screen, with the help of fellow writer Marieke Hardy, was no easy task, Law admits.
“The book has no structure. That’s the dirty secret about it – it’s a hodgepodge of stories from my personal history,
smashed together into a convincing shape.
“We had to find a story arc or narrative for the script – that’s what good television does. We sat down and thought about what this version of the story would look like.”
The final form is a funny, at times emotional, look at the collapse of Jenny and Danny’s marriage, from young Ben’s dramatic and fame-obsessed perspective.
“If I had to sum it up, I’d say it’s about being Asian in Queensland in the 1990s as your parents split up – a classic Australian tale really,” Law laughs.
But this isn’t niche TV. There are specific themes, for sure, but they’re by no means unique – and Law believes many viewers will see parts of themselves in each character.
“When I wrote the book, there was a big part of me that wondered if it would resonate or whether it was too obscure and strange,” he says.
“But I discovered that it’s about many familiar things – being a child of the ’90s, coming from a big family, being the product of divorce (and) growing up in a distinct Australian setting.
“We’ve taken that approach with this series. I think there’s something in it for everyone.”
The experience of the TV writers’ room was at times like a quasi therapy session, Law says, particularly when reliving the grittier elements of that part of his life.
In episode one, a heated argument sees Jenny kick husband Danny out of the house – an exact re-creation of real events.
“It was quite tough, plotting out every beat of that argument in the script, how it happened and what it felt like. It hurt. All of us in the writers’ room really felt it.
“Then when I saw the first episode and that scene, it worked too well – I had a massive sob.
“I don’t know if it was that the scene was so convincing or the act of reliving something that happened to me, but it was powerful.”
THE FAMILY LAW
THURSDAY, 8.30PM, SBS