Two worlds col­lide

Art definitely im­i­tated life when Ben­jamin Law met the cast of his best-sell­ing mem­oir, The Fam­ily Law.

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - NEWS - 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

All in the fam­ily: The cast of TheFam­i­lyLaw.

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