Em­bar­rass­ing mums, am­a­teur the­atre, clos­et­ted gay teens – The Fam­ily Law has it all! Matthew Galea asks writer Ben­jamin Law, where to next?

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

DNA: Con­grats on sea­son two! Was it al­ways your plan to have a sec­ond sea­son? Ben­jamin Law: You have to be kind of smugly ar­ro­gant and just as­sume that sea­son two is go­ing to hap­pen be­cause when you’re de­vel­op­ing sea­son one there are plot­lines where you think, “Oh, that’s a to­tal sea­son two thing.” So, you de­velop sea­son one with sea­son two hov­er­ing as a de­li­cious prospect.

Is there a cer­tain pres­sure to follow up sea­son one’s suc­cess?

I guess so. The first sea­son is still the most-watched com­edy ever on SBS On De­mand. They de­buted the episode on Face­book be­fore it went to air, which was an SBS first and it got over a mil­lion eye­balls on it. But for us in the writer’s room, we can’t get too wor­ried about that. We just need to write the best show pos­si­ble.

For read­ers who haven’t watched the show, how would you de­scribe The Fam­ily Law?

It’s a black com­edy about di­vorce and the fam­ily at the cen­ter of it hap­pen to be Chi­nese-Aus­tralian. A lot has been made of the fact that it’s a Chi­ne­seAus­tralian show. We haven’t re­ally had that kind of rep­re­sen­ta­tion on screen be­fore, even though 1 in 10 Aus­tralians has Asian back­ground. But sto­ry­wise it was al­ways a show about di­vorce be­cause my par­ents split up at an early age, and be­yond that one of the sub­plots go­ing on is that Ben is ob­vi­ously gay. The au­di­ence are sev­eral steps ahead of the fam­ily and Ben­jamin about this.

If you asked fans, they’d prob­a­bly pin­point dif­fer­ent as­pects of the show that res­onate with them, whether it’s di­vorce or be­ing gay…

Yeah! And I think they should be­cause, for in­stance, the fact that Ben’s gay isn’t a cen­tral plot yet. We’re pretty ex­plicit about it in terms of who Ben is perv­ing on with his tele­scope! That’s clear, but we’re not yet mak­ing it the main plot be­cause in Ben’s life be­ing gay isn’t yet the main plot. He’s got these foggy feel­ings in the back of his mind that he knows he’ll have to grap­ple with at some stage. How did your fam­ily re­act to their life story be­ing turned into a show for all to see?

When I showed them scripts ev­ery­one was re­ally on board be­cause they found it funny and

That Ben’s gay isn’t a cen­tral plot, yet. But we’re pretty ex­plicit about who he’s perv­ing on with his tele­scope!

ridicu­lous and heart­felt and sad. It would be dif­fer­ent if I was writ­ing an ex­posé on the fam­ily but I’ve writ­ten both the show and the book as kind of a love let­ter to my fam­ily.

On the show, your mother talks a lot about her vagina. Is she like that in real life?

Oh, my god. Any­one who knows my mum and has watched the show is like, “Wow, that’s a re­ally tame rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your mother.” In real life she’s an R-rated ver­sion of the M-rated char­ac­ter you see on the show!

Since The Fam­ily Law’s con­tent is based on true events, is it hard to watch?

There’s that say­ing; tragedy plus time equals com­edy, right? Enough time has passed since I was 14 that this stuff doesn’t re­ally af­fect me any­more. But in episode one of the se­ries there’s a scene where Jenny, the mum, kicks out Danny, the dad, and she turns around and re­alises all her kids have been watch­ing. When I saw the rough cut of that it re­ally got emo­tional for me.

What do you hope view­ers get from watch­ing the show?

A sense of com­pan­ion­ship. A lot of peo­ple who feel like out­siders haven’t seen them­selves on screen. I think young queer peo­ple and Asian-Aus­tralians and peo­ple who have in­ap­pro­pri­ate, cringe-wor­thy moth­ers, peo­ple with di­vorced par­ents… those peo­ple aren’t rep­re­sented on screen enough. When I look back at my child­hood, I wish I’d had a show like this to watch.

If you could have any­one join the cast who would you choose and why?

Adam Liaw [celebrity chef]. He’s also on SBS and he’s met the cast at func­tions and we’re al­ways like, “You love us, we love you, we should just write a dirty char­ac­ter for you.” And Poh [Ling Yeow, celebrity chef] as well. Oh, and Penny Wong! In a dream se­quence!

What’s the most mem­o­rable thing a fan has ever said to you?

Af­ter I wrote my first book The Fam­ily Law, there were a few peo­ple who came out to me on­line be­cause, I think, there’s safety in writ­ing to some­one you don’t know. There’s a chap­ter in the book about my com­ing-out and how my par­ents hi­lar­i­ously re­sponded to it.

Like how?

My mum said, “There’s noth­ing wrong with com­ing out, it just means that some­thing went wrong in the womb.” My mum was very sup­port­ive and I came out to my dad by the time I had a boyfriend who he al­ready knew, just not as my boyfriend. When you come from a non-An­glo fam­ily, at­ti­tudes to­wards be­ing gay are more con­ser­va­tive and it gave [read­ers of the book] courage. That wasn’t what I was think­ing of when I wrote it but it’s been a gor­geous side af­fect of get­ting my story out there.

So, what is your com­ing-out story?

I didn’t grow up in a city and knew I was go­ing to go to uni­ver­sity and get to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind. That’s an ap­peal­ing prospect if you grow up gay in the sub­urbs. I came out at 17 to my mum and then, years later, to my more con­ser­va­tive dad. I’m so grate­ful be­cause by that stage they had seen some­thing of the world and they knew that a hetero­sex­ual mar­ried life isn’t nec­es­sar­ily for ev­ery­one – be­cause they lived through that. That helped them think, “If our son’s gay, at least he’s happy and healthy and why should there be any­thing wrong with that?”

Hope­fully we get to see Ben’s com­ing out story in the show even­tu­ally.

I hope so, too!

Tell us about your boyfriend…

His name’s Scott Spark. I know it sounds like a porn name but it’s his real name. He’s a record­ing artist. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers. We’ve been to­gether for nearly half our lives but it doesn’t feel that long be­cause it’s easy to be with some­one that long when they’re the best per­son you’ll ever meet. I know that sounds re­ally fuck­ing sappy.

Wait, is this the same guy you were say­ing that your dad knew?

Yeah! Be­cause he worked at my dad’s restau­rant for a while when I was working there, too. We hooked up af­ter a shift.

His char­ac­ter could po­ten­tially make his way into the show?

Funny you should say that… Not this se­ries. It’s some­thing we’ve dis­cussed. It de­pends how long we can keep the show go­ing.

Is it true that some of Scott’s songs are in­spired by you?

He writes our his­tory in a sim­i­lar way that I write my fam­ily’s his­tory. It’s like a beau­ti­ful time cap­sule; like some­one paint­ing your por­trait.


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