SEXIEST NEIGH­BOURS WED!

Tele­vi­sion’s hottest gay cou­ple, Aaron and David, are about to get hitched. For the be­hind-the-scenes scoop, DNA vis­ited the set of Neigh­bours to speak with ac­tors Matt Wil­son and Takaya Honda.

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Tele­vi­sion’s hottest gay cou­ple, Aaron and David, are get­ting hitched. DNA vis­ited the set of Neigh­bours to speak with ac­tors Matt Wil­son and Takaya Honda.

For many Aus­tralians, long-run­ning tele­vi­sion drama Neigh­bours is as quin­tes­sen­tial as Corona­tion Street is to the Brits or Days Of Our Lives to North Amer­i­cans.

The show has sur­vived decades of so­cial change and, while it en­joys healthy com­pe­ti­tion from ri­val Home And Away, Neigh­bours is as much an Aussie icon as Vegemite, Qan­tas and the speedo.

Soon to clock up its 8,000th episode, this is the neigh­bour­hood that once housed the three Hemsworth broth­ers, Rus­sell Crowe, Mar­got Rob­bie, Guy Pearce, Jesse Spencer, Natalie Im­bruglia, Delta Goodrem and, of course, Kylie Minogue.

Con­tribut­ing to the longevity of the show has been the pro­duc­ers’ and writ­ers’ ef­forts to move Erins­bor­ough and its res­i­dents along with the times. In the past few years it has bro­ken new ground with the in­tro­duc­tion of LGBTIQ char­ac­ters and sto­ry­lines.

Back in 2004 a same-sex kiss be­tween Sky Man­gel (Stephanie McIntosh) and Lana Craw­ford (Brid­get Ne­val), the show’s first les­bian char­ac­ters, stirred up con­tro­versy, mir­ror­ing the prickly so­cial cli­mate of the era. In 2010, Chris Pap­pas (James Mason) moved into Ram­say Street, came out, and found a love in­ter­est in Ai­dan Fos­ter (Bobby Mor­ley), cre­at­ing the show’s first gay male cou­ple.

That sto­ry­line at­tracted less crit­i­cism than the les­bian kiss some eight years ear­lier, in­di­cat­ing that times had changed. Jump for­ward to 2018, where Aus­tralian same-sex mar­riage has fi­nally been le­galised and our cur­rent gay neigh­bours, Aaron Bren­nan (Matt Wil­son) and David Tanaka (Takaya Honda) are about to tie the knot in what is guar­an­teed to be a rat­ings bo­nanza. But for the pro­duc­ers, writ­ers, ac­tors, crew and fans of the show, this par­tic­u­lar story arc means a lot more than fig­ures clocked up on the Nielsen charts.

For Matt and Takaya, the sig­nif­i­cance of their char­ac­ters’ mar­riage is some­thing they don’t take lightly, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing last year’s his­toric same-sex mar­riage win for Aus­tralia.

“As ac­tors, we’re re­ally for­tu­nate to be given the op­por­tu­nity by the writ­ers and pro­duc­tion team to play these roles, and to be put in this po­si­tion where we are the first same-sex mar­riage in an Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion drama since it was le­galised,” says Takaya. “That’s some­thing re­ally spe­cial; be­ing the first, and that’s some­thing we’ll al­ways have.”

“We’ve both felt the re­spon­si­bil­ity from the get-go,” says Takaya. “It’s some­thing we’ve been work­ing to­wards for a long time, and we’ve tried to fos­ter a re­la­tion­ship that the au­di­ence would bar­rack for when the time came where we could get mar­ried. For­tu­nately, it seems like the au­di­ence is on our side. This mo­ment has worked out in a re­ally beau­ti­ful way.”

Matt agrees and points out an in­ter­est­ing co­in­ci­dence. “When we orig­i­nally filmed the pro­posal scene, which was ac­tu­ally the failed pro­posal be­fore the suc­cess­ful one, it went to air the day be­fore gay mar­riage be­came le­gal in Aus­tralia. So while we didn’t know that would hap­pen at the time of film­ing, we did get an in­sight into how much all this means. It’s just un­for­tu­nate it wasn’t the suc­cess­ful pro­posal scene!”

A same-sex kiss be­tween two po­lice­men on Britain’s The Bill made world head­lines in 2002. With Neigh­bours sold into 60 coun­tries, can we ex­pect sim­i­lar noise around Ram­say Street this month? Ac­cord­ing to Matt, the in­ter­est has al­ready be­gun.

“We’ve al­ready had a lot of noise,” laughs Matt, “so much noise, in fact, and I’m hop­ing we can get as much as pos­si­ble. There was a lot of press on the ac­tual day of film­ing the wedding, and we got Magda Szuban­ski to play the cel­e­brant. That was her Neigh­bours de­but, and she’s such an im­por­tant per­son to have in­volved. Hav­ing a ré­sumé like hers, you’d ex­pect a bit of ego but she just didn’t have an ego at all, and was so hum­ble. I love her.

“She said that when she was my age, when there was a gay kiss on tele­vi­sion, it was quite risky be­cause you didn’t know what kind of re­cep­tion it would get. But to her, a gay wedding, es­pe­cially on an iconic show like Neigh­bours… well, she could not have imag­ined it hap­pen­ing. It seemed im­pos­si­ble. So for us to have come this far, it’s a huge deal and es­pe­cially for Aus­tralia’s long­est run­ning soap.”

Takaya agrees and is quick to point out the im­por­tance of high­light­ing LGBTIQ is­sues around the world us­ing the medium of tele­vi­sion. “Rep­re­sen­ta­tion mat­ters,” he says. “When that hap­pens on a show that’s iconic and con­sid­ered a pil­lar of Aus­tralian cul­ture, the im­por­tance, as Magda ex­plained to us, is how these mo­ments can save lives. It’s as sim­ple as that. You can talk about soaps be­ing silly and over-drama­tised, but mo­ments like these hold in­cred­i­ble weight and are im­por­tant. In fact, it’s im­por­tant that these mo­ments are cel­e­brated in ev­ery coun­try. Those coun­tries still hold­ing back on gay mar­riage can see that this is a pos­i­tive shift, not a neg­a­tive one and that the sky is not fall­ing in. The louder the mes­sage, the bet­ter it will be for the en­tire world and the equal­ity of the planet,” says Takaya.

Play­ing a gay char­ac­ter on tele­vi­sion can bring a cer­tain level of re­spon­si­bil­ity. In last month’s DNA, Tim Draxl, who plays the gay doc­tor on A Place To Call Home, spoke about the mes­sages he re­ceives from the show’s gay fans, often re­count­ing their own sto­ries. It’s a sim­i­lar sce­nario for both Matt and Takaya, given the show’s pop­u­lar­ity and their ac­ces­si­bil­ity on so­cial me­dia.

“We get a lot,” says Matt, “in fact, we get so much that it re­ally gives our job a lot of weight. You re­alise the im­por­tance of this job when you get these sorts of re­sponses on so­cial me­dia. What we film doesn’t go to air for three months, so it’s easy to for­get about the stuff we’ve shot and to for­get that it’s hav­ing an im­pact on peo­ple. It’s not un­til we re­ceive these mes­sages, that we think, ‘Wow’!”

“I was lucky in Neigh­bours, that I was given the sto­ry­line of David com­ing out as a ma­ture adult,” says Takaya. “It’s not a sto­ry­line seen >>

There’s a lot of trust be­tween us. We don’t have to ask per­mis­sion… We’ve been butt-naked to­gether!

>> on screen all that often. Also, com­ing from a part-Ja­panese back­ground, I un­der­stand what it’s like to be a mi­nor­ity and that feel­ing of ‘oth­er­ness’. I got plenty of mes­sages ex­plain­ing how the strength that David showed in com­ing out to his fam­ily and friends in­spired courage to do the same, and that’s the best pay­ment we can ever re­ceive. Why else do you tell a story, but to try and send a mes­sage and help some­body else?”

Both Matt and Takaya are straight. Do fans as­sume they are gay in real life?

“Yep!” says Matt. “And when I tell them I’m not they still don’t be­lieve me, but I think that’s good be­cause it means we’re do­ing the job right. Some­times even my girl­friend, Jess, will be talk­ing to her lit­tle cousins and, you have to re­mem­ber that TV can seem real to some peo­ple, and they’ll say to her, “Isn’t your boyfriend gay?”

She says, “Well, some­times even I don’t know!”

“My girl­friend doesn’t mind the in­ti­macy stuff,” says Takaya. “It’s only when I do the looks at Matt, the same looks that I give her, that it makes her feel un­com­fort­able be­cause it feels real.”

Cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter for an au­di­ence is one thing, but this is a unique re­la­tion­ship not only be­tween the char­ac­ters of Aaron and David, but also be­tween the ac­tors, Matt and Takaya. Have there been any bar­ri­ers be­tween the cou­ple – or the ac­tors?

“Not with us!” says Takaya laugh­ing. “We’ve been re­ally lucky that we have good chem­istry and that’s not some­thing you can man­u­fac­ture, it ei­ther hap­pens or it doesn’t. Some­times you work with peo­ple and no mat­ter how good an ac­tor you are, it ei­ther clicks or it doesn’t. You can have neg­a­tive chem­istry that works be­cause there’s a power in it or there can be a pos­i­tive en­ergy, which is what I think we have. There’s a lot of trust be­tween us and we don’t have to ask per­mis­sion with any­thing. We just go with what­ever comes up be­cause we’re com­fort­able, and we’ve had that trust from the start.”

“We try to have as many catch-ups and din­ners as we can,” says Matt.

There’s a real-life ca­ma­raderie be­tween the two ac­tors. It’s lit­tle won­der that they’re com­fort­able enough to take on some re­cent cheeky sto­ry­lines. Ear­lier this year the two were caught com­pletely naked in front of a crowd.

“But back when I did the scene with David’s pre­vi­ous lover Rafael (played by Ryan Thomas), in bed, one of us had to have our shirt on. That was the rule. But now, our rat­ing has changed, it’s PG, the door is more open,” says Takaya. “We’ve now been butt naked to­gether, but you

Matt Wil­son as Aaron and Takaya Honda as David tie the knot on Neigh­bours, with Magda Szuban­ski as the cel­e­brant.

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