Unsynced stars Johnny as Stanley, who aspires to represent Australia in synchronised swimming. Of course, there’s no male team so he pretends to be female but is soon disqualified, disgraced and banned from the sport, which soon turns him into an aquaphobic hermit. Will Stanley be able to get back into the water and redeem himself?
We emailed Johnny some questions, which might offer a clue.
Your production company is called Militant Funktion. Any meaning behind it?
I want to bring diversity to our screens, break racial stereotypes and only use race specific roles when absolutely necessary. Australian media isn’t particularly diverse. There are countless actors and stories out there that don’t fit into the dominant narrative. Militancy means commitment, a commitment to break that narrative, that imagery. So, I guess I am quite militant in that regard.
Unsynced – where did the idea come from?
My business partner [Peter Nizic] and I were workshopping a few ideas and with anything we make we like to have a relevant underlying message. We felt due to the current climate on same sex marriage and equality in general, we thought synchronised swimming could be an interesting and original platform to get our message across.
Some of the ideas in the show are quite edgy in terms of representation of sexuality, in particular. Were you worried how it would be perceived in today’s politically correct climate? Or from the synchronised swimming community? And if so, how did you go about ensuring that you were on the right track in the representation.
Definitely, and this is probably the most important part of the show and the subtext throughout, which is ‘discrimination’. And I’m not talking about Stanley being allowed to compete at the games, that was purely my take on male privilege and the catalyst to get our underlying message across. I also ensured that everyone in the LGBTQI support group [featured in the show] was part of the community and was comfortable with the dialogue. Craig Walker wrote his own introduction which was quite beautiful. I also spoke with and ran the script by people within the LGBTQI community. Most importantly, the hero of the show is Mina [Diab Metry] and we showed her character in a way that has never been shown before on Australian television. As for the synchronised swimming community, we showed a man that was incredibly passionate and committed to a sport he loves. Also, Stanley is completely accepting of everyone but just did something really stupid to fulfil his lifelong goal and then paid for it.
Is comedy where you want to go with your future projects?
I do enjoy comedy but I also enjoy drama. We made a short film recently called Falling, which is about depression and suicide. I find it easier to write about things I know – discrimination with Unsynced and depression/suicide with Falling.
You’ve mostly been known for acting but is creating content something you just have to do in order to keep working?
For me it is. Also, I want to help in changing the industry, I really want to be part of that change, where people that look like me are not purely in a show because they are a certain race and get typecast as terrorists or drug dealers. The opportunity for an actor to play any role they want must be extended to everybody in the industry regardless of race or gender. I am really passionate about that. Plus, I love creating, I love the entire process.
In terms of your own ethnic identity, how does that play out in your mind in terms of the types of roles you want to play/create?
Surely, everyone is tired of racial stereotypes by now, why do we keep reproducing these clichés, these caricatures on screen? I am all about breaking racial stereotypes. There must be depth to each character I create. Right now, I am enjoying playing an Australian in my own content, that’s something I have never been given the opportunity to do before. If you don’t get given opportunities eventually you realise you need to make them for yourself. If I do write a story about a Lebanese Australian, I would want it to expand people’s perception of Lebanese identity beyond clichés. It definitely wouldn’t be stereotyped at all. It’s not just for my own characters, it’s for all the diverse characters that would be in the show. There is such an incredible richness and diversity in this country, we just need to work on making spaces for those stories to resonate.