Why Are You Like This star Olivia Junkeer discusses "offensive" new Netflix comedy

David Opie
·10-min read
Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

Rainbow Crew is an ongoing interview series that celebrates the best LGBTQ+ representation on screen. Each instalment showcases talent working on both sides of the camera, including queer creatives and allies to the community.

Next up, we're speaking to Why Are You Like This star Olivia Junkeer.

You could say that Why Are You Like This is just another sitcom about twenty-somethings trying to find themselves. And technically, you'd be right, but Australia's latest export is so much more than that.

Set in Melbourne, the show follows three friends who all kind of suck due to an unhealthy mix of narcissism and self-indulgence. Yet this shouldn't put you off because that's exactly why you end up falling for Mia, Penny and Austin, no matter how cruel or ridiculous they can be.

Nothing is off-limits in the first six episodes, which tackle everything from cancel culture and mental health to cosplay extortion and lost menstruation cups. But while Austin spirals and Penny pushes herself into spaces where she might not be wanted, it's Mia who draws the most laughs just by being the actual worst.

Photo credit: Alex Vaughan
Photo credit: Alex Vaughan

Digital Spy caught up with Neighbours star Olivia Junkeer to discuss playing Mia, a bisexual, South Asian woman who does a lot of unlikeable things in Netflix's new comedy. Like, a lot, but in the best way possible

Can you talk me through playing Mia and how you approached the role?

I think the reason I found Mia so easy is because I feel like she’s a little bit the voice in my head. Which is probably not great [laughs].

I connected with that character really, really quickly. And Hum (Humyara Mahbub), who Mia is based off, I spoke to her a lot about it, and that’s how it kind of formed.

And randomly, the clothes that she wore shaped a lot of how I connected with the character, because I loved the way she thought, and what she said, but then also her costumes were so loud and colourful and "look at me", but also very chic. That really, really helped me define who she was.

Mia is really charismatic, but she also does some really unlikeable things. How do you balance that?

Well, that was one of the biggest things during the filming of the show. We want Mia to be likeable, but she’s so unlikeable. She does so many unlikeable things. In episode one, that was a really hard balance, I found. I really struggled with trying to find the right kind of tone and how harsh to be.

And then after speaking to some mentors and drama coaches, and just going through that process of rehearsing, I realised it’s "go hard or go home". To make her so likeable – it’s the fact that she goes so hard.

That was the way I found the balance. I ended up going so much harder than I would have ever thought, but then she ends up being so likeable because of it. So you hate her, but you love her. That’s the route I took.

The pilot was filmed long before the rest of the season and it feels quite different to what comes next. Can you talk me through that development?

I think the most significant difference is that we didn’t know each other. We were all pretty inexperienced in the field that we were doing, in terms of writing and acting. We were all really new to what was going on.

We’re all really close now, and that just made the biggest difference going into season one, because it was so much fun. We connected. We were able to just talk to each other about what’s going on in a scene, or what doesn’t work. Initially, it was that awkward "getting to know each other" phase.

Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

There's a lot of sitcoms out there, so what sets this show apart for you personally?

For me, I would say there’s a lot of diverse representation in the show. Especially in Australia, I would say that it’s one of the few shows that is diverse in every way. It’s not just one character that’s of colour, or one gay character, or whatever.

It also discusses all these topics, not necessarily correctly, but it does open the discussion. It gets you talking after the episode’s finished about what your thoughts are on how you feel in today’s society.

And it makes you laugh at the same time. I think that’s what is most important. It’s actually not a serious topic. Obviously there’s an underlying seriousness to it, but it makes you laugh, and I think that’s what really sets it apart – and for me it’s what’s most important, really.

We love how the show pushes those boundaries, but has there ever been any pushback regarding some of the more controversial topics you tackle?

Not that I’ve been aware of. I was actually really self-conscious about it going in. Obviously because I’m playing a diverse character and talking about religion, that was kind of nerve-wracking for me.

I’m personally not Muslim, and I play a Muslim character, and I know it’s really important to represent that correctly and show respect. It’s hard, because it’s not necessarily a respectful show. I was concerned about that. But I haven’t seen any kind of issues that have come up yet.

Can you tell me more about how Mia's religious beliefs intersect with other aspects of her identity?

She’s this and she’s that, and she’s religious in this way, and she’s bisexual. But at the end of the day, Mia does what she wants. She doesn’t care.

In episode five, it’s about Ramadan. There was a lot of discussion about this episode because I say a lot of offensive things about Mia’s religion. The main point is that you take what you want from your religion, and you don’t have to put it on somebody else.

Photo credit: ABC
Photo credit: ABC

Just because I’m Muslim and you’re Muslim – we take different things from that, and we follow different rules that suit us. And that’s what the core of that topic in the episode is.

That was quite special to me because I really relate to that. I know a lot of people in my age bracket do, too, because the standard of what is acceptable in older generations is not the same now. I think that’s really important. It was really rewarding to do that episode.

Humyara Mahbub, one of the writers, she’s Muslim, and she wrote a lot of that based on her own experience.

What does it mean for you personally to help tell more diverse stories on screen?

My mum’s white, and my dad’s Sri Lankan, and growing up, it’s always been a bit of a push and pull. It’s confusing, because you’re this, and you’re supposed to act in this way, according to your culture, and then another way according to, in my case, the other half of my culture.

For example, when I go to my nana’s house, you eat with your hands, and then when I go to my grandma’s house, you eat with a knife and fork and a spoon. I always thought, "Well, I just want to do what I want to do."

As much as my culture is… I am so proud of it, and where I’m from – I’m so proud. But I just want to eat the way I want to eat. And that’s such a simple thing, but it’s reflected in the show. And that’s how I relate to it, in a very simplistic way.

How does the diversity in your show compare to the Australian TV landscape at large?

That’s a big question [laughs]. Well, first of all, the entertainment industry in Australia is really, really small. It’s old-school, it’s traditional, and it follows traditional ways of filming and writing. It probably reflects the audience as well. So I understand that. But, yeah, it needs an upgrade, I would say.

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It’s improving. It is. It’s 100% improving, and it’s growing, and it’s progressing. But I would say that behind the scenes, and in front of the camera, there isn’t enough reflection of our society that we live in today.

How does this whole experience compare to filming a soap opera like Neighbours?

Well, first of all, the content’s very different. Soap operas are a completely different genre to comedy. So that was very new for me.

But I would say that I’ve always been used to going into a studio and filming, and filming there at a very, very fast pace. On Neighbours… the studio scenes we would do about… I want to say 15 scenes a day. That might be really dramatic, though. But I think it’s 15-ish.

And on set with Why Are You Like This, we would be in a different location every day. So I wasn’t used to that. And we would do four scenes a day. So you really take your time, and you figure it all out, and you get everything.

I was shocked. I was like, "We’re on a different set today? I have no idea where I’m going. I’m following a map – it’s all across Melbourne. I have no idea."

At Neighbours, it’s like I’m going home, and then on Why Are You Like This, it’s like I’m going on a fun excursion.

Season one has just dropped on Netflix for us this week, but have there been any talks for season two yet?

I hope it’s on the cards. It’s too early to say. Also, I’m like the last person that gets to know [laughs]. It’s so frustrating, because I would absolutely love that, and I really look forward to seeing it. I think it depends on how it goes on Netflix. But I hope. I hope.

Photo credit: Channel 5
Photo credit: Channel 5

Assuming we do get another season, is there anything in particular you want to see next for Mia?

I really want to meet her family. I want to see what she’s like in front of her parents, because I think that’s very, very different. When I saw her room – I took so many photos of her room, because I was like, "This is the coolest room I have ever seen." I was like, "Where did this girl live? Who designed this room? I want to meet this girl’s parents."

Finally, what kind of message or feeling do you hope people take away from the show?

I would like them to maybe not take life too seriously? It sounds a bit cliché, but this show talks about such intense topics in such a light manner – and I think that should be taken in at the moment. Everyone can learn to laugh and relax, to laugh at themselves, and laugh at other people, and not take things too seriously.

Why Are You Like This season one is now available to watch on Netflix.

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