Dec 14, 2015 2:53PM

Christian Byers On Representing Whiteness In Australia's First Indigenous Teen Drama

Vintage top from Cream on Crown

Sydney-based actor Christian Byers starred in his first feature film at the age of ten and has amassed a bunch of acting credits since then, including work alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg in The Tree and Daniel Radcliffe in December Boys. Pretty impressive for someone born in 1993!

More recently, Christian landed a key role in Australia's first Indigenous teen drama Ready For This so we caught up him to chat about the show, and found out that he's not only a talented actor but a super smart kid with a strong commitment to Australian cinema.

Lucy JonesSo we might just start off with some pretty basic things. Where did you grow up and where are you living now?

Christian ByersI grew up in Sydney and I'm still in Sydney.

How did you first get into acting?

I've been acting since I could talk, and probably before. When I was was ten, I saw an ad in the paper for an open casting, and I went and I got the part… That was a feature lead so I kind of went from there. 

And what was the audition process like with Ready For This?

It was pretty quick, it was good. I did the first audition and then I came in for another one and met everybody… It was a really great process — we had months of rehearsals which is unheard of. It was just so good for us to have the time to prepare and get into character. 

How would you describe your character Reece, what's his story?

Reece is very intelligent and quick-witted and as a result of that develops a bond with Lily — she and he become really fast friends. I suppose I'd describe him as quite creative and briefly solitary at times, but very, very positive and kind of beyond his years in some ways.

Do you share any similarities?

Yeah, 100 percent, probably not in the beyond his years sense but definitely in the single-minded, creative, intense and imaginary tendencies.

If you could have any talent what would it be?

Probably patience with ideas. I tend to have a lot of ideas and not see them out. I'd like to have the capacity to completely follow something through to the final detail [laughs]. It's not really a talent but that's the one thing I'm working on trying to get through uni. 

You can do that! What are you studying at uni?

I'm doing Writing and Cultural Studies, so gender, race, politics and stuff. My area of academic interest is a methodological approach to transcultural collaboration in Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous cast and crew. That was my interest before I got this Ready For This then I was like, "Oh wow, well this is perfect!"

So being part of the first Indigenous teen drama must be a big deal for you. 

Yeah, 100 percent. I've always kind of been aware of Australia's colonial history and the significance of representation in a social sense, so for me it was a really, really big thing to be a part of.

In the first episode, Lily makes a joke about your character being racist and he's super aware of that. So I was wondering what function you think your charter plays in the show?

I think it's really good because throughout the show he becomes a conduit to discussing whiteness. Throughout different episodes, there are different ways of approaching how far Reece's character can go in assuming to be part of a gang when he has a completely different history — on a personal level and on a broader cultural, historical level. That joke in episode one was a way of confronting that whiteness and that assumption… It's kind of difficult to talk about, but his character in the show for me is definitely tied up with holding a white audience to account. And not just being, "Oh yeah, look at us watching from afar". It actually implicates the white audience in the same way that Reece has to account for his assumptions and behaviours.

I think as the first Indigenous teen drama, there are certain issues that need to be confronted without being reductive or stereotypical…

Personally, my particular interest is the how you go about doing that in a way that's sensitive on a personal level but also sensitive on a cultural level. In terms of on the set and in the final product as well, I think this is a really good example of both. So I'm really happy to be a part of that. 

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I feel like I've grown up not only loving film, but working on film sets and everything. So I really care about the kind of stories we get to see in this country. I think [something in that industry] whether I'm an actor, writer, director or producer — I'm quite interested in all of those. I would quite like to write and direct, but I am also really interested producing for people who might not otherwise get a foot in the door. So I'm really interested in bringing people into the fold but filmmaking generally is where I see myself. 

Most of the films you've done prior to this they are all quite concerned with ideas of Australianness
Yeah, I mean Australianness and the idea of "Australia", that to me is very dense as well and that takes a lot of unpacking. We are a very young country and as a result of that, we can hide things from ourselves easily. So I think it's good to make media, whatever that is, bring that up.

Photography: Max Doyle
Fashion: Chloe Hill
Make-up: Corinna Wilmshurst @ Work

Lucy Jones