Australian funnyman Chris Lilley is once again bringing his unique brand of comedy to HBO, and this time it comes in the form of a familiar (and quite catty!) face.
The mockumentary-style Ja’mie: Private School Girl (bowing this Sunday at 10:30/9:30c) revives the titular, Lilley-portrayed fan favorite — previously seen in cult hits We Could Be Heroes and Summer Heights High — and follows the bitchy queen bee as she embarks on the final three months of her high school career.
Here, Lilley discusses with TVLine his decision to base an entire series around just one of his alternate personalities (past projects featured a mix of his characters). He also explains his extremely hands-on approach to television (Lilly stars in, exec-producers, writes, directs and composes the music for all of his shows) and gives fans a preview of just how “quiche” Private School Girl really is.
TVLINE | How was it stepping back into that school-girl uniform?
Great. It was really fun. She’s a character that I really missed, but it felt like yesterday that I was playing her.
TVLINE | Why was now the right time to revive Ja’mie?
People think I have some master plan, but I was just halfway through Angry Boys and thought that it would be good to do a show about one character, just really focus on their world. And somehow Ja’mie stood out as someone who would be nice to write for and play again.
TVLINE | How if at all has Ja’mie changed since we last saw her?
In We Can Be Heroes, she’s a lot more innocent. It’s Year 10, it’s her first time in front of the camera and she’s much more timid — but by the end of the series she’s out of control. [Laughs] And then in Summer Heights High she’s a fish out of water in a new school environment, trying to climb her way to the top. And in [Private School Girl] she’s on top, she’s in Year 12, it’s her last three months of school. She’s been school captain all year and she’s just out of control and bossier and bitchier than ever. This series plots some life-changing events. There’s a suggestion that it’s building toward some great climax at the end — which it does. It’s going to plot Ja’mie’s downfall; she sets herself up to be this amazing thing and it’s all going to fall apart.
TVLINE | So, as the premiere teases, we will see Ja’mie’s life change forever?
It’s a shocking conclusion that I’m sure will divide audiences. Some unexpected stuff happens.
TVLINE | Ja’mie is now very into boys and actually snags one for herself early on. What kind of girlfriend is she?
Terrible. She’s your worst nightmare of a girlfriend. You’ll see. It doesn’t go well. [Laughs] She’s very needy and insecure and, at the same time, completely dominates him. And he’s a status-scene higher than her, so he’s just something to show off about.
TVLINE | Aside from Ja’mie’s parents, will any other Summer Heights faves make a cameo?
Strictly Ja’mie. It’s all about her and her world.
TVLINE | Were you inspired by any other shows or anything you’ve seen pop culturally in recent years?
Not anything specifically, but I do like watching reality shows about bitchy kids and teenagers. Rather than a serious documentary, I was shaping this series as a poppy, MTV reality-type thing. They’re just everywhere, those kind of girls. I was hoping it was a recognizable type. And weirdly, I’ve had so many girls come up to me claiming that they are Ja’mie —
TVLINE | Who would own that?!
[Laughs] Yeah… It’s weird.
TVLINE | You wear all of the hats on each of your series’, down to writing the music for each project. Why is that important to you?
I’ve always been someone who’s interested in creating stuff… I don’t actually appear in anyone else’s television shows or films. I don’t do anything other than my own projects. I really get excited about all the details and creating the world and all of the tiny, tiny things… Early on I did a sketch comedy show [with] an ensemble cast and I had to do sketches where I hadn’t written them — and even the stuff that I had written, I’d try to sneak in and edit everything myself. The producers would catch me and kick me out. [Laughs] I’ve always wanted to be hands-on in everything I do.
TVLINE | We have to talk about a moment coming up this season in which Ja’mie performs in a dance class. Aside from it being one of the funniest visuals I’ve seen on TV this year, you’re really good at dancing!
Oh, that’s so nice. [Laughs] I don’t have any dance background, but I just really like it. I write it into the script and forget that I have to do it, so I’ll get to that day of shooting and it’s like, “Oh god, you actually have to do this…” I’m also not really good at remembering moves and stuff, so I hate bringing in choreographers. I like to keep it really free and improvised, so that was just all my own.
TVLINE | You direct each episode, too, so what kind of notes were you giving yourself in that moment?
I’ll just do it and watch the playback and then… yep, we’re doing another one. [Laughs] We did a few takes of that one. At the end of the same episode she does a dance for [her boyfriend] where she’s sitting on his lap… I rehearsed it before, rented a little studio and came up with some idea for moves, but you never really get to see what it looks like. There’s a move where she’s thrusting herself toward him from the ground, and it felt kind of cool in that room but then when I saw the playback it was just ridiculous. [Laughs] I don’t know what style it is — maybe Contemporary? — but by the end of it she’s basically a stripper giving him a lap dance. Anyway, I’m not a dancer and have never been trained, so I don’t know where that’s all coming from. [Laughs]
TVLINE | You’ve said you don’t plan too far ahead, but is your next project already in the works?
I’m definitely planning something new. I always have lots of ideas, so I’m honing in on a couple of things — and hopefully sooner rather than later. I used to sit back and take on mega-projects that take so long to put together. Now I like the idea of getting stuff done more quickly, therefore there’s less of it so you don’t get something like Angry Boys — which is so huge. I really like working in this style, playing the characters and stuff, so it will definitely be in that style.