Revry Presents “Life is Easy”
Queer virtual cable TV network, Revry, pays homage to the cult classic “Freaky Friday” with “Life Is Easy”– a comedy series that uses the body swap trope to highlight race, gender, sex, and the true meaning of being “woke” in 2020. Created in New Zealand and featuring a multi-cultural cast, the series had its live world premiere on Revry’s live TV channels last week. Viewers can also binge watch the entire season on July 19th by upgrading to Revry Premium.
Welcome to the world of Jamie-Li and Curtis: Yin and Yang; Potato and gravy; BFF’s since childhood. Jamie-Li, a straight Chinese-Kiwi woman, and Curtis, a gay white man, have a friendship that defies race, gender and sex…or so they think. After a night of wet and wild partying on their joint 25th birthdays, the two Gemini’s wake up to find themselves in each other’s bodies–revealing a hot mess of unexplored issues that unravels the way they see others, one another, and themselves. They thought they were “woke”–until they woke up in each other’s bodies! “Life Is Easy” (LIE) is a smart, funny, sexy, wholesome, and thought-provoking 8-episode satire series exploring the complexities of race, gender and sexuality in today’s seemingly “woke” society.
It was a pleasure to talk with the leads Chye-Ling Huang and Cole Jenkins for this Hotspots exclusive interview:
Were you always a ham, even as a child or when did the acting bug bite you?
Cole: I guess I have been a performer from a young age. I sang in school choirs and barbershops and performed in school plays. I also did a little bit of community theatre in my teens. And I did acting, theatre sports and dance classes from when I was 12 years old until about 16 or 17. But I think at the time this was just a fun hobby for me; I enjoyed it, I made some cool friends and it gave me something to focus on. It wasn’t until I finished high school that I realized that I didn’t really enjoy doing much else and there wasn’t anything else that I thought I was particularly good at besides performing and creating so I guess that’s when I decided to try and make a career out of a hobby and go to drama school.
CL: I probably always had a bit of attention-seeking middle child syndrome in me – but at the same time, I grew up quite sheltered and shy with three sisters to lean on. I used Drama at high school as an active way to break out of my shell, and found that I loved it for the social aspects, confidence building and later representation and storytelling that could empower myself and others.
What was your first professional (paid) acting gig?
Cole: I think it would have been working as an actor in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I played a World War One soldier and the play focused on taking kids through an interactive and immersive experience of what Kiwi soldiers went through during WWI. Four times a day. It taught me how to improvise and interact with kids who are very unpredictable and I also learnt a lot about WWI.
CL: Hui by Mitch Tawhi Thomas at the Court Theatre in Christchurch, which was a close up, hyper realistic look at a family of Maori siblings grieving their recently deceased father and making sense of their fraught relationships. I played the heavily pregnant fiancé of one of the brothers. It was dramatic, heavy and extremely rewarding living and working with the cast and being embedded in Kaupapa Maori (principles, ideas, way of life).
When did you realize acting would be your career?
Cole: If I’m honest, I can’t say I’ve been able to make a “career” out of acting alone. As many people know it’s a tough industry to break into and it’s even harder to stay in it. But through acting and the people I’ve met doing it, I’ve been able to mold a life and a successful career for myself that is still within the acting industry. I work as an acting agent in Auckland so that keeps me in work in the film and television industry while being flexible enough to audition and create and act when I can. This definitely wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t started following acting as my passion.
CL: I took two years off after high school to travel, work odd jobs and do community theatre and workshops. By the time I graduated drama school in 2012 I knew that acting and storytelling were the only things that stuck with me, and gave me joy and meaning enough for me to risk it big. My classmate James Roque and I then started ‘Proudly Asian Theatre’ company to give it our all.
When and how did the two of you meet each other?
Cole: We actually went to intermediate school together from 2001-2002 but we never officially met until we went to drama school in 2010. I remember after the first day of callback auditions for drama school we bumped into each other at McDonalds and realized we lived quite close to one another. When we both got into drama school, we car pooled together with some other students and the rest is hilarious, surreal and sometimes naked history.
CL: The McDonalds meet up after callbacks was all I needed to know we would be friends for life. Once we both got into drama school, there was no return – we lived together for years and would stay up making up games and characters and terrorizing each other.
Other than “Life is Easy” what has been your favorite project to work on and why?
Cole: I really loved working on the play ‘Titus’ which was an adapted, all male version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. We, the cast, were lucky enough to perform 3 seasons of it; once at drama school, again at Auckland’s Q Theatre and finally at the inaugural season of the Pop-Up Globe. I really enjoyed this project because across the 3 seasons I was able to develop and play with my role of Queen Tamora. She went from the highs of being the Queen of Rome to the lows of eating her own children, with a bit of sassy clowning and trickery in the middle, so she was an absolute blast to play. This is where I also got a taste of exploring the masculine and feminine energies and characteristics within myself which I think has really informed who I have grown into today.
CL: I wrote and directed my second play, Orientation, in 2018 which was about navigating sexual stereotypes as an Asian person in New Zealand. It was a huge leap to trust my gut, but it was also fun, sexy and meaningful. It was so satisfying to take what I’ve learnt about myself and others in cringe dating experiences, and weave it into something nuanced and powerful – plus, the cast of Mulan happened to be there shooting in NZ at the time, and came along on closing night. Magic.
You both are actors and writers, is there one you enjoy more than the other and why?
Cole: Generally I would say I enjoy acting more but in the case of Life Is Easy I think the writing was the fun part, albeit difficult. Life Is Easy was actually my first foray into writing so I felt a bit like a fish out of water at first, but once we had the story and structure down, the dialogue came easily, and Chye-Ling was very helpful and supportive of me which made the experience way more enjoyable. I proved to myself that I could do something new and I wasn’t half bad at it and I’m definitely keen to improve.
CL: Definitely torn between the two – writing is so powerful and satisfying when coming from a marginalized perspective as it gives you the autonomy to write what you want to see, and play. So they go hand in hand for me. Acting is a different kind of joy – losing yourself in someone else’s life is magic. I have a lot to learn in both regards, which makes me hungry to keep going.
How did “Life is Easy” come about?
Cole: I guess it came from our long, intense and silly friendship. We have said for years that we wanted to create some work for ourselves together and one night (probably after a few rum and cokes) Chye-Ling came to me with the idea of us swapping bodies and it kind of stuck with us for a long time. Then when we got the opportunity to pitch some ideas to our local broadcaster we gave it a go and they loved it.
CL: I remember being at our local (and awesome) indie theatre The Basement, a few drinks down, and us jamming the idea after we ran into each other. I had a great relationship with TVNZ and once we found that the idea held more than just the initial gag, we pitched and it snowballed from there.
Was it as fun to film “Life is Easy” as it was to watch?
Cole: It was a lot of fun to film Life Is Easy but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. Chye-Ling and I had written in heaps of characters and too many locations which made scheduling a bit of a nightmare for our super star producer, Ruby Reihana-Wilson. We had to work very quickly which put a lot of pressure on our cast and crew. Not to mention we lost an entire day’s footage from probably the complicated shoot day which we then had to make up for so that wasn’t fun. But we had the most incredibly kind and professional and generous cast and crew that made the whole experience a delight. Plus our directors, Amanda Tito and Christopher Stratton, always made sure the set environment was relaxed and fun and safe.
CL: Seconded! I had to keep reminding myself to relax as it was our first long form narrative project, we’re both more experienced in theatre than film, and we were working with an ambitious script on a tight budget. In saying that, it was impossible not to have a blast with the team all being people we’d chosen for their humor and good work ethic.
Were you happy with the outcome of “Life is Easy,” and what was your favorite part?
Cole: Absolutely. When Chye-Ling and I first pulled together our core creative team we said we wanted the show to feel, look, sound, taste, and smell different to any other digital series on New Zealand video on demand and I think we have achieved that. We also wanted the stories we were telling and the themes we were exploring to really speak to our communities and really push the boundaries of what we normally saw from local content creators and I think we achieved that also. My favorite part is the boardroom scene in episode 5. I think it perfectly encapsulates many of our themes and is a really relatable moment for women of color in a professional environment and also a teachable moment of employers of people of color.
CL: Yes! As a fresh team with a budget to run a little wild, we prioritized the working environment, inclusivity and learning for everyone involved. It feels like it did more than just deliver a series, it grew a team and allowed us first-timers to learn a huge amount in a short space of time – an important Launchpad for POC and Queer practitioners to get on the playing field. I loved the flashback with the parents as it was our very first shoot day, and seeing interracial couples always hits me for obvious reasons. Without giving away spoilers…the sex scenes make me proud, as we used intimacy coordinators which are relatively new here, it was a fantastic experience as well as showing Queer sex in realistic way that we don’t see on NZ screens.
Why should our readers watch “Life is Easy”?
Cole: Your readers should watch Life Is Easy because it’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s wholesome, it’s kiwi, it’s SO GAY and we feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share our stories with the world through Revry.
CL: Couldn’t have said it better. We make a good team.
For more information on Life is Easy, or to watch it, go to: Revry.tv.