You’ll likely recognise Thomas Weatherall from his breakout role as Malakai in Heartbreak High. As well as returning to the screen in Season Two of the show, he’ll also be taking the stage in his play Blue. Talk about fkn impressive..
Weatherall, a Kamilaroi writer and actor, is the recipient of Belvoir Theatre’s 2021 Belnaves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellowship.
As part of the Fellowship, the theatre will show Blue, an exploration of a young man’s familial grief and mental health.
Weatherall told PEDESTRIAN.TV he started writing Blue four years ago but at the time, didn’t know it was going to be a play. It was when he’d just begun acting and in his words, “wasn’t booking any jobs”.
While he didn’t want to give away too much of the plot, he said he “realised recently that I write about what I’m terrified of”.
“[Writing] it was really this kind of therapy for myself. I was going through a pretty shocking mental health period,” Weatherall explained.
“I was quite depressed and started really questioning what I wanted in my life and you know, searching for meaning in everything. As a teenager, everything feels 10 times more important than it is.
“And it’s not to kind of discredit what I was going through… But as I get older, I’m also like, ‘okay, buddy, just see what you’ve got in store’.”
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Writing became a coping mechanism for contextualising scary experiences. He explained he’s now working on a project about fatherhood — appropriately terrifying.
Weatherall said he’s looking forward to getting back on stage, explaining he finds it a bit more “relaxing” than working onscreen.
Personally, the idea of jumping on a stage in front of tens, even hundreds, of people fills me with the jitters. But I suppose that’s why I’m a journalist and not, y’know, an actor.
The next couple of years are set to be huge for Weatherall. As well as Blue, Heartbreak High was renewed by Netflix shortly after Season One dropped and became an instant global juggernaut.
“I was really shocked at how well it did,” Weatherall said of the show.
He explained he knew the show was good, but didn’t expect it to blow up internationally to such a huge extent.
Heartbreak High is a reboot of an iconic 90s series. The show features an incredible range of young Aussie acting talent, and has been widely praised for the diversity of its characters, storylines and actors.
As well as taking off in Australia, the show also received a slew of attention from international viewers too.
“It’s wonderful when an audience engages like that in a really meaningful way,” Weatherall said.
“[People reach out and] talk about how much they resonate with it or how meaningful a particular storyline was, and to actually be able to sit back and go, ‘Oh, you know, creating that kind of dialogue for young people is actually a pretty special thing’.”
He was also surprised Malakai was such a breakout character in the show. And of course, getting used to the countless TikTok edits and thirst traps sounds like it’s been an experience, to say the least.
Weatherall — who describes himself as a pretty private, introverted person — had an impressively chill response to the unexpected attention.
“It’s a weird thing to get used to [and] be confronted by, but at the same time, it’s like, there are harder problems to have,” he said.
“It’s a nice problem that, you know, it means people like the show, and they like your work to whatever extent. So it’s very gratifying in that way, but it’s an odd way that it gets manifested.”
While audience reaction has been astounding, it also became clear that some audiences, particularly those based internationally, didn’t understand the gravity of Heartbreak High‘s First Nations storylines.
In one pivotal scene Malakai, a Bundjalung teen, experiences police violence. It is an essential plotline, but the reception to it from international audiences showed a serious lack of understanding about First Nations experiences.
“I don’t think Indigenous topics, point of views, experiences are examined or taught very well in our own education system by a longshot. But I think it’s tenfold in regards to an international [audience],” Weatherall said.
“Engaging with the international audience when they heard about the plotlines and saw the show— it becomes very clear that there is a real lack of understanding as to the fact that First Nations Australians even exist.”
International audiences also didn’t understand why Malakai and Missy (played by Arrernte actor Sherry-Lee Watson) are referred to as “Black” and “Blak” in the show.
“It puts you in a weird position, as a person, to suddenly be getting things from Anglo-Saxon people around the world going, ‘You’re not Black’ and going, ‘Sweetie, you don’t get to tell me that’, you know?” Weatherall said.
“On a personal level, your identity in Australia is constantly getting caught up, either judged or questioned or misunderstood [and] interrogated. And now you’ve got this whole international audience jumping on doing the same with even less understanding than the Australian audience.”
Weatherall added that he didn’t want Malakai’s character to be defined by that particular storyline.
“At the end of the day, it’s a teenager going to school. He falls in love with a girl, he falls [out] with friends, he plays basketball and he’s trying to figure out everything else that all the other characters do.”
As for the upcoming Season Two, he doesn’t have any “particular thoughts” for Malakai.
“I trust the writers, I trust that they’re going to do a good job with him!”
You can catch Blue at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre from January 14 to 29 2023.