This Is Why Heartbreak High Feels So Authentic, According To The Cast Themselves

When it comes to television shows, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that resonates with Gen Zers as much as Heartbreak High. A reboot of the Australian classic from the '90s, the show has captured the hearts and souls of young people (and hell, anyone with a Netflix subscription) thanks to its funky fashion, the way it perfectly depicts the Australian high school experience (albeit with a lot more sex), and it's perfect balance of cooked Aussie humour with heartfelt, crushing, and relatable storylines.
But if you ask me, Heartbreak High's real superpower lies in its authenticity. While depictions of Australians have historically been a singular monolith (that is, blonde and tan), Heartbreak High purposefully breaks the mould. With one of the most diverse casts on television at the moment, it's walking proof that it's not hard to get representation right — you just have to be willing to hand over the microphone.
In this interview with the cast — including Chloe Hayden, Ayesha Madon, Thomas Weatherall, Will McDonald, Gemma Chua-Tran, Kartanya Maynard and James Majoos — we talk about why Heartbreak High feels so authentic and how to do representation right.
The cast of Heartbreak High Season Two (Credit: Netflix)

"It was written by people who lived the experience."

Chloe Hayden
"I think it was written by people who lived the experience," Chloe Hayden, who plays Quinni, tells Refinery29 Australia. "It's really obvious when you have a look at shows that try to promote and showcase diversity but wasn't written by someone with the story to tell."
An autistic woman herself, Hayden is not only an actress but also a disability rights activist and advocate, fighting for a greater understanding of neurodiversity. In some ways, her greatest piece of activism is on the screen of Heartbreak High, where her character Quinni challenges autistic stereotypes, simultaneously educating viewers whilst also being incredibly familiar to many viewers at home, who rarely see themselves on the screen.
For Hayden, it's essential that these stories are told by the people who have lived them — which is exactly what Heartbreak High does. "I think if you look at Heartbreak High and you have a look at all these different characters — whether it's First Nations or non-binary or autistic or whatever story it is that's being told — you can tell that it's being told by the person who lived it," she says. "I think that makes it really special."

"I think it's really important to not just make it about the struggle that comes with being who you are."

Gemma Chua-Tran
Kartanya Maynard is a newcomer in season two and taking on the role of Zoe, a celibacy advocate who is the leader of the 'Puriteens'. A Trawlwoolway woman, she explains that part of what makes Heartbreak High so special to her is the fact that she can see people who look like her.
"It's a great reflection of what Australia actually looks like," she tells us "We have a lot of people from different cultures and backgrounds in this country and I know that it means a lot to me personally to be able to see more and more characters that look like me and look like my friends."
"Representation matters — and that's why I love Heartbreak High so much," Maynard says.
Gemma Chua-Tran, who plays the opinionated and political Sasha, adds that there's one thing that really makes the show stand out — it doesn't correlate identity with suffering. "The depiction of those characters to just be able to live and exist as these minorities, I think it's really important to not just make it about the struggle that comes with being who you are," she says.
Kartanya Maynard as Zoe in Heartbreak High (Credit: Netflix)

"Authenticity in the writer's room really translates to authenticity on screen."

Ayesha Madon
When we speak about representation on our screens, it's often our first instinct to think about diversity in talent and who's in front of the camera. But it's what's happening behind the scenes that's just as important. When speaking to the Heartbreak High cast, there was one overwhelming factor that they said was the cornerstone to the show's authenticity — and that's a diverse writer's room.
"Authenticity in the writer's room really translates to authenticity on screen," says Ayesha Madon, who plays the star of the show, Amerie. "We have a very incredible and diverse writer's room."
Will McDonald (Ca$h) also praises the "deep care" the writers have for each individual character. "There's a deep care for those characters," he tells us. "We have a really fantastic team of writers who, as much as we put ourselves into these characters, they put themselves into those characters and in that story as well."
"These characters have been so carefully crafted," James Majoos (who plays Darren) adds. "Especially this season. We really just wanted to honour them as creations."
Gemma Chua-Tran, Ayesha Maddon & Bryn Chapman Parish in Heartbreak High Season Two (Credit: Netflix)

"It's not the most important thing about him, his character breakdown, or what he goes through in this show."

Thomas Weatherall, on Malakai's Indigenous identity
Thomas Weatherall, who is now a Logie Award Winner thanks to his portrayal of Malakai, says that one of the key reasons why Heartbreak High resonates with so many young people is because of its complex characters. "We cover such a wide variety of people in the way that they represent these characters, but at the core of it, everyone's kind of doing the same thing — they're all that same search for contentment, or meaning, or a relationship, or community, or friendship," he says.
"There's this constant longing and the classic coming-of-age idea," Weatherall continues. "It's interesting that it immediately unifies everyone and everyone's connected by that, but they all come from a different cultural background, or sexual orientation, or belief system."
Thomas Weatherall as Malakai and Sam Rechner as Rowan in Season Two of Heartbreak High (Credit: Netflix)
Weatherall, who is a Kamilaroi man, emphasises that his character Malakai isn't just a First Nations teenager. He's someone trying to navigate high school and all the challenges that come with it, not limited to his sexuality or his culture. "It's not the most important thing about him, his character breakdown, or what he goes through in this show," Weathrall says.
"I think it's great that audiences might be able to identify with someone because they look like them or they sound like them," Weatherall says. "But there's also a deeper thing where you actually might not have anything in common with that person externally, but inside, you know what it feels like to go through an event like that, or that's your experience as a 16-year-old."
With season two finally here, it's safe to say that Heartbreak High is going to take us back to school and continue giving us a lesson in the art of representation and authenticity. The marks? Straight A's, baby!
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