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Heartbreak High’s Cast Get Real About Their Own High School Experiences

In the 90s, Heartbreak High pushed the boundaries of Australian television by giving us a glimpse into the turbulent lives of Aussie teens. Tackling topics like racism, drugs and sex, the series was a breath of fresh air compared to the other tame depictions of teens on TV.
Now, 23 years on, Netflix is bringing the halls of Hartley High back to our screens. Once more, we'll get to follow a group of Sydney students navigating their way through love, sex, friendship, partying and, of course, heartbreak. This Gen Z iteration will continue to delve into delicate areas while working to provide more representation, with First Nations, non-binary and neurodivergent characters in the cast.
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The series centres around Amerie (Ayesha Madon), who causes an uproar after the school finds out she's been charting student hook-ups. In an attempt to manage the fallout of her 'sex map', the school forces Amerie and the students mentioned in the map into a sexual literacy program.
So, how realistic is this revamped picture of Australian teen culture? We asked the cast how close their school experience was to the ups and downs faced by their characters at Hartley High. Here's what they had to say:

Ayesha Madon as Amerie

"It’s one of the first times I’ve seen the cultural landscape of my Australian school experience reflected accurately. I think one of the beauties of Australia is that we’re exposed to so many different diasporas and it’s a shame that people from overseas and sometimes even here have this idea of the quintessential Aussie being tanned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. It couldn’t be further from the truth and I’m so glad we finally get to bring a more accurate and nuanced representation of Australian life to a global stage.
"In terms of me vs. Amerie, I was way less focussed on my social and dating life than her, and way more focussed on studying… thrilling, I know! I never had boyfriends and I literally locked myself in my room for the majority of my senior years so that I could get a dope ATAR (which surprise, surprise, I never even used by the way).
I think Amerie is kind of relentless with her objectives in a similar way, but with literally every other pursuit besides her education."
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James Majoos as Darren

"[It was] very different. I went to two different schools — I went to a Christian conservative Lutheran school, and then I was homeschooled in years 11 and 12. So it was me, my dog and dad.
The Heartbreak High classroom, and the characters, feel a lot more liberated than I felt in my high school experience. I mean, I did some extracurricular theatre outside of school and I was in those groups of artists and creatives, so I had that, but it wasn't in high school. In my classroom, everyone was watering themselves down to be palatable. But what I love about Heartbreak High and about the characters is that they're all individuals that live and go to school together cohesively.
I was not as rebellious as Darren is. I was not as comfortable as Darren is. I guess I'm really jealous of Darren's capability of just owning every single thing that they do and how unapologetic they are. I envy that."

Will McDonald as Ca$h

"I did not go to as loose of a school as Hartley High, for sure. But I don't think it's an exaggeration to say there was a bit of crossover... I knew kids who were getting up to all sorts of things, you know, underage drinking and smoking cigarettes on campus and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. In terms of the whole school experience, there were definitely some differences. But there were some similarities for sure.
When I was in high school, [sex ed] was only ever heteronormative. There's nothing about queer sex. There's nothing about any other sexual orientation or talking about gender or anything like that. And even the stuff that you do learn about heterosexual interactions is like barely anything at all."
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Bryn Chapman Parish as Spider

"I went to a performing arts high school and had such a great time — it was a really lovely experience. I went to a very progressive school. So like, someone first came out as trans when we were in, I'd say Year Nine. I was introduced to the concept of pronouns quite early on in school. There was a big push for uniform equality. It used to be very strict that the women just wore skirts and the men wore pants but there was a massive push from the female students to be allowed to wear pants."

Brodie Townsend as Ant

"[My school was] so different to Hartley High. I was a super nerd in high school. I was Head Boy as well. I studied all the time and didn't have fun like at Hartley. What partying? Everyone's having sex. It's way, way cooler. It's how I wish school would've been. When I went to school, it wasn't as open as it is now. My little cousins say high school is a lot more accepting, a lot more open now, which is sick."
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See how your high school experience stacks up by catching Heartbreak High on Netflix from 7pm, Wednesday, September 14.
Interviews have been edited for clarity.
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