Next up in our series of Neighbours farewell interviews, we hear from Takaya Honda about his six-year stint in the role of David Tanaka.
David has taken centre stage in huge storylines this year, but now looks set to finally get his happy ending as we build towards the last ever episode.
Here, Takaya chats to Digital Spy about Neighbours‘ axing, his secret plans to leave the show, and his future career ambitions.
What has the atmosphere been like on set while you’ve been filming these final episodes?
“David’s big storyline has ramped up towards the end and it became really intense. A lot of that was with guests rather than the core cast, so I haven’t had a huge amount of on-set time with a lot of the others.
“The crew and cast are so used to making this show and putting in the energy to get through each week. The show shoots so quickly that we don’t have a whole lot of time to think about our emotions over the show ending. Although you do see people sometimes staring into the distance and thinking about what’s going on!
“I recently did an interview with our digital producer in the hospital set and she informed me that the hospital set wasn’t being used anymore. It was weird to hear that a set I’ve worked a lot in wasn’t going to be used again.
“It’s a strange feeling as we’re coming to the end, but we’ve just been trying to make the best show we can.”
David’s storyline this year has been brilliant. Did it have to get sped up when the cancellation was announced?
“I’d said to the producers last year that this was going to be my last contract. After six years, I was happy to go and I felt that David had been on the journey he needed to. All of the stories that I’d wanted to tell with David had been told.
“This story was ultimately going to be my exit story, so had the show kept going, that would have happened. The story would have gone on for longer and it would have been different. They’ve had to change things to shorten it, but hopefully it’s still had the same impact.
“With the show ending, they also wanted David and Aaron to have a happy ending, which I agreed with.
“Even though it’s shortened – and I only have a vague idea of what they had planned if it kept going – I don’t think the audience will feel robbed of that story having closure. There was still so much room, within the on-screen time we had, to tell the story fully and in an enjoyable way. It wasn’t any less of an exciting rollercoaster ride.”
We’ve heard the cast were told last year that Neighbours was facing an uncertain future. Was it still a surprise when the axing was announced in February?
“Because we’d been given a heads-up, it wasn’t a shock but it was still a surprise. Ever since I started, there were always rumours that the show was ending. Every couple of years, there would be negotiations and there’d be clickbaity things out there about the show ending.
“The conversations we had last year obviously felt a lot more serious. Previously, we’d never had production say anything leaning towards the possibility that the show could end. We’d always be told: ‘Don’t worry about all those rumours, we’re in good steam with negotiations.’
“We knew that we were coming back in November 2021 and they were trying to reinvigorate the show. We slowed down our shooting pace to five episodes a week rather than six. We also decided to do more location work and we increased the production values that you’re seeing on screen.
“We knew that was an effort to make the show more enticing.”
How was it to learn the news via the media?
“It was a shock in the sense that it didn’t come from Fremantle or the Neighbours production – it was a leaked thing in the UK. That was unfortunate, because it robbed the cast and crew of being able to live with that information prior to everybody else knowing it.
“That was sad for us. I’m somewhat disappointed that it did get leaked in that way. I think the people who leak that kind of stuff don’t really understand that they’re talking about 200 people’s jobs – and not having the respect for those people to allow them to be the first to know about it.
“It wasn’t a shock, but it was a surprise and it was unfortunate how it came about.”
Do you hold out any hope that Neighbours could return?
“I think the show could definitely come back in some form. Whether it would be the same as it is now, or get reformatted into something different, I think the brand of Neighbours is so strong that it would be silly for that to disappear forever.
“I think there still is an incredible amount of value in that brand. Who knows? Never say never. All sorts of things get remade or picked up years later. I don’t want to put a timeline on it, but for the fans’ sake, I’d love it if the show came back in some form or if there was a spin-off.”
How big an impact will the show ending have?
“I think the loss of Neighbours is not only sad for the current cast and crew and the fans, but also sad for what would have been the future casts and future crew of the show.
“The Australian industry owes a lot to a show like Neighbours for giving a path for so many creatives, whether in front or behind the camera. There are probably few productions in Australia now that don’t have someone who’s connected to Neighbours in some form, whether that be a writer, a make-up artist, a grip, a camera operator or a publicist.
“There are so many people who have come through the show over 37 years. I think five years from now, the industry will turn around and wonder where this hole has come from. It will be because the show Neighbours, as it is now, has disappeared.
“It’s a show where people are given a chance. People with no experience can come on and be given a real go at something, unlike in other series where there are only six episodes and you need all of them to pay off to get another season.
“Neighbours was a show that was shooting pretty much all year round, so you could allow people to come in and make mistakes and it wasn’t the end of the world. Whether that be a writer, a director, an actor – across the board that was allowed.
“I think in a few years’ time, the industry is going to wonder why there aren’t more people coming through. So hopefully that void is filled by someone else.”
The show has also received praise for its representation in recent years…
“It’s a loss to Australian culture in that sense, because it is a big export that creates a view of what Australian culture really is. It represents a true Australia in a lot of ways.
“That includes representation of people of colour, of sexuality, of gender and that’s all at the forefront. I think Neighbours has done a great job with that, so it’s a loss on many fronts and it will be felt for many years to come.
“I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there who don’t realise that yet, but there are a lot of people who now won’t have the opportunity that Neighbours provides.”
Did you have a favourite David storyline?
“I’ve been so extraordinarily lucky to have such incredible storylines. The best answer I can give is that my favourite storyline has been the entire arc of David. I’ve been so fortunate to have a character who’s had a full arc.
“When David first arrived, he was this shy, conservative character who was uncertain of who he was – both in his sexuality and as a person.
“David then discovered his sexuality and found strength in that. He stood up for what he believed in and was a contrast to people like his dad or his brother – these sharks who do whatever they want to achieve something. David has always done the right thing.
“Then in the recent storyline, we’ve challenged that and put David in a position where he went against his core belief of doing the right thing while in an awful situation.
“I hope the audience appreciates the effort to maintain that arc and make it a full thing, rather than each storyline being separate.
“The best example of that is when the audience saw David in prison, he still had the kidney scars from the transplant. That was something I pushed hard for ever since that story happened because I had responses from people who’d had transplants in real life. They’d said how important it was for the reality to be shown and the physical effects.
“Even though David’s scars are probably minimal to what they would have been, they’re the Neighbours version and they’re still there. That continuity was so important to me.”
Did you have a least favourite storyline?
“I genuinely don’t have any. I loved the fact that David was hit by the same ute twice, by two different people! It’s something you’d think was dumb, but it was great. I think that’s part of the soap elements that get placed on top of our storylines.
“It’s almost like an Easter egg for the audience – a gift for being a fan. So I genuinely don’t have a storyline that I didn’t like, because I’ve been so fortunate to have great ones all the way through.”
What are your future plans?
“I’m hoping to do more of this but on a different set, I guess! I love acting and I want to continue for a long way into the future.
“I found a brilliant working partner in Matt Wilson [who plays Aaron]. I don’t think I’ve had a better working relationship with anyone in my life. We’re hoping to still maintain a working relationship together and a friendship. We hope to create some work for ourselves in different aspects.
“I’m looking to do a UK trip and possibly LA as well. I want to visit family and visit friends. There’s been a lot on the backburner that I’ve had to put on hold for a while, so I’m excited to do all that stuff.
“Ultimately I want to keep acting and I’m hoping some roles come along that give me that opportunity. I hope the audience comes along with me, keeps enjoying my work and sees me in a different light playing different characters.
“I’ve loved playing David and I’m really hoping people now get to see me doing something else. Hopefully you’ll be interviewing me for a different role sooner rather than later.”
Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 6pm on Channel 5 and streams on My5. The series finale will air in the UK on July 29 at 9pm on Channel 5.
In Australia, the show airs Mondays to Thursdays at 6.30pm on 10 Peach and streams on 10 Play. The series finale will air in Australia on July 28 at 7.30pm, simulcast on 10 and 10 Peach.
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