There’s nothing quite like being thrown into the deep end on your first day of work.
Which is what happened to actor Takaya Honda on his first day on the Neighbours set.
“I had seven or eight scenes (to film) and I was working alongside Olympia Valance and Alan Fletcher, who I’d been watching since I was a kid,” recalled Honda, who plays Dr David Tanaka on the long-running soap.
He perhaps could have been forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed at being in the company of Ramsay Street “royalty”, especially as he had been uncharacteristically nervous at his first audition for the role.
“There were a lot of nerves and I got swept up in that. But by my second audition, I decided I was going to enjoy myself and do the best possible performance I could. Then if they didn’t want me, it would be because of something else that was completely out of my control,” he said.
Luckily, the Neighbours producers did want him and more than two years on, Honda has firmly settled into the role.
“There’s something special about being able to play a character over an extended period of time, which you don’t really get to do anywhere else apart from in the soap world,” he said.
Last year, his character wedded Aaron Brennan (played by Matt Wilson), and in the process made TV history by being part of the first legal gay wedding to be screened on Australian TV since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2017.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “I feel incredibly proud to be part of it. And to have someone like Magda Szubanski (who appeared in the episode as the couple’s celebrant), who was such an icon for the (vote) Yes campaign, adds a whole extra level of weight to it as well.”
Honda, who lives with girlfriend Amy Schwab in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, can thank an inspiring drama teacher at his Sydney high school for igniting his passion for performing.
“When I was a kid, my first ambition was to be a fighter pilot, which I think came from Top Gun,” he said with a laugh.
“But I was always drawn towards performance, and my drama teacher was the one who basically made (acting) a possibility and said I was good enough and that encouraged me to look at it as a realistic thing.”
His other roles have included children’s TV series A gURLs wURLd, The Family Law and a highly coveted stint as a Play School presenter.
Neighbours airs on Channel 11, weeknights, 6.30pm.
Typical Saturday morning
My girlfriend usually sleeps in for longer than I do, so I’ll get up and potter about and maybe play some PlayStation or go to the gym. Then when she wakes up, we might treat ourselves and go to one of the cute cafes near us and have a turmeric or beetroot latte.
Pistachio nuts. I can eat them for way too long. I’m a pretty healthy eater. Because Mum and Dad were both gymnastics coaches, I was brought up with a healthy diet. I don’t like to restrict myself too much when it comes to eating but habit leads me to make healthy choices most of the time.
I’ve had to relearn how to cook some dishes because my girlfriend is lactose and gluten intolerant, but my roasts are always a winner.
On my bedside table
A copy of Scott Pape’s book, The Barefoot Investor. I like that his advice is quite simple and practical. There are two dress watches, as well. One is a Tag (Heuer) that is on loan from my dad. He started wearing an Apple watch instead, so asked if I wanted to take care of his Tag for him. And the other is an Armani watch that my older brother gave me for my 21st birthday.
Fantasy place to live
I love Byron Bay. I first went there for Schoolies when I was 18 and I’ve probably been back 10 times since. I love the people, the vibe, the culture and the general feeling I get when I’m there.
It’s not chill-out music in the traditional sense of the word, but I really like listening to (American rappers) Childish Gambino and Eminem.
Secret domestic skill
I bought a house in 2017 and my renovating skills aren’t bad. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’ve done my research before starting. There are YouTube videos on how to do pretty much everything — they are amazingly helpful tools.
My favourite things
This is a promotional item sold during Dementia Australia’s Memory Walk & Jog events to help raise funds for people living with dementia. I am an ambassador of Dementia Australia. My mum was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s eight years ago when she was 52, and she’s in full-time care now. She doesn’t speak much anymore but I can see in her eyes that she still recognises me and that is something dear I hold on to. It’s an awful disease and a very hard thing to deal with, not only for the sufferer but for the people around them. One thing I wanted to be able to do was to try and create something positive out of the situation and I am really happy that my TV profile has enabled me to become an ambassador. It’s really important to me to spread awareness about the disease, support the community affected and push for extra research.
I met Amy in Sydney almost three years ago. Every stage we’ve been through, we’ve had to go through quite quickly, because of me landing the role on Neighbours a few months after we met. But nothing has felt rushed, and even with her also moving to Melbourne, it was never a question of would she do it, just when she would do it. She struggles with the cold here, as do I, and we’ve had our struggles with being away from our family and friends, but we’ve both enjoyed exploring a new place. Amy is a beautiful person: she’s incredibly kind and laughs at my jokes, which is always a good thing.
Baseball glove and ball
I played a lot of baseball throughout my school years. There was probably only one day a week where I didn’t play it. I lived and breathed it, really. I played up to state level and, at one stage, it was a consideration for me to go over to the US to play college baseball. But there came a point where I had to choose between acting and baseball: a play came up at school and then acting became my focus. I often think of how different life would have been had I gone to the US. Would I have (eventually) acted anyway but just have taken a different route to it? I don’t think I would have been good enough to play in the major leagues or anything. For me, it would have just been about the experience of going to colleges in the US.
I was thrilled when The Family Law (an SBS sitcom in which Honda plays teenager Klaus Thomson) won an Equity Award in 2018, after winning one in 2017. The awards are the only ones voted for by our peers, so to have the industry turn around and say we did the best job is amazing. I feel so fortunate to be part of the cast. It’s such a beautiful show. The humour is genuine and clever and it’s a 90 per cent Asian cast. Everyone has such a passion to make great-quality Australian television.
This is Mia, who Amy and I adopted from The Lost Dogs’ Home in North Melbourne in 2017. When Amy moved down from Sydney six months after I started on Neighbours, part of the agreement was that we would get a dog. Luckily, I also wanted to get one, so it wasn’t a hard thing to do. Within 10 seconds of meeting Mia, Amy had decided we were getting her. It took a while for her personality to come out but she’s been the most amazing dog. We can’t imagine life without her now. There’s nothing wrong with buying a dog from a reputable breeder, but there are so many animals out there that need homes, so why not adopt and save a life?