Making the leap to a new country is never easy, but for Australian native Felix Mallard, it was. At age 15, Mallard, now 20, landed a recurring role on the long-running soap opera Neighbours (a breeding ground for many of Australia’s biggest exports, including Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Margot Robbie and brothers Liam and Chris Hemsworth). That stint turned into a four-year regular run, and only a few months after leaving that show, the actor and musician had landed at CBS, playing pop star Cooper James opposite Damon Wayans Jr. and Amber Stevens West in the new sitcom Happy Together. It's a role, in part, for which he thanks his Aussie peers. "Giving it a try here is such a right of passage handed down by a lot of Australian actors," Mallard explained in a recent chat with MediaVillage. "To have the opportunity to do it is simply amazing, and it's become a lot easier since the days of Heath Ledger or even Chris Hemsworth. They really broke the ice for us."
In the series, Mallard's character is a Justin Bieber-esque pop star, who after splitting with his high-profile girlfriend temporarily moves into the suburban home of his accountant Jake (Wayans Jr., pictured below center) and wife Claire (Stevens West, below right). If you're thinking it sounds far-fetched, you’re wrong. It's based on the true story of ex-One Direction megastar Harry Styles (an executive producer on the series) and his friend, producer/director Ben Winston (The Late Late Show with James Cordon), who had the exact thing happen to him.
"Seven or eight years ago I was making a film with One Direction, directing a few of their music videos, and I'd just moved into my very modest, quiet, suburban house in London," Winston told me. “A young man I was working with at the time [named] Harry Styles asked if he could live in our attic for what would only be a couple weeks. I said to my wife, Meredith, ‘It's a bit of an odd request but Harry, from the band, would like to stay in our attic. How would you feel about that?’ She said, ‘As long as it's only for two weeks, I'm fine with it.’ Eighteen months later, Harry moved out."
Styles would later detail the story to Rolling Stone in an interview, revealing how the experience had helped ground him, and a sitcom was born. Mallard was undecided as to whether the show was the right fit for him until a phone call from Styles convinced him otherwise. "[Getting the call from Harry] was really bizarre," laughed Mallard. "I wasn't really sure about [the show] and Ben asked for my number to call me. About 20 minutes later an unknown number popped up and I thought it was Ben.
"This voice says, 'Hi, its Harry.' I was like, ‘What?’" he continued. "He just said, 'I wanted to let you know that I like your stuff and I really hope you come on board.’ I told him I'd speak to my manager and that I really liked his stuff, too. He was so sweet and courteous and it was wonderful to talk to him. I hung up, turned to my housemates and said, 'That was Harry Styles'. They totally freaked out."
Mallard immediately called his manager, and while on that call received a voicemail from another person he admired. "I checked my voicemail and it was a voice saying, ‘Hi, this is James Corden, I just want to have a chat as I work with Ben and I really want to talk with you,’" he recalled. "That was huge as I'd been a fan of James' since Gavin & Stacey. I called him back and he assured me I wouldn't find more lovely people to work with and I would be more looked after with these guys.
"That was all I needed to hear," he added. "It's proven to be true. I feel like I've known these guys for years. I feel really supported, and it's a really creative environment that I can be myself in it as well as be a true collaborator. I was worried about joining a network TV show, with the moneymaking aspect of having people just want to do that, but the call from James inspired me."
According to Mallard, he was allowed to ditch the American accent he auditioned with, which he believes gives the character authenticity. "Right up until I met Ben I was going to be American," he admitted. "Halfway through the audition, Ben asked if I could do it in Australian. I did, and it worked. It actually felt good to have the character so far away from home as possible, so raising those stakes allowed him to settle into ordinary life a little better."
With Mallard now settled into sitcom life in the U.S. he's hoping some fellow Aussies might walk through the door he has opened. "If they cast Cooper's parents they have to cast some Australians," he laughed. "I do have a wish list of actors, as there are so many great Australian actors that would be perfect. Maybe we could get a Hemsworth in as an older brother or a mean cousin?"
Happy Together is telecast Monday at 8.30 p.m. on CBS.
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