Robert Rabiah, Frank Lotito to champion greater diversity in TV comedy

(L-R) Jason Lee, an unidentified extra and Frank Lotito on the set of ‘Growing Up Smith.’

Actor Robert Rabiah is frustrated with the lack of on-screen representation of Australia’s diverse communities despite some recent TV shows and movies that are more reflective of race, gender, class and colour.

That prompted Rabiah to create AussieWood, a TV comedy which follows the daily life of casting agent Steve “Aussie” Wood, a high-achieving, slightly neurotic and affable rogue who is trying to do the best he can in a pandemic-ridden world.

Rabiah pitched his idea to director/producer Frank Lotito, who wholeheartedly agreed and will helm a half-hour pilot with a top name cast.

“I wanted to challenge all that mythologising about who can carry a show or who can lead a film or who can play which role and why,” the actor whose credits include Below, Secret City, Safe Harbour and Ali’s Wedding tells IF.

“What better way to do it than turning the spotlight on our own industry? As well as being entertaining, AussieWood will serve as a socio-commentary on the current state of the entertainment industry and the wider global shift by highlighting themes of racism, diversity, gender, class and colour that many people in the industry have dealt with and continue to deal with on a consistent basis.”

Now in pre-production, the pilot will star Steve Mouzakis as Wood, with Amy Christian as his assistant Amy, Elena Mandelis as his wife Irena, a successful director and producer, and Oliver Lotito (Frank’s son) as their son Max.

Michala Banas will play local crime boss and cinephile Jimmy Morricone, with Steve Bastoni as Tony Taranto, Jimmy’s right hand man who is Steve’s cousin, and Rabiah as actor Charlie Getz, Steve’s brother-in-law.

Robert Rabiah.

Ra Chapman, Laura Gordon, Tony Nikolakopolous, Vuyo Loko, Cris Cochrane and Osamah Sami will play actors, with Krista Vendy as producer Anna Harrison.

Wood’s character is fictional but the experiences he encounters are based on an amalgamation of true stories within the industry.

Rob says: “This has been a ‘love-job’ for all cast and crew involved who responded positively to the narrative and the story we are trying to tell. It certainly wasn’t because of the money, because we didn’t have any. Everyone has been extremely generous with their time and effort.

“I have nothing but admiration for my peers who know how to band together as a community for the sake of art. And I’ve run out of superlatives to describe Frank Lotito, who has really championed this project from day one and assembled an inspired creative team.”

The production will abide by COVIDSafe guidelines including masks, social distancing and temperature testing.

Rabiah and Lotito will pitch the pilot as a six-part series to TV networks and streaming services.

“I turned 40 last week and I thought I had learnt everything there was to learn about this industry, but as I was sitting there watching our final Zoom cast read I became deeply affected,” he says.

“I realised that we need to be more than just a part of this diversity discussion, we need to be actively involved, and literally creating change. And certainly not to meet some predetermined quota.”