Olivia Deeble was 17 when she first shared the idea of a ‘reimagined teen drama’ with her best friend and childhood buddy Luka Gracie. 

Two years later the ground-breaking six-part Australian teen drama More Than This, co-created by Deeble and Gracie, and set around a year 12 English extension class, premieres on Paramount Plus on Friday March 4. 

Deeble, known for her star turn in Home and Away and the Disney film The Secret Society of Second Born Royals,  wrote the series while completing her Year 12 during Melbourne’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. 

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“Olivia had an idea about a TV show set in an English class with diverse classmates. She told me this idea of a reimagined teen drama that would be created by teens! I was certainly very intrigued, but little did the 17-year-old me know that our little idea would become a Paramount + original!” Gracie, who also stars in the series, told Star Observer. 

By Teens, For Teens

The cast of ‘More Than This’.

What sets this coming of age teen drama apart from the countless others on various streaming platforms is the fact that More Than This was created by teens, for teens. The series looks at some of the very same issues like growing up, struggling with love, friendships, bullying, body image, sexuality, family and school pressure, but through an authentic teen lens.

The cast reflects contemporary Australia in all its diversity. Gracie, a trans non-binary actor and filmmaker, stars in the series alongside a diverse cast of actors in their late teens or early 20s, including Kamil Ellis, Ellmir Asipi, Josh Heuston, Oisin O’Leary, Celine Ajobong, Tharanya Tharan and newcomer Selena Brincat. Theatre and television actor Bert Labonte plays their teacher.

Deeble has said that the idea for the series came after she had auditioned for and watched hundreds of high school shows. She wanted to avoid the usual high-school tropes, while creating something authentic that spoke of the real Australian teen life and experience. According to Deeble, none of the shows “were telling anything near my truth or experience”. 

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Deeble and Gracie cast their friends who were actors, conducted interviews with over 50 teenagers about what they would like to see on screen. The actors workshopped and brought in their own unique inputs. Gracie, an illustrator, designed the t-shirts for their on screen character, Jamie.

Coming Out

Luka Gracie, who plays the role of Jamie in the Paramount+ teen drama ‘More Than This’, is one of the first trans non-binary actors on Australian television.

“What sets it apart from other teen dramas is the authenticity,” said Gracie. “As teenagers we have just or are still going through the same issues that our characters face. We know first hand how to deal with these problems. We know how to create teenage characters because we talk and act like that. Rather than an adult looking back on their teen years, we had to look no further than ourselves and friends.”

For Gracie, one of the first trans non-binary actors on Australian television, who came out as trans when they were 17, this was also an opportunity for representing the community. 

“I knew I was trans from a young age, just never had the words. When I found out those words like Non-Binary and Trans, it still took me a while to fully come out,” said Gracie. 

“I grew up with no non-binary or trans representation in TV and film, especially in Australian content. That hid my confidence because I felt so alone. When creating More Than This, the most important thing I wanted to do was to show queer kids that they are never alone and there are people out there like them.” 

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Gracie’s apprehension about the filming – “this is my very first professional acting job” – soon gave way to excitement.  “My favourite thing about working on More Than This was how inclusive production was. I felt understood for one of the first times in my life and because as a cast, we are all very different people, that somehow made me fit in,” recalled Gracie. 

“We even had a “pronoun Jar”! Like a swear jar; for when one of the team got someone’s pronouns wrong.”

‘There Is Queer Joy Within The Angst Of Being A Teenager’

The cast of Paramount+ teen drama ‘More Than This’.

The series handles its queer characters differently from your average teen drama, where queer characters imbibe a lot of angst and despair over coming out and fitting in.

“The queer characters in our show hold such depth and community,” pointed out Gracie. “None of the character’s problems are to do with them being queer, it’s just who they are. Rather than showing the “coming out” story that we have seen before or homophobic parents, we don’t show the queer experience as something that’s dark or an issue. There is queer joy within the angst of being a teenager.”

Creating the series with their best buddy was its own reward for Gracie. “We understand each other to such a deep level and making a series with her just felt right,” said Gracie who now ardently hopes the audience finds as much joy in the series as they had making it. 

“Our characters still have a lot to say! So tell your friends, family, neighbours, pets and random strangers to stream More Than This!!” Gracie signs off.  

More Than This will be available to stream on Paramount+ on March 4. 

 

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