Thanks to Matt Okine, my nickname on my partner’s phone is now ‘Slampiece #3’. The change in caller ID was prompted by watching episode 1 of The Other Guy. When I told him this, Okine laughed and bashfully apologised, but neither of us are truly sorry. His humour is sufficiently crude and unsentimentally Australian, accompanying the weighty themes of the series. The joke had landed squarely on target.
Returning from his morning radio interview, Okine reclines groggily into the booth behind him. His days of hosting breakfast radio are evidently behind him and it’s not only the absurdly early starts he’s moved on from. “I think if I get stuck doing one thing for too long, that’s when my passion for it sort of dwindles.”
The new challenges of scriptwriting and acting have presented a learning curve that Okine has hurled himself into. As well as acting 12 hours a day, it’s his first time writing a TV show and he emits a tangible sense of pride as he describes the experience as both intimidating and rewarding – The Other Guy is his baby. “I’m sending [Aquarius Films] drafts of my script while they’re sitting in the Academy Awards to see if their movie’s won an Oscar.”
The relatable tragedy of heartbreak was something Okine wanted to address in telling the story of AJ, the main character of The Other Guy. Okine wanted to ensure that it wasn’t “just a gag-fest” so as not to detract from the gravity of the premise – a serious breakup that leaves AJ “confused and kind of numb to it all” as he tries to navigate life after a long-term relationship.
This is loosely modelled on Okine’s personal experiences and he recognises the universal relatability of this. He wanted to illustrate the unpredictable repercussions of such an event as you “do things that you’d never thought you’d do” and insists that “there’s no right or wrong way to react”. He wrote AJ with this in mind and his onscreen antics serve as a reminder that “it’s okay to be upset about it.” The comic relief is often attributed to supporting characters like Harriet Dyer’s Stevie, AJ’s loose-cannon best friend, and the wacky slice of life of each episode.
Okine is no stranger to life narrative and slice of life storytelling after a decade of stand-up. Yes, there have been close encounters with the ‘blurry line’ of stories and the real event. “I mashed two different stories together to make one big story once.” He did this in order to smooth the bumps from the joke. Storytellers often find themselves doing this for the sake of coherence and entertainment. Only now Okine has told the story one too many times and the fabricated story has blurred into the real one. “I almost believe that it all happened in one night.”
Okine has found that the consequences of fictionalising your own life is rarely confined to just the storyteller. Rewriting history also comes with the social obligation to those you write about and he often finds himself in the delicate situation of deciding “how to best tell stories that kind of relate to the people around you without pissing them off”. He confesses that this is a difficult balance to maintain in stand-up where there’s an “onus on me to really only be completely honest. I don’t like lying to audiences.”
Creating The Other Guy has lifted this burden. “I’m not playing myself…we were then able to take it anywhere and that was what was really exciting about it.” Whilst events of the show have their roots in reality, Okine feels as though “the world is our oyster in terms of where our characters go from there.”
Okine explains that the character of AJ isn’t a thinly veiled portrayal of himself – AJ has better taste in clothing. “My friends still give me shit about the hat that AJ wears in episode two because they just know that I would never ever wear anything as cool as that.” He may be a better dresser, but AJ also “ends up in the deep-end a lot” with the show opening on a whodunit: AJ and a one-night stand awaking on a piss-covered mattress belonging to AJ’s ex-girlfriend.
Unlike AJ, Okine’s challenges are self-inflicted. The Other Guy was a step into new territory and Okine finds the challenges more exciting than the congratulations that follow. He’s not impatient when it comes to success. “You wanna reach your dreams, but it’s also nice to take the scenic route…it’s always really important to give yourself distance to go.”
The Other Guy is out now on Stan.