NEW YORK — Three years ago in his mockumentary “Summer Heights High,” Chris Lilley played a trio of characters at an Australian high school, including a flamboyant drama teacher and a mean society girl named Ja’mie.
Now Lilley is back with the even more ambitious “Angry Boys,” a 12-episode showcase where he tackles a half-dozen personalities in an examination of boys and men who are misunderstood, self-deluding and typically at odds with the opposite sex. By turns painful, bitterly funny and illuminating, the series premieres on HBO on Sunday (Jan. 1) at 10/9c, with two half-hour episodes airing weekly.
Lilley’s pantheon includes identical twins Nathan and Daniel Sims, an angry, constantly bird-flipping pair of 17-year-olds.
Lilley is also the boys’ grandmother, Gran, a devoted but often inappropriate prison officer at the Sydney Garingal Juvenile Justice Center for teenage boys.
Another of Lilley’s characters is S.mouse, a rich-kid rapper in Los Angeles who scores with an embarrassingly stupid novelty song.
Lilley also plays Jen Okazaki, the soft-spoken and almost psychotically exploitative mother of an aspiring skateboarding champion whom she is bullying into the big time.
This spectrum of characters — and the geographic range they represent — speaks to the higher stakes for which Lilley (who created, wrote, co-produced and co-directed the series) is playing this time around.
Declaring “Summer Heights High” to be ” contained and small,” Lilley speculates his fans “figured they’d worked out my formula — find a work environment and throw in some characters — and expected my next series should be in a hospital or a police station. But a part of me wanted to rebel against that. I wanted to do something on a massive scale with a story that was woven together in a trickier way.”
With its documentary format, “Angry Boys” seems to unfold spontaneously, but Lilley says it was tightly scripted before shooting started. Lilley spent a year writing the series while scouting locations. Filming consumed seven months, and editing took a year after that. “I don’t make things easy for myself,” he says, “but why give myself limitations? I don’t need a deadline. I just work until it’s ready.”
Lilley, 37, doesn’t transform himself into his characters so much as channel them.
“People go, ‘You’re a great mimic,’ which I sort of hate to hear because it’s never my motivation,” he says. “I’m not even that fussy about accents. I love writing the characters, I think about them a lot, and then they’re just there.”