Koalas star and creator Michael Cusack talks about the hysterical series, going to Hulu, working with Justin Roiland, and more.
Hulu's adult animated series Koala Man is very Australian and hilarious. Inspired by classic cartoons like The Simpsons, The Koala Man is both a wink of the superhero genre and an emotionally resonant family sitcom. The show was created by Michael Cusack, who voices the character of the same name, and produced with help from Benji Summitt and Dan Hernandez.
While "Koala Man" was Cusack's first foray into the world of half-hour sitcoms, the writer-actor is best known for creating Adult Swim's "Smiling Friend" and "YOLO: Crystal Miracle". Adult Swim favorite Justin Roiland (Other Side of the Sun, Rick and Morty) also serves as a producer on The Koala Man and provides the voice for an episode. In his move to Hulu with Koala Man, Cusack has tapped into his major Australian comedy roots in a way that could reach, delight and influence audiences in the US and beyond as well.
Cusack talks to Screen Rant about Koala Man's origins, his work with Roiland, and making things concrete.
Michael Cusack on Koala Man
Screen Rant: How long have you had this idea, what was the most exciting thing for you at the time first?
Michael Cusack: I think it was a mix of a few things. I'd always wanted to do an animated TV show. I started out just doing YouTube cartoons, shorts, but I grew up on The Simpsons and shows like that, so I always dreamed about doing something like that, but Australian, and weird, and kind of offbeat. A while ago, I came up with Koala Man as a singular character, and he had some shorts that I did for The ABC (The Australian Broadcasting Corporation), which is a network back in Australia. Recently, a few years ago, I thought about packaging an animated sitcom-type show with a family, and Koala Man just kind of made sense to be the dad in that show. I feel like I've seen the Homer Simpson archetype done a lot, so I just thought it would be interesting to kind of put a spin on the whole animated family sitcom and just make him kind of a crappy superhero. It kind of happened naturally, and I developed it a lot with my showrunners Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit over the last few years into what it is now.
Justin Roiland is the producer of this, and he voices it. I know you played with knives in his game High on Life. How closely did you work together on Koala Man?
Michael Cusack: He was really cool. He was very vital to actually getting the show sold, [in] putting his name on it. He talked to Hulu and championed the show, so he was great at pushing the show forward to actually get it into production. Other than that, he was a great mentor; he's a good friend, too. He's been through all of this before, when it comes to making a show of this caliber, so he was a great resource when it came to any advice for this strange business. Also, the voice that he provided is great. He's the only American in the show so far, but it makes sense. For all Australians worried that it feels network-y to shoehorn Americanisms in Koala Man - if you watch it, it kind of makes sense why there is an American there. It's a meta note on the whole American executive note to put Americans in a foreign show, in a way. I think he did a great job at it. Justin's awesome.
By then, is there any struggle about whether you should make it as specific as Australia? That's part of what makes this show so special, but is it hard for some people to get it?
Michael Cusack: I thought it was going to be hard, and I kind of went into it with my defenses up, ready to fight. I was not going to let Koala Man be stripped away of what makes it the thing that I love - to go through that Hollywood process where it just becomes something that you don't even recognize anymore. I was very blessed and lucky to have 20th Century Studios really stick to, "No this has to be Australian." \ And [it was the] same with Hulu, same with the showrunners, same with the writers. I've never had anything like, "Oh, this needs to be more American," or anything like that. If anything, it's been the opposite. Sometimes I'll subconsciously hold back, and then we'll get a note that's like, "Can we make it more Australian?" We've been very lucky in that sense.
The show is also very aware of other movies and superhero stuff. How did you reference superhero culture and movie culture without going too far?
Michael Cusack: I'm not the biggest superhero fan, to be honest. I got into superhero stuff really briefly in, like, 2015. You know when you really get into something hardcore for a really brief time? That was me; I watched all the Marvel movies, and all the Batman movies, and I kind of discovered superhero stuff. That's when I came up with Koala Man. When it comes to the references, and the love for superhero culture, that probably comes more from Dan and Benji. They're fans of that stuff more than I am. I guess I bring something different - a satire of superhero stuff, too, but also the Australiana and the grounded aspects. I think that's why it's good collaboration; we kind of have different sensibilities, but also similar ones in some senses. It helps in making a show that's as ambitious as this.
You're from Dapto, right?
Michael Cusack: I'm from a suburb near it. I'm from a suburb called Unanderra. I was going to set it there, but I thought the name probably would be a little bit too wordy. The next suburb over is Dapto, and it seems a bit easier to say. It's also kind of notorious - not for being a bad place, but for some reason. I can't explain it. Dapto's got a vibe; a quirky vibe, where it would make sense for character like Koala Man to arise out of it.
Did any Australians or Dapto who heard about the show have any response for you?
Michael Cusack: I think they played it on a thing called Sunrise in Australia, which is like a daytime television news show, and they were like, "Oh, Dapto on American TV? Our Dapto?" So, there's a little bit of buzz going on because it's in the presses, but I don't think we'll know until it comes out what Dapto is really going to think. Hopefully they like it, because it truly is a love letter. But, it's [also] not really real life Dapto. It's basically every Australian suburb, and that can even translate to every American small town, or European or wherever. It should just be kind of universal and, hopefully, relatable.
Your voice acting on this show is incredible. What was it like finding and working with actors like Hugh Jackman and Sarah Snook?
Michael Cusack: Really, really cool. I've come from the world of just making YouTube cartoons where I voiced everything, so it was a totally new experience to get actual, real actors. Famous and extremely talented ones, too. I was worried, I was kind of nervous at first, but I directed them one on one. Because of COVID, we didn't perform all together; I was just getting individual voices. They were all just really, really terrific, and so fun to work with, and actually elevated the work so much. I mean, Rachel House as Janine and Louise, and Sarah Snook as Vicky... the reason I mention those two is [that] when I do an episode, it's my voice for every character that's temp at first. I scratch every character, meaning the female characters are all me. When you finally get an actress in to do these roles, and especially an actress of the caliber of Sarah Snook or Rachel House, it just elevates the work so much. It was a blast. It was great.
I heard that you started by teaching yourself animation. Is it important for you to maintain a DIY mindset as you get into these bigger and bigger projects?
Michael Cusack: Yes and no. I think there is ironically a skill to letting things go, and delegating, and collaborating. That was really hard for me at first. Everything in my body wanted to do it all on myself, so I had to learn this new skill of just compartmentalizing a project, and realizing it's more of a collaboration project. There is a benefit to doing a project that's your whole vision, your auteur kind of thing where you do everything, but there's also a lot of benefit to doing a collaboration project. Something's going to come out of it that you would have never made on your own, and it's such a different and fun and challenging experience where learn so much as well. So, in short, it was hard but really, really worthwhile, and something came out of it that I would have never expected, and could have never made myself.
About Koala Man
"Koala Man" follows middle-aged dad Kevin and His nominally not-so-secret identity, his only superpower is a ferocious zeal to obey the rules and stifle petty crime in the town of Dapto. Although it looks like any other Australian suburb, cosmic and man-made evils are poised to strike unsuspecting Duptonians. In order to clean up his hometown and often involve his frustrated family in his adventures, Koala is always at the ready. He'll stop at nothing to defeat nefarious masterminds, supernatural terrorists, or worse: bastards who don't take out the trash can on the right day.
Check out our other Koala Man interviews here:
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