Inner East Review

Love on the Spectrum star Michael Theo ready to premiere the 'most important work' of his life

Megan Doherty
Updated May 30 2024 - 5:32pm, first published 7:15am

The whole nation fell head over heels for Michael Theo when he appeared in two seasons of the ABC-TV series, Love on the Spectrum, about people on the autism spectrum dating and finding love.

Now, he is starring in Austin, a comedy series filmed mainly in Canberra, which goes to air on ABC and ABC iview at 8pm on Sunday, June 9.

WATCH: Michael Theo attends the premiere of Austin

A former cabinet-maker based in Wollongong, Michael, who has Asperger's syndrome, also has a podcast called Mr A+.

Austin is his first venture into acting, returning to Canberra on Wednesday night to attend a preview screening of the first two episodes at the National Film and Sound Archive in Acton, with an appreciative local crowd including Arts Minister Tara Cheyne.

Ready for his close-up: Michael Theo arrives at the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra for the premiere of his new TV comedy Austin. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Ready for his close-up: Michael Theo arrives at the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra for the premiere of his new TV comedy Austin. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

Austin also stars British actors Ben Miller (Bridgerton) and Sally Phillips (Bridget Jones' Diary) who play a married couple Julian and Ingrid dealing with a social media storm - of his making.

Michael stirs the plot as Austin, the neurodivergent son that Julian never knew existed, who "turns up out of the blue".

Looking resplendent in a top hat and special ABC socks, Michael, 30, said he loved the acting experience, as he arrived at the premiere with a film crew from Australian Story trailing him.

"It was the most exciting highlight of my entire life," he said.

"Because acting it what I've wanted to do since early childhood. It's the most important work that I've done in my life."

Michael rose to the occasion of the premiere and wore a top hat and special ABC socks. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Michael rose to the occasion of the premiere and wore a top hat and special ABC socks. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

Michael said it was important that Austin, neurodivergent character, was played by someone who also neurodivergent.

"It's very important that any neurodivergent character is actually played by actors who are neurodiverse themselves, because it's more authentic that way," he said.

Supported by the ACT government and Screen Canberra through the CBR Screen Attraction Fund and CBR Screen Investment Fund, Austin was almost entirely in Canberra, with one week of filming in Britain.

Locations from Book Lore in Lyneham to the Marion function centre on Lake Burley Griffin to the Hyatt Hotel feature in the series.

Ben Miller, Michael Theo and Sally Phillips star in Austin.
Ben Miller, Michael Theo and Sally Phillips star in Austin.

And Michael has become a fan of Canberra.

"Prior to filming Austin, I'd only been two Canberra at least twice, but they were mostly for school trips," he said.

"After six weeks in Canberra filming Austin, it made me realise Canberra is a really great place, even great to live. But also to work. There are a lot of places here in Canberra that I really love like Lake Burley Griffin, the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, a cafe known as Maple and Clover and there's also the Canberra zoo."

Michael Theo filming in Canberra with Austin co-stars Ben Miller and Sally Phillips. Picture supplied
Michael Theo filming in Canberra with Austin co-stars Ben Miller and Sally Phillips. Picture supplied

Always dapper, Michael went the extra mile dressing for Wednesday night's premiere.

"Because I'm the lead actor, I'm dressed in my most formal attire, as you can see," he said. "And I'm actually excited for the audience to see Austin for the first time, but I'm also nervous what their perception might be. I would like to know what they think of the show and also me as an actor, because if the audience can tell I'm a great actor, than the evidence speaks for itself."

Australian stars Gia Carides and Roy Billing also star in Austin, as his mother and grandfather.

"Being filmed with Ben Miller and Sally Phillips, Gia Carides and Roy Billing, it was such an honour to work with them," he said.

"But I did also feel slightly out of place with them, because I'm a newcomer but they've been doing this kind of work for decades."

Ben Miller and Michael Theo getting the Canberra references in Austin. Picture supplied
Ben Miller and Michael Theo getting the Canberra references in Austin. Picture supplied

Gia Carides and Sally Phillips would often do the bridge-to-bridge walk around Lake Burley Griffin during their free time.

"At one point, Sally and I attempted to walk the entire loop around Lake Burley Griffin but we learned the hard way it takes about seven hours to do the entire loop," Michael said.

"So, we were forced to give up and Sally had to call an Uber."

Michael had a special connection with English actor Jim Howick who turns up in episode five of the series.

"I've been a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine since I was three-years-old, right?" Michael told the audience.

"Well, let me explain something. Back in 2017, there was a 70-minute special called Journey Beyond Sodor and Jim Howick was one of the cast members who voiced one of the new characters in that film, a large tank engine called Hurricane. When I first found out he was going to be part of the show, I was stoked.

"In fact, when I first met him I said, as a bit of a reference, 'Great to meet you Hurricane'."

Austin premieres on ABC-TV and iview on June 9.
Austin premieres on ABC-TV and iview on June 9.

Love on the Spectrum also won an international following.

Austin creator and writer Darren Ashton told the Canberra audience on Wednesday night that Michael also had some famous fans.

"We were shooting in Hampstead and Sally came up to me and said, 'You're not going to believe it, but Richard Curtis just texted me'. And Richard Curtis, as you may know, wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually and directed a whole lot of things.

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"And I said, 'Oh yeah'. And I thought, 'Sally, obviously knows people'. She goes, 'Hi Sally, I saw you filming in West Hampstead. But, more importantly, was that Michael Theo with you?'."

Michael, who got the nickname Mr A+ from his mother because he reckons "an A+ partner looks like me", is still looking for love.

"I'm fully aware people keep asking me if I've found love yet, because of Love on the Spectrum, the answer is, 'Sadly no, not so far'," he said.

"It's because I've been busy shooting and promoting Austin. But I'm still open to finding love, because that's still on the agenda for me."

Acting will also be in his future, with a few projects "under wraps" and, hopefully, a second season of Austin.

"All I can say is, I don't want to jinx it, I really hope we do a second season," Michael said.

Megan Doherty

Megan Doherty

Journalist

I like telling local stories and celebrating Canberra. Email: megan.doherty@canberratimes.com.au