Earlier this year, Kai Lewins could be seen starring as Ari Gibson in the new Netflix show Surviving Summer, which follows a group of teen surfers in Australia, and had its global premiere on 3rd June. Kai filmed for an episode of Apple TV+ series Roar – The Woman Who Ate Photographs – playing Todd alongside his on-screen mother Nicole Kidman as Robin, and in 2020, he played Steve in the multi-award-winning feature film Moon Rock for Monday. Previous roles for Kai have included playing Julian in short film Broken Line North, Young Richard in Carlotta and he booked his first regular role in the 2011 TV series Wild Boys as Tom Barrett. Recently, we chatted to Kai about starring in the new Netflix series Surviving Summer, his character Ari Gibson and filming an episode of Roar for Apple TV+.
You play the role of Ari Gibson in the new Netflix series Surviving Summer, can you tell us about the show and your character?
Surviving Summer follows a group of young Aussie surfers living in the sleepy surf-obsessed town of Shorehaven. Their group is thrown into disarray when Summer, a troublemaking New Yorker is sent to live in Shorehaven by her mother. The group then has to figure out how they’re going to Survive Summer.
Ari is the one who cops Summer’s antics the most – she is sent to live at his house so he can’t get any sort of break from her. At the same time, he’s dealing with emerging mental health issues, intense pressure to perform in the competitive surfing world, and a long road to recovering from a serious physical injury. This is a challenging part of Ari’s life. He’s a sensitive soul and doesn’t always make the best decisions for himself, and yet the viewer gets to watch Ari mature and grow up over the course of the season.
Was there anything that drew you to the role and what is Ari like to play?
Everything about the role drew me to it. Surfing is a huge part of my life and so that was the immediate drawcard. As I explored Ari further, however, his kindness, sensitivity and love for those around him drew me deep into his world. Playing Ari is a joy.
How was it preparing for the series and what was it like meeting the rest of the cast for the first time?
Meeting Sky Katz, Lilliana Bowrey, Savannah La Rain and João Gabriel Marinho was definitely nerve-racking. I had been given a list of the cast previously but I hadn’t actually looked at it. I didn’t want to have any sort of pre-conceived notion of the gang before I met them for real and I think that was a good decision. Everyone was so lovely and we all knew that we would play well on screen because there was always so much fun off screen.
What was it like on set of the show and how was it working with Netflix on a new series?
Film sets are always hectic and this one was no exception. Add to that the unpredictability of filming in the surf and it made for a very packed schedule. The fact we all got along and believed in what we were doing made this a non-issue. Fun and on set shenanigans were near constant and we always looked forward to being there. The entire crew were an absolute pleasure to work around and we were always so well looked-after. Especially since they had to deal with us mucking around all the time. I do feel especially sorry for the ADs Brydi Frances and Elisha Rashleigh for having to wrangle us on set constantly. Sorry for falling asleep all the time, love you guys <3. Netflix provided measured and thoughtful guidance throughout the filming process. From what I can tell, they loved the work we were producing and were happy putting their full trust in Joanna Werner and Josh Mapleston’s vision.
Is there anything you enjoyed most about working on the series and how was it seeing the completed project for the first time?
The days I got to surf and act in the water were unbelievably special. I was getting paid to surf! What an opportunity. I got to watch the full show about a week before its official Netflix release, and prior to that I had seen very little. It had been such a long time after the end of filming that it was like I was rediscovering the whole series again. Finally the hard work we put in had paid off. Any doubts I had while filming were completely resolved as the directorial visions of Ben Chessell and Sian Davies unfolded themselves on screen.
What are some of your favourite memories from filming Surviving Summer and playing Ari?
I remember a day filmed at the stunning beachside location of Point Addis. For some reason, both cast and crew had a bunch of time to kill. Maybe waiting for a sunset? I’m not sure.
Why would you recommend watching Surviving Summer on Netflix and who do you think it will appeal to?
I recommend watching Surviving Summer on Netflix because I have nothing else going on in my life and would love to get a Season 2. Just kidding… Sorta. Truly I would recommend Surviving Summer to just about anyone. It’s simply a whole lot of teen fun set in one of the most beautiful places on earth: the surf coast of Victoria. The visuals of the series are incredible (with huge thanks to Katie Milwright), the surfing scenes are full of life and energy and the frustrating experience of navigating teenage friendships is immediately relatable.
Earlier this year, you played Todd in an episode of Roar, can you tell us about your episode?
The episode of Roar I featured in followed the absurdly strange story of a woman (Nicole Kidman) eating photographs from her childhood and being momentarily transported back into that memory. It becomes an addiction. Her mother is struggling with worsening dementia and so the photographs become her link to her past. She battles this while trying to maintain a motherly figure to her angsty teenage son Todd.
What was the Apple TV+ show like to work on and how was it working alongside the rest of the cast?
A very positive, yet different experience to working on Surviving Summer. Watching Nicole Kidman at work was an absolute privilege. A true master of her craft and I had front row tickets. In the times we weren’t shooting, I hassled her with questions about her career, trying to learn as much as I could in the short time I had. To her full credit, she patiently put up with me and I learnt a lot. Speaking of masters of their craft, Judy Davis was incredible to watch, Jude Hyland (playing my younger brother) and I struggled not calling her Nan even off screen!
How was it playing Steve in the feature film Moon Rock for Monday?
Although I only played a small role, getting to meet George Pullar and see his craft at work made this job extra special for me. As with all my roles, I was grateful to be cast and involved in such a uniquely Aussie feature film.
The film has been nominated for and won a number of awards, how has it been seeing the huge success to the release?
Gratifying. Especially knowing how much time, money and effort director Kurt Martin and the production team put into getting the film off the ground. They really have produced a lovely piece of Australian cinema.
What do you remember most from your first series regular role of Tom Barrett in Wild Boys?
I remember having an absolute blast. Horses, guns and cool old-timey outfits. As a young boy, I couldn’t have had any more fun on that set if I tried.
Can you say about some of the other screen projects you’ve been part of, which has included Carlotta and Broken Line North?
Carlotta was a confronting project for me. Exploring sexuality and gender wasn’t something I had even thought of at that time. This wasn’t fantasy either, I was portraying the real life struggle Carlotta went through in her teens in late 50s and 60s Australia. I was honoured to depict an Australian icon on screen and remain proud of my performance. Broken Line North was a beautifully touching short film I did directed by the talented Sunday Emerson Gullifer in 2019. It’s a difficult film to describe due to its subtlety and elements of surrealism but centres on the navigation of grief.
You’ve previously worked in theatre, what was this like?
I love performance. Being on stage is so immediately impactful because of the inability to just do another take. There are no repeats or do-overs and that’s what really set the stage and screen apart. I’m not sure I have a favourite – I love them both.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I started when I was quite young. Being a confident little kid, my mum got me into a children’s agency and pretty quickly I started doing commercials and catalogues. The love of acting grew out of being in that world and luckily realising early on that is where I’d like to be.
What are some of your favourite TV shows and films to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from acting?
The Game of Thrones series blew me away entirely. I binged the entire series last year so I was a bit late to the party but I couldn’t draw myself away. Ryan Gosling films are my weakness. Crazy, Stupid, Love has been a long-time favourite of mine only being trumped by La La Land when that came out. My spare time is mainly spent in the surf or the gym, with as much time for mates as possible in between.
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for your career?
I’m hoping for a lot of things but the main one is simply that I can continue working as an actor. That sounds silly but nothing is promised in the dramatic world. If I had to pick something specific, it would be a major role in a feature length film – something I haven’t yet achieved.
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