Plenty of famous Kiwi faces appear in the hit Netflix series. Yet, despite the show hitting No. 1 on streaming charts around the world, one cameo appearance seems to have gone unnoticed.
Steven Abbot, a clear-cut villain sporting combat pants, a bushy beard and blood red John Lennon sunglasses, is about to leave two people, a scientist and his sick wife, to burn to death. At the last minute, he realises they could be key to solving the pandemic ravaging the planet.
He has a change of heart. “Johnny!” bellows Abbot, beckoning his younger brother into the room. “Help our new friends pack.” In walks Johnny Abbot, a clear lookalike of Steven, with a kinder face and more hair on his head – especially down the back of his neck.
My family, curled up on the couch smashing popcorn into their faces, didn’t blink. To me, that haircut was the giveaway. It was a glorious mullet, one so good it made me gasp. I’m sure I’d seen it before. I had. “That…” I stammered at the TV, “… is Marlon freaking Williams!”
It shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise. Netflix’s hit series Sweet Tooth is full of New Zealanders. Shot here across the second half of last year, the post-apocalyptic show about a deadly virus and half-animal human hybrids features plenty of them, from Anna Jullienne to Jodie Rimmer, Suli Moa and Rhys Darby.
Plenty of New Zealanders worked on the show behind the scenes too. A recent Stuff report suggests as much as 80% of the cast and crew were locals, including 28 heads of department. As well, three episodes were directed by New Zealanders Toa Fraser and Robyn Grace.
But Williams? Williams is different. Williams is a full-time musician, known not for his acting but for singing gorgeously epic songs about heartbreak and putting on spellbinding live shows.
What is he doing in episode six of Sweet Tooth, sporting a wistful American accent, eating pop tarts straight out of the packet, and setting a horse free? Was it really him, or was my mind playing tricks on me? I had to know the answer.
I checked Williams’ Wikipedia page. No mention of Sweet Tooth. I checked Google. Nothing. So I checked IMDB, the Hollywood bible. Williams’ other acting stints, on the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga sob story A Star Is Born, and the 2015 Aussie mini-series The Beautiful Lie, were listed. But, when I first checked the page, there was no mention of Sweet Tooth.
In the age of social media, where every single canary fart gets logged on Twitter, surely someone else had spotted this obvious cameo appearance? Yet even Twitter was bereft of details, with just a couple of lone tweets that didn’t help my situation. One said: “Am I crazy or does Marlon Williams appear in Sweet Tooth?”
I was starting to think I was crazy too. So I did what anyone else would do in this situation. I found Williams’ website, clicked on the contact link, and fired a message into the ether.
The reply landed in my inbox the following day. “I feel like almost no one in the New Zealand press has noticed him being in it,” said Williams’ manager, Alastair Burns, from Heartstop Music. Yes! There it is! The proof I needed!
Burns had a theory why no one else had spotted him. “I guess it just featured so many Kiwi cast and his role is small.” But it’s not that small. Johnny Abbot is a cult figure in Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth comic books that the TV series is based on because he likes to help the child hybrids imprisoned by his evil order brother. No spoilers, but this becomes important in the eighth and final episode of the series, when Johnny Abbot makes his second appearance in the show.
I asked Burns if Williams would talk to me, to tell me how he ended up in Sweet Tooth, and what it was like making a show that has topped streaming charts around the world. How had no one else noticed his appearance in the show?
But his answer was no. Williams is too busy making new music. “He’s deep in recording mode,” Burns said. That’s a good thing. That means the follow-up to 2018’s Make Way For Love might be on the way.
Burns also raised the potential of something else, something that hasn’t yet been confirmed – a second season of Sweet Tooth. Yes, Williams might need to keep that stunning mullet of his intact, just in case his “role expands”.
“We don’t know anything yet but hoping it works out,” Burns told me. I’m hopeful too. My family just finished Sweet Tooth last night, and we’re bereft. It’s the first show we’ve all been able to binge, and fall in love with, together.
What are we supposed to watch now?
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