Australian comedian Chris Lilley is frighteningly good at playing a 17-year-old girl. That’s his role as the title character in the new “Ja’mie: Private School Girl,” his fourth mockumentary-type series in which he serves as producer-writer-actor. Lilley, 39, has past personae that include a madcap theater teacher, a moody teenage boy and his most popular character, Ja’mie King. King was introduced to viewers in 2005’s “We Can Be Heroes,” revisited in 2007’s “Summer Heights High,” and now she’s the center of her very own show, which debuts Sunday on HBO. The wickedly witty, lip gloss-smacking teen has won over audiences with her unapologetic, foulmouthed jabs directed at anyone who dares get in her way in the halls of Hillford Girls’ Grammar School, a fictional elite private school on Sydney’s North Shore.
The show leads viewers into King’s home town to meet her parents and fellow Hillford classmates and gain more insight into how King has become the noxious yet undeniably entertaining teen we know today. While on an HBO-sponsored college tour to promote the series, Lilley spoke with The Post about how he came up with Ja’mie and what he looks for when he creates a new character.
Out of all the characters that you’ve portrayed over the years, what made you want to go back and make a show about Ja’mie?
She’s just a fun character and I really enjoy writing for her. Some characters are more challenging than others and somehow Ja’mie comes more easily for me. After writing for her twice on “You Can Be Heroes” and “Summer,” this time it was more about writing a show for one character and the motivation for the series was to create a world that is both compelling and spectacular for six weeks. I liked the idea of her because you know what you’re gonna get, and she’s stayed a very strong character for fans since they first met her on “Heroes.”
What inspired you to create a character like her in the first place?
I wanted her to bring a certain dynamic and story line to the show, so originally Ja’mie had a completely different name and was a bit overweight and had an over-the-top personality that eventually got humbled, and along the way I thought, “Let’s make a girl that thinks she’s really hot and has this personality.” She’s gotta act like she’s really hot and keep talking about how hot she is, and she evolved from that. I loved her so much and wanted to give her her own show now where we see her back in the world she originated from.
What kinds of research did you do to form a character like Ja’mie?
I’ve always just been interested in youth culture stuff and girls like that. I watched television shows and reality shows and scrolled through the Facebooks of my nieces. I watched a variety of American reality shows, but it’s not like I ever went, “Oh, that’s it.” I always wanted it to be a mixture of different things from what she looked like to what she spoke like. And I wanted her to be original, and I did meet some girls in Australia to check on the lingo and make sure we were making an accurate show for them.
Why do you think viewers have had such an electric reaction to a character like Ja’mie?
I think it’s maybe because she’s such a classic documentary subject because she’s so open and exposed, and then there’s moments where she disproves what she’s actually saying. She has a tremendous confidence about herself, but deep down she’s just as insecure about herself. She’s just a really dominant leader in her friend group, and there’s something fascinating about people that dominate but are at the same time insecure. I think she’s really real, and quite a lot of girls know girls like that.
What do you look for when you’re thinking of a character to create? What catches your eye as something viewers might hook themselves on to?
Because it’s in the structure of a documentary, it’s a sort of a fly on the wall experience, and it’s someone who’s willing to be themselves in front of a camera and someone who is honest and really open with the camera. I like a character that some people recognize and say, “We know that type.” I like a character where when they get on the scene, you know what you’re gonna get. With Ja’mie, you know just how she’s going to react to certain people or situations, and that’s why I think she’s so fun to watch.
Who do you see as the main audience for the shows you create?
I’m always surprised by the age range because in Australia it’s on an older network, and I think here it’s geared towards younger people. But I have 70-year-olds come up to me all the time in Australia and talk to me about the show. I think college students find it somewhat relatable, and I think it’s so different from what they’re used to watching.
Now finally, what was it like to see yourself as Ja’mie for the very first time?
Oh, that was crazy. I remember that we were looking for the wig. Initially, when I was writing the character, they thought it could be a b----y cheerleader chick and then I thought, “Let’s give her this hair that’s a wig and don’t do too much makeup and make it really look like me.” And I remember trying out various wigs, and I remember looking at myself in the brown synthetic one and thinking, this is it. You had to kind of keep touching your hair and face to get it out of your way, and that’s one little trait I wanted her to have, to make her seem more authentic. . . . You know, I did a photoshoot for a men’s magazine in Australia, and she’s on the cover with her buttons down, and she’s crouching, and it’s so in your face and I absolutely loved it. I thought she had never looked better.
(30 minutes) premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.