Josh Willis (Neighbours)
|Portrayed by||Harley Bonner|
|First appearance||20 May 2013|
|Introduced by||Richard Jasek|
|Home||22 Ramsay Street|
Joshua "Josh" Willis is a fictional character from the Australian soap opera Neighbours, played by Harley Bonner. The actor was cast in the role after being persuaded to attend the audition by his agent. He began filming his first scenes in early February 2013. Bonner's character and his family were created and introduced to Neighbours, as part of an ongoing overhaul of the show's cast and renewed focus on family units within the show. He made his first screen appearance during "Episode 6646", which was first broadcast on 20 May 2013.
Josh is portrayed as being driven, "self-motivated", charismatic and having "a real fight in him". Bonner thought viewers would empathise with his character and relate to his "inner conflict." Josh gets on well with his parents and shares a love-hate relationship with his twin sister Imogen (Ariel Kaplan). Josh's storylines have often revolved around his swimming career and his on-off relationship with Amber Turner (Jenna Rosenow). Josh's competitive swimming career later ended when he suffered a shoulder injury as a result of an abseiling accident.
Creation and casting
On 7 February 2013, it was announced that the four-strong Willis family would be introduced to Neighbours, as part of an ongoing overhaul of the show's cast and renewed focus on family units. News of the Willis family's introduction came shortly after producers decided to also bring in the five-strong Turner family. Executive producer Richard Jasek commented "As viewers will find out shortly, the Turners are a family of secrets, and the unique backstory of the Willis family is just as compelling." The character of Brad Willis (Kip Gamblin) was reintroduced to the show, along with his wife Terese (Rebekah Elmaloglou) and teenage twins Imogen (Ariel Kaplan) and Joshua.
Actor Harley Bonner was cast as Imogen's twin brother Joshua. His casting was confirmed on 18 February. Bonner's mother, Carla, previously appeared in Neighbours as Stephanie Scully. Bonner explained that he received a call from his agent who told him about the role and asked him to audition for it. Bonner admitted to being hesitant about auditioning, as he was aware that it might look like he was following in his mother's footsteps, while he wanted to be seen as his own person. His agent convinced him to pursue the role and he was then shortlisted, before being offered the part. Bonner called it a "smooth process" and said he was "super excited" about being cast. He and the other actors began filming their first scenes two weeks after the family's casting announcement. Bonner made his first screen appearance as Josh on 20 May 2013.
Before his introduction, Bonner described Josh as being driven, having set goals and not liking things that get in his way. Bonner told Thomas Mitchell from TV Week that people who are "super driven" would relate to Josh. He explained that Josh has "a real fight in him" and he strives for what he believes in. Bonner added that while Josh does tend to have a one-track mind, he thought viewers would empathise with him and relate to his "inner conflict." A writer for the show's official website agreed with Bonner's assessment of the character, calling Josh "highly self-motivated" and "a natural born competitor". The writer pointed out that Josh inherited his charisma from his father and his drive from his mother. Bonner said Josh got on well with his parents and called the Willises "a great family unit". He added "We've clicked really well as actors as well as characters. It was funny when we first met, as the family dynamic of the Willises was quite similar to the way we were in person." Bonner stated that Josh and Imogen have "a sort of love-hate relationship". Josh loves his sister, but he does not like it when she tells him how to do things.
Following his arrival, it was established that Josh was an elite swimmer training for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. His father was his coach and Gamblin said Josh was "sort of" Brad's protégé. Bonner admitted that he had to overcome his fear of deep water to film Josh's training scenes in a real-life Olympic pool. Bonner explained that he did not like going underwater or getting his head wet, so he initially did not swim too far away from the side of the pool. Bonner eventually overcame his fears to become a confident swimmer. Hudson Walsh (Remy Hii) was later introduced to the show as a love interest for another character and a rival for Josh. Hii told Digital Spy's Daniel Kilkelly that Hudson and Josh would clash, as they were both elite sportspeople trying to win the same medal. Hii continued, "However, I guess the difference with them is they know what each other is going through, which helps them understand each other." Hii did not think Hudson was as competitive as Josh, but believed he was more confident because he had a natural ability.
When Josh became frustrated with his father's coaching methods, he asked a rival coach, Don Cotter (John Adam), for advice. Don invited Josh to join his squad and Josh agreed, devastating Brad. A few weeks later, Josh learned that Don was forcing Hudson to take performance enhancing drugs, while holding Josh back. Josh decided to sack Don as his coach and resumed training with Brad. In January 2014, Brad resigned as Josh's coach after becoming fed up of Josh's lack of focus. Josh allowed himself to be distracted when his public profile started to grow. Instead of spending his time training, he started focusing on fame. When Josh refused to take responsibility for his poor performance in the pool, Brad lost patience and fired his son a week before the selection trials for the Commonwealth Games began.
Relationship with Amber Turner
Following Josh's arrival, promotional pictures of him with Amber Turner (Jenna Rosenow) were released. When asked if a romance would develop between the two characters, Bonner said "Hmmm, there's not a lot I can say now but there is a bit of a connection, but I'm not sure where it will go!" Amber immediately developed a crush on Josh, but he kept missing her "subtle attempts at flirtation". Amber resorted to following Josh to the local pool to watch him train, but he was too busy to notice her. Amber later told Josh that she had been watching him, but he did not seem to mind. When an embarrassed Amber asked then him out on a date, Josh had to turn her down as he had a meeting with the school principal. Amber jumped to the conclusion that she had messed things up and assumed Josh was not romantically interested in her.
Josh and Amber eventually grew close when she helped him with his homework and after sharing a kiss, they began dating. The couple later broke up and when Amber saw Josh chatting to another girl at a party, she decided to get even. After being introduced to Clay Blair (Charlie Terrier), Amber kissed him. At the same time, Josh was looking for Amber and Rosenow explained "Josh was trying to get away from the girl. When he finally does, he goes to find Amber." Josh eventually found Amber and witnessed the kiss, leaving him devastated. While Amber was unaware that Josh had seen her with Clay, Imogen did and found herself stuck in the middle of her best friend and brother. Rosenow commented that Imogen was all too aware that Josh did not have a good track record and she did not want Amber to get hurt. Amber later agreed to go on a date with Clay, leaving Josh convinced that they would not get back together.
After Amber admitted to having sex with her ex-boyfriend, she and Josh struggled to get things back to normal. They were then banned from seeing each other by their respective parents, who believed they were spending too much time together. Realising that they needed to fix their relationship, Amber and Josh began sneaking around. They were soon caught by neighbour Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) who told their parents. Susan also revealed that Josh was in danger of failing the school year, causing Josh to make "a strong stand for independence" by quitting school and making Amber and his training his priorities. Amber and Josh were divided by their different hopes for their relationship, especially when Josh thought they were ready to have sex. He was then surprised when Amber asked him to wait at least six months before they had sex. A Soap World columnist questioned whether a "lovestruck and sex-starved" Josh could stay celibate. While Bonner did not think Josh and Amber made a good couple, he believed they genuinely loved each other.
Josh broke up with Amber following an argument over her new job. Josh struggled to deal with the break up, but he was soon distracted when local journalist Ruby Knox (Maggie Naouri) came to interview him. Ruby made it clear that she was interested in Josh and they shared a kiss. Bonner explained that Josh was scared by Ruby's strong advances towards him, but he was flattered as she was older than him. The actor believed the kiss was nothing more than a rebound thing and that Josh did want anything more to happen. Bonner admitted that he thought there was a real connection between Josh and Ruby, but realised that she was just using his character to get a story. He said Ruby kissed Josh to get him close and Bonner branded her "a tactical journalist." Despite not being in a relationship at the time, Josh felt guilty about the kiss and chose not to tell Amber when they got back together. He assured Amber that she was the one for him and they finally consummated their relationship.
In early February 2014, Josh suffered a serious shoulder injury that ended his swimming career. Prior to the accident, Josh and Amber had planned a romantic camping trip, but realising that neither of them could drive, they were forced to invite Imogen and Mason Turner (Taylor Glockner) along. Josh was not happy with Mason coming as they were not friends and Josh thought Imogen could do better than Mason. The rivalry between Josh and Mason came to a head when Mason challenged Josh to go abseiling. Bonner told Inside Soap's Sarah Ellis that with Josh's competitive nature, he was not going to let Mason get the upper hand and agreed to do it. However, just as Josh started his descent, a carabiner clip broke and Josh fell to the ground. Josh was rushed to hospital, where he learned that while his life was not in danger, he had suffered a serious shoulder injury. Bonner said "Josh bangs up his shoulder pretty badly, which is the worst thing that could happen for a swimmer." Josh underwent surgery on his shoulder and Bonner explained that from a medical perspective the surgery went well, but in terms of his career, it was a "disaster".
Josh was devastated when he was told that he would not be able to swim competitively again. Needing someone to blame, Josh and his family pointed the finger at Mason and war was declared between the Turner and Willis families. Not prepared to give up on his swimming career, Josh went to the gym to build up his strength. Bonner pointed out that Josh was a strong person mentally, who overcame hurdles before, so he believed this was just another one. When Josh experienced a "searing pain" during training, he was forced to face the fact that his body was not capable of doing what it used to do. Bonner stated that was the moment that Josh became desperate, saying "His mental state isn't where it should be." Determined to carry on with his training, Josh decided to accept some strong painkillers from a drug user at the gym. Bonner explained that Josh told himself the painkillers were harmless and okay for him to use. However, he knew it was not right, but it was easier to talk himself into taking them.
Casual relationship with Naomi Canning
In July 2014, Susan Hill from the Daily Star reported that Josh would begin a casual relationship with his older neighbour Naomi Canning (Morgana O'Reilly). Bonner explained that when Josh moves some boxes to the hotel for Naomi, they flirt and Josh hinted that they should go to a hotel room, but Naomi rejected his offer. However, while they were in a elevator together, Naomi hit the emergency stop button and they had sex. Bonner commented that the hook-up was good for Josh, saying "after everything Josh went through with Amber, it's a realistic avenue for him to explore." Due to the large age gap between them, Josh and Naomi decided to keep their casual relationship a secret. The relationship was almost discovered by Sheila when she returned home unexpectedly and interrupted Naomi and Josh. Naomi forced Josh to hide outside in the garden wearing nothing but his underwear.
Josh moves onto Ramsay Street with his family, when his mother gets a job at the local hotel. Amber Turner flirts with Josh, but he is oblivious until his sister points it out. During swim practice, Josh is given some advice by swim coach Don Cotter. While Brad rejects Don's advice, Josh later makes the decision to hire Don as his coach. Josh struggles to keep up with his school work and Amber offers to write an essay for him. She later admits that she did not understand the topic and just wanted to impress him. Josh kisses her and they begin dating. When Josh turns up late to training, Don offers him an ultimatum – Amber or swimming. Josh chooses swimming, but does not break up with Amber and tells Don she is stalking him when he catches them together. When Amber realises what Josh said, she breaks up with him. Don switches Josh to middle-distance swimming, so there is less competition for his rival Hudson Walsh. Josh later realises Don has been under timing him and makes Hudson take performance enhancing drugs. He fires Don as his coach.
Josh attempts to reunite with Amber, but he sees her kissing another guy. Brad decides to take on Hudson and he begins training alongside Josh, who is initially hostile towards him. Josh and Amber admit they want to be together, but Imogen lets slip that Amber had sex with Robbo Slade (Aaron Jakubenko). Josh learns Robbo is blackmailing Mason with footage of him and Amber having sex. Mason, Josh, Hudson and Chris Pappas (James Mason) arrange to pay Robbo off. Josh later goes back to see Robbo, who punches him. Robbo dies after being involved in a hit-and-run and Hudson confesses that he ran him down. Josh and Amber get back together, and Josh's parents reluctantly let him quit school. When Josh fails to take Amber's ambition to be a photographer seriously, she breaks up with him. They make up when Josh asks Amber to the school dance. Josh gives an interview to journalist Ruby Knox. Josh and Ruby kiss, which leaves Josh feeling guilty. Amber learns about the kiss and the couple briefly break up again. Josh wins a local emerging talent award and his public profile increases. He begins missing training sessions and when Brad confronts him, Josh is rude and ignores his advice. Terese manages to convince Josh to return to serious training.
Josh qualifies for the Commonwealth Games, but soon after, he seriously injures his shoulder in an abseiling accident. Despite undergoing surgery, he is told that he is unlikely to ever swim at the top level again. Brad encourages Josh not to give up hope and Josh begins light training. When he re-injures his shoulder, Josh starts taking stronger painkillers supplied to him by a drug dealer. Amber finds the painkillers and informs Josh's parents, causing Josh to break up with her. Imogen persuades Josh and Amber to get back together. Josh goes for tests on his arm at the hospital and is told that he will never be able to competitively swim again. After a try-out at the pool, Josh accepts the verdict. Josh decides to return to school, but is disappointed when has to repeat Year 11. At his joint eighteenth birthday party, Josh collapses after he drinks a glass of champagne and learns he is alcohol intolerant. Dejected by this, he is inspired by Daniel Robinson (Tim Phillipps) to take up skateboarding to take his mind off recent events. Josh becomes jealous when Daniel says that he and Amber share a spiritual 'vibe', but both insist it is not physical. Josh flirts with newcomer Paige Novak (Olympia Valance).
Josh is fined by the police after Jayden Warley (Khan Oxenham) injures himself copying one of his filmed stunts. Jayden's mother, Sue Parker (Kate Gorman) threatens to sue Josh, but Daniel talks her out of it. When Brad loses his job at the gym, he becomes a teacher at Erinsborough High, leading Josh and Imogen to rebel against him. Josh discovers Amber has been having an affair with Daniel behind his back and he trashes their darkroom. Josh then decides to quit school again. Josh and Imogen are informed that Paige is their half-sister. Josh is more accepting of the news, until he learns that she knew about Amber's feelings for Daniel. Josh bonds with Naomi Canning and they begin a casual relationship. Josh is appointed manager of the Eastside Dingoes Gym. When he complains about the owner and his reluctance to put any money into the gym, Terese announces that Lassiter's will buy the gym. Josh persuades the owner not to sell as he does not want his mother to be his boss. When Sheila discovers that Josh and Naomi are in a relationship, they break it off. Josh becomes drunk at Kyle and Georgia's engagement party upon learning that Amber and Daniel are engaged, and when he picks a fight with Daniel, Chris throws Josh out. He angrily confronts him, but leaves. Later, Chris is punched by an unknown assailant and Josh confesses to the crime, unable to remember what happened due to his alcohol intolerance. Josh sells his swimming trophies to pay for Chris's rehabilitation and he leaves food parcels for him anonymously. After Josh realises that Jayden and his friends admire him for what he has done, Josh gives a talk at the community centre about the consequences of his actions. When Chris learns that Josh left the food parcels, he lashes out at him. Josh helps at the garage without pay to save Chris's job. When a customer retrieves his mobile phone from his car, the handbrake is accidentally released and the car rolls towards Josh, trapping him between another car. Mark Brennan (Scott McGregor) frees Josh, who is left with serious bruising. At Josh's court hearing for hitting Chris, the judge gives him 300 hours of community service and a two year suspended sentence. Josh tells Amber he loves her when he discovers she has broken up with Daniel.
In 2014, Bonner won the Soap Extra Award for Most Topical Storyline for his character Josh's coward punch storyline with Chris Pappas. Peter Dyke and Katie Begley from the Daily Star cited Bonner and his character as one of the reasons extra female viewers were tuning into Neighbours. While Laura Morgan from All About Soap branded Josh a "hunky newcomer". Morgan later observed that Josh was "secretly pleased" when Imogen broke up with Mason, but thought he should "wise up to the fact Amber's been crushing on him for weeks", before interfering in his sister's love life. Of Amber and Josh, a TV Week columnist quipped "Never before have two such genetically blessed individuals been drawn together." The columnist also thought that the relationship would be over in "record time" because of Josh's dedication to his swimming. Anthony D. Langford from TheBacklot.com disliked the pairing, calling them "a really boring, chemistry free couple."
The Daily Record's Tony Stewart pointed out that "it hasn't taken young Joshua long to get over his 'heartbreaking' split from Amber, because he's soon locking lips with another young lady." Langford liked the rivalry storyline between Josh and Hudson, and commented "I do agree that Joshua needs to give it a rest in regards to Hudson. His endless whining isn't attractive. I like that even Brad told him to shut up and focus on his swimming." Langford thought it was a shame that Josh was not gay too, as it would have made for a love triangle storyline, believing Josh and Hudson's fighting hid "an underlying attraction." In April 2014, Langford checked on Josh and found things had not changed, saying he was "still annoying and his romance with Amber is still chemistry free and boring."
Stephen Downie liked Josh's relationship with Naomi, commenting, "The romance between Josh and Naomi has a use-by date but, much like the couple, we're willing to enjoy this ride while it lasts." Claire Crick from All About Soap praised the pairing and said "we love their hilarious secret hook-ups, especially when they end with Josh dashing naked across Ramsay Street!"
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