Former Coronation Street star Ryan Thomas makes his eagerly-anticipated debut in Neighbours next week.
In his first major acting role since quitting as Weatherfield favourite Jason Grimshaw in June 2016, Thomas plays mysterious newcomer Rafael Humphries who comes to Erinsborough with a grudge against Paul Robinson and a plan for revenge.
Rafael’s first appearance is in the much-hyped late-night ‘Hit and Run’ episode airing Monday 12 February at 10pm on Channel 5, kicking off a huge week in Ramsay Street that also sees the return of homewrecker Izzy Hoyland and Paige Smith cheating on Mark Brennan with ex Jack Callahan.
We chatted to an excited Thomas about his Neighbours experience, how it compares to Corrie, and whether he’d ever consider a cobbles comeback.
How did the role in Neighbours come about?
I’d just finished Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls last year and was on holiday with my daughter when I had a phone call from my agent. I didn’t commit to anything as I didn’t know much about the character, then the executive producer of Neighbours called me and explained things in more detail and I was really excited. It sounded like a dark and mysterious character with quite a journey to go on. It really appealed to me as it’s so far away from Jason.
Were you a Neighbours fan growing up?
I think everyone was, weren’t they? Growing up it was a ritual – coming home from school turning on the telly and watching Neighbours! It was bizarre working there and I still can’t believe I’ve actually been on such an iconic show. I wouldn’t have wanted to do any other soap as my heart is with Corrie. The only way I’d cross over to a different soap is to go to the other side of the world! It was a magical experience from start to finish.
Tell us about the character…
Rafael turns up alone, no one knows what he’s doing there. He’s very mysterious and a troubled soul. His backstory is his mum died in a fire in Brazil where he lived as a child, then he moved to Manchester at the age of 10. He’s come to Erinsborough looking for answers, and maybe revenge… The character is an emotional wreck and is very guarded, he doesn’t give much away but you can see he has a lot of anger and is very mixed up.
Can you tell us who his love interest is going to be?
All I’ll say is Rafael is there to do a specific job and doesn’t plant to interact with anyone else, but he gets messed up in something he doesn’t want to be involved in. He does develop feelings for one of the locals but he finds it hard to open up. More will unravel about his past as it goes on and his feelings for this person evolve…
How long are you in the show for?
I’m in for 18 episodes. If it wasn’t for my daughter Scarlett I would’ve considered a longer stint but it’s too far from home. Australia is an amazing place and it’s a great way of life. When you finish work people say ‘Shall we go and watch the sun set on the beach?’ What did we do after work on Corrie? ‘Let’s go home and put the telly on!’
What were the biggest differences from working on Corrie?
Obviously the weather! Although you can get four season in one day as the climate changes all the time. People think it’s hot all the time but Matty Wilson (aka Aaron Brennan) is there with his top off getting in the pool and there’s steam coming off the water because it gets freezing cold! Also Neighbours has a much smaller cast, around 30 to Corrie’s 70 odd so it’s half the size. That made it easier to remember people’s names! The way they make the show is the same process, but on a smaller scale just because of the size of the cast.
How did it feel to be the new boy for the first time in 17 years?
Massively strange, but also a good thing as leaving Corrie was something I wanted to do, so being the new boy and having that feeling of starting again is a real positive and helps you move on. You’ll be the new boy wherever you go next so you need to get used to it. I was welcomed with open arms by Neighbours, they made the transition very easy.
Who was your favourite person to work with from the cast?
Stefan Dennis, who plays Paul Robinson, is an extraordinary actor. His work ethic is unbelievable, he makes it look effortless and so natural. We hung out a lot and he’s become a good friend.
Would you go back to Corrie if they asked?
Never say never, I absolutely love the place but don’t know if it’s the right time. I don’t feel I’ve done what I need to do yet – if I think about going back then I’m not thinking about what’s in front of me. Sue Cleaver (who plays Eileen Grimshaw) rings me up and gives me all the gossip! Everyone’s asking if I’m going back to get rid of Phelan – I don’t know what he’s done as I haven’t seen it for a while, but apparently he’s been up to no good!
What else would you like to do?
To work with my brother Adam Thomas, who just left Emmerdale, would be amazing. Maybe one day we’ll get a chance. Me and Adam are both back to being jobbing actors now, doing auditions and not knowing what’s around the corner.
Are you going for the same parts?
If I audition against my brother I wont get any jobs because he’s the most super talented guy I’ve ever come across! If I see him at an audition I’ll have to walk out…! Seriously, I’m so proud of our Adam, he’s amazing and I’m buzzing for him and the future.
What other kind of roles have you got your eye on?
They’re making some amazing drama on TV at the moment. I watched Our Girl, that show is unbelievably good, I love it. I’ve got a few friends in it like Sean Ward who was in Corrie. To do something along those lines, a really gritty, raw, real drama would be right up my street.
Neighbours airs a special hour-long extra episode on Monday 12 February on Channel 5 at 10pm, and continues weekdays at 1.45pm and 5.30pm.