Neighbours’ Paul Robinson is proof that everybody loves a baddie. Stefan Dennis, who plays Ramsay Street’s rogue businessman, says that the public were furious when his character became sweet and mellow in 2007.
In an interview with RadioTimes.com for Neighbours’ 30th anniversary, Dennis reveals that he’d had to fight hard to get producers to let him be evil again after writers gave him a brain tumour which made him thoughtful, caring— and even romantic. He even managed to rile up the kindly Samaritan Harold Bishop.
Paul Robinson was the ultimate smooth-talking villain— think a soap version of House of Cards’ Frank Underwood— and cannily committed fraud, burnt Lassiter’s hotel to the ground, made a deal with developers to destroy Ramsay Street and was even targeted by henchmen because he was such a threat to the relative Erinsborough.
But in 2007, Neighbours producers felt Paul had become too caricature-like and unbelievable so they decided to have a life-threatening illness transform him into a nice, affable chap.
‘Everybody hated it,” says Dennis. “I had a real battle with the producers. They said ‘we’ve got to keep Paul nice and I kept being bombarded out in the street by people asking when Paul was going to be nasty again.”
“The producers just thought I was a disgruntled actor unhappy with my lot and Paul stayed nice for six months while I tried to convince them to make him mean again.”
In the end it was the show’s fans who changed Paul back into the gloriously manipulative man he’d once been. At a huge charity event full of hundreds of Neighbours fans, Dennis asked the crowd to put up their hands if they liked Paul being nice. “About three hands went up,” he says. “Old ladies, mostly.” When asked who preferred Paul nasty, “whoosh, all the hands flew up.”
And from that moment, Ramsay Street had its villain back.
Dennis says that those sinister pre-tumour plot-lines were his favourite, especially the period where he went out with Izzy Hoyland (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) and endlessly schemed with her and his daughter Elle (Pippa Black). “I describe those as the Izzy years, Paul’s deliciously evil period. We had such fun on and off screen and to this day I’m great mates with them.”
But fun as it may have been, Paul’s ‘deliciously evil period’ almost got Dennis sacked.
“It was nearly the demise of Paul Robinson. Producers called me into the office and said they had to get rid of me because the character has become so big in a caricature way, too evil, too moustache-swirling machiavellian.”
But only two days later, the executive producer called Dennis back in and said he’d found a way to keep Paul, and that the brain tumour storyline would make him a more believable character again. In the end, though, it was the villainous Paul that fans wanted all along.
See? Nice really is boring. “Now, if I see a film that has a really good baddie in it, I’ll take that little snippet and see if I can make it work for Paul.”