Finn Kelly is one of the nastiest characters Neighbours has ever seen. The toxic teacher has been on a power-mad quest to become acting principal of Erinsborough High, and is currently turning the screws on professional rival Susan Kennedy to put her out of the picture, and grooming vulnerable teenager Xanthe Canning to achieve his gruesome goals.
His wicked campaign to discredit Susan has gathered pace in recent weeks, and fans were shocked when he deliberately messed with her MS medication to drug and debilitate her. Even when Xanthe cottoned on to his antics, fiendish Finn turned on the inappropriate flattery and convinced Ms Canning to keep quiet. And his obsession with ex-lover, and fellow teacher, Elly Conway adds more menace to his wicked agenda.
We’re not used to this level of evil in sunny Erinsborough, but actor Rob Mills had no qualms in taking on such an antagonistic character – and risking the wrath of all those ardent Susan Kennedy fans out there. In fact, he positively relished it…
“I loved being Susan’s nemesis,” begins the star, speaking on a recent visit to the UK. “Off camera Jackie Woodburne, who plays her, is so lovely and was really helpful in finding different moments and beats to play in the script. She became my mentor.
“We enjoyed the undercurrent of tension in our scenes – there was no shouting or confrontation, they hate each other but both chose to play the long game.”
On the surface, handsome Finn is charming, charismatic and an excellent addition to the school. But as his plan to oust the old regime spirals out of control, is there any way Mills can justify his behaviour?
“First and foremost Finn is a great teacher. He wants to make a difference, inspire young people and change the education system and bring it up to date. Oh, and he’s a sociopath as well!
“As an actor you stick up for your character – he may do bad things but he’s still inherently good. He’s just misunderstood! Basically, Susan is in Finn’s way, he needs to be school principal in order to make these changes. She keeps shutting him down so has to get out of the way.”
That’s all well and good, but what about drugging the unsuspecting Mrs K? “I like to think it’s for the greater good,” smirks Mills, taking great glee in putting over his conniving character’s point of view. “Anyway, Susan’s been there a long time – she’s old hat! In fact, does she even teach classes any more? She’s always in her office. She doesn’t know what’s really going on!”
A more sinister aspect to the storyline has been Finn’s manipulation and borderline grooming of Xanthe Canning. Playing on the impressionable pupil’s crush on her teacher, Finn has used her as an ally in his desperate bid for dominance but the plot has touched on more darker territory than Neighbours is used to exploring – was Mills concerned about tackling this sensitive subject?
“I spoke to the writers early on and they explained it wasn’t going to be that kind of relationship. Xanthe has fallen for Finn, but it’s not reciprocated romantically by him at all. She lacks a positive male role model in her life and Finn is the first person in her life who has really nurtured her.
“Despite all the manipulation he genuinely wants Xanthe – and all the pupils – to be the best they can be and achieve great things.
“Of course having her idolise him helps with his agenda, but he’s not trying to groom her for romantic purposes – he needs her to keep his secret about his aneurysm and being on borrowed time.
“However, Xanthe is really invested and Finn panics he’s taken it too far. He’s manipulated this girl to the point where she could be his undoing, and the only way out of his lies is to tell more lies. Now he has to progress this relationship with Xanthe, which was not the original intention, but if he’s honest about the fact he’s used her she’ll reveal everything and that’ll be the end. He’s working hard to keep her on side and will do whatever it takes…”
In next week’s episodes, Mr Kelly’s masterplan appears close to collapsing as the pupils start to protest against his new regime. Are we about to see Finn fall from grace? “He hasn’t put any logistics in place for this system to work – he’s an idiot! Finn is passionate about his ideas and assumed everyone would be on board, but that’s not the case. It makes him more angry and frustrated as he’s not got time to do this gradually, and it spurs him to be more maniacal.”
The guest role of Finn is the first high-profile TV acting gig for Mills, who was a contestant in talent show Australian Idol in 2003, and has worked extensively in Australian musical theatre appearing in the likes of Wicked, Grease, Legally Blonde and Ghost – and following his stint on Neighbours he’ll be playing the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar in Melbourne from later this month, but he’s keen to bring Finn back in the future. “I’d be up for returning at some point if they’ll have me. I want Finn to be redeemed, if that’s at all possible…”
“This experience is very different to theatre and I’ve learnt a lot. I wanted to concentrate on screen acting and turned down auditions for musicals with an eye to getting a juicy guest role on a TV drama. Then this came up, it’s a dream of a part.”
There’s also a certain serendipity in Mills joining Neighbours, as he grew up in the Melbourne suburbs just down the road from the real Ramsay Street, Pin Oak Court… “The show is set in a world I’m familiar with, the middle class suburbs of Melbourne. Where they film the exteriors for the street is literally across town from where I lived.
“I loved the show as a kid and the original Kennedys was my era. Susan and Karl were my TV mum and dad, and now I’m here taking Susan down!”
Neighbours continues weekdays on Channel 5 at 1.45pm and 5.30pm.