Neighbours star Stefan Dennis on Paul's prison drama - and which classic characters he'd bring back
We speak to the Ramsay Street stalwart about his career on the Australian soap
So, Paul Robinson is behind bars - falsely convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Yes, Erinsborough's most unscrupulous resident is now been given a 14-year sentence despite being - for a change - wholly innocent. But what will life in prison be like? Here's actor Stefan Dennis discussing the drama ahead and revealing why he still gets a kick out of playing Paul...
So, how is Paul going to cope with jail?
He doesn’t have a pleasant time at all. Paul becomes a marked man and is told to cough up some dollars if he wants protection. He meets up with Gary Canning who, you have to remember, is in prison because of Paul. So that’s kind of a strange alliance. But Gary’s able to protect Paul, or so he thinks.
Coming up, you’ll see Paul get terribly badly beaten and Terese ends up visiting him in hospital. But he tells her that he cannot forgive her for what she did – and so we witness the end of the relationship between Terese and Paul. Or so we’re led to believe…
Are we going to be surprised when we find out who is actually responsible for the hotel explosion?
It was certainly a surprise for me. It came a bit out of the blue – I didn’t expect it to be this person. There have been some great guesses from the fans: somebody thought that Robert Robinson had escaped and was responsible! But I’m not going to tell you who did it.
What reaction do you get from the fans these days?
Everything’s died down a little bit now. Neighbours has been going on so long - we’ve just clocked over 31 years. So people are more relaxed now. It’s not like the hysteria of the 1980s.
I can walk down the street, but people will still want a selfie or an autograph. It’s more usual for them to ask for a photograph these days because everyone has a camera in their hands. Which is good because it takes less time!
What advice would you give to the young Stefan Dennis who was just starting out on Neighbours in 1985?
I would still say to enjoy it as much as I did, but to treat it more like a business. I wouldn’t have been such a larrikin and have pissed things up against a wall so much, particularly with my music career.
Do you regret the singing?
No, I don’t have regrets. I’ve come through all that and I’ve got a beautiful family and a lovely existence in Melbourne and I’m still doing a job that I love. How can you have regrets when you had a great time doing a show that’s still successful? I couldn’t possibly regret that.
When is Neighbours at its best – when it’s doing the big stunts or concentrating on family drama?
When there’s a big explosive storyline, there’s lots of work to be done. And I don’t like having to get up too early! But, seriously, I enjoy it. The beauty of working on an ongoing serial is that you get unexpected stuff thrown at you all the time.
And it makes me laugh when fellow thespians, who don’t think I’ve got a real acting job, say that I must be bored playing the same character. And I reply that, no, I’m not. I’ve had the privilege of being able to evolve Paul as a character and do something different every single day.
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Stage work is incredible, but you are playing the same part night after night. Here on Neighbours, it’s a very fast-moving environment. We get nil time to prepare, so we have to work really hard as actors. So anyone who says that we’re not real actors needs to pull their head in or get a job on a soap to see how difficult it is.
So you think that there’s a snobbery towards actors on soaps?
Well, the funny thing is that I get the last laugh. When I was younger and starting out at Neighbours, a well-known actor who shall remain nameless, said to me, “one day, you’ll get a real acting job rather than playing around on a soap”. The irony is that this actor would now crawl over broken glass to get a gig on Neighbours.
Do you feel like the show’s elder statesman?
No! I’m still young 'Steffy' in the corridors at work. Well, not so young anymore. But, really, I’m just one of the gang. None of us who have been there for a long time – Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Ryan Moloney – think of ourselves in that way. We just go to work and have a great time with our colleagues.
Did you feel that it was a shame that Daniel had to leave in order to give Imogen a happy ending?
Well, I loved working with Tim Phillipps – we built up a really good relationship. But hopefully there is a chance that he could come back to the show…
Are there any other characters that you’d like to bring back?
I’d like to see Elle Robinson return, with Pippa Black reprising the role. It was a really wonderful relationship between Paul and his daughter. It would be good to have Izzy come back – Natalie [Bassingthwaighte] and I used to have outrageous fun working together. And I’d love to see Joe Mangel make a reappearance. He was great.
Do you like it when Neighbours gets nostalgic?
I love it. It was me that campaigned to get Des Clarke back for the 30th anniversary. That was a really good moment for Paul Keane and I – he’d been through the wringer and the two of us hadn’t seen each other for 20 years. And it’s always lovely having Melissa Bell back as Lucy. She’s become a returning character and she’ll be back soon, actually. Lucy is, of course, now the CEO of Lassiter’s Worldwide, so Paul’s little sister has done very well for herself.
And are there any more stunts coming up?
Yes, we filmed the hotel explosion before Christmas, so that storyline has now been well and truly put to bed. We’re about start filming an extremely big story that will be quite shocking, but in a different way to that previous stunt. And it’ll be a high stakes situation for one very well-loved character...
You can read next week's Neighbours spoilers here.