There is no better moment to share with you the results of our extensive interview with Stefan Dennis, the original star of Neighbours, than on its final day in the UK.
In an interview with Digital Spy during the final weeks of filming, Stefan discussed potential outcomes for Paul Robinson, high points and low points of the plot, and why he thinks Neighbours should be given another chance following its shocking cancellation.
What kind of vibe has there been on set as you’ve been shooting the last several episodes?
“There have been ups and downs. Since the first time we were informed that the programme was ending, things have been a little bit of a rollercoaster. That was scepticism, which evolved into a moderate rage.
“I mean, no one was irate. But more than anything, it was rage at the inaction on our part. After then, it became clear that “Oh, well, it is what it is.” There is nothing we can do about it. Let’s enjoy it, then.
You would assume that as the show was drawing to a close, people would become disinterested. In reality, though, it’s doing the opposite. We’re all exerting additional effort because it’s really energising the crowd. In fact, the environment has been extremely positive.
Can you provide any previews for the upcoming episode?
Naturally, it is already widely known that Kylie and Jason will be returning, along with a few more faces. Due to their location abroad, some will attend in person while others will do so virtually.
The return of some beloved characters in the last few episodes, along with perhaps some plotlines that will neatly tie up the programme, will make the fans very happy, in my opinion.
When the show’s cancellation was revealed, were you shocked?
“Yes and no, as the ambiguity had persisted for almost a full year. Everyone reacted negatively in 2021 when we were only signed for one year instead of three, saying, “Ooh, that’s probably not a good sign.” “No, no, everything’s going to be okay,” was the assurance given to us.
“After six months, it became apparent that perhaps things might not turn out as planned. We then received the last knock. Even though we anticipated it, we were surprised when it actually occurred and said, “We didn’t really expect that.”
Are you happy that the creators had enough time to craft a suitable conclusion?
“Yes, I agree that Channel 5 and the producers were excellent in that regard. Look, guys, we’re very sorry, but the programme is ending next week because we’ve ran out of doors we can bang on. They could have easily gone and just pounded on doors till the death knock.
However, they didn’t. And, as I said, we had a good idea of it at least six months in advance, despite the fact that the public and the press were unaware of it. So, we had plenty of time to get ready for what was coming.
“Although 200 people will lose their jobs, at least we’ve had time to prepare, think it through, and look for something new,” said the speaker.
Were you taken aback when Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue decided to come back?
Since our executive producer Jason Herbison had been working on it for several months, it wasn’t as shocking. In the two weeks preceding up to it, he had undoubtedly communicated with Kylie and Jason almost every day or every other day.
“Everything was kept very quiet. The Neighbours production deserves praise for, for once, actually managing to keep it a complete secret until they were ready to share it.
“Even the performers who took part in it were unaware. The other two actors who were participating learned the same day we shot the sequences, as did I the previous evening.
“We mistakenly believed that we were filming something quite different. They produced model scenes. They created a fake schedule. They made every effort to mislead observers.
Can you tell us about those sequences with Kylie and Jason since you were in them?
The fact that it wasn’t just a whirlwind was verified by Jason Herbison. He actually saw to it that I, the others, and Kylie and Jason were able to catch up with them. Before we started filming, we had a good 30-minute catch-up with them.
“That struck me as being incredibly nice. They didn’t say, “Okay, you two haven’t spoken in 20 years. Not to worry. Action, too. It was handled in an incredibly kind manner. because it has been over 20 years since I last saw Kylie. Although we’ve chatted on the phone, I haven’t seen her since she was still a resident of London when I moved there.
I’ve seen more recently, Jason. mostly because Harlow Robinson, played by his daughter Jemma, worked on the show. When Jemma called him, we would communicate over Zoom.
What memories do you cherish the most?
I used to claim that it was more about a favourite time period than a favourite scene. Because, in my opinion, that is the core of Neighbours.
“Working with Fiona Corke, who was also one of my favourite on-screen wives, was one of my favourite experiences. Without mentioning Bek [Elmaloglou, who plays Terese], I would be remiss. Rebekah and Fiona Corke have been my two favourite wives.
“Working with Nat Bass [who portrays Izzy] and Pippa Black [who plays Elle] was probably another favourite time of mine. In the house, there existed a triangle including the three of us. My God, they were enjoyable years to live. It was probably two years worth of gloriously filthy entertainment, both on and off camera.
Is there anything else in particular?
“One really moving scene for me was seeing Terry Donovan as Doug Willis, just lying – acting – dead on the grass in front of Lassiters, when there was all this mayhem and confusion following the boiler explosion.
“There was a lot of drama surrounding Josh’s approaching death since he was stuck under the rubble, but in the middle of it all, in a tiny pocket, Doug Willis was just lying there, having passed away from a heart attack.
“I know that seems incredibly strange, but now that I think about it, it’s a pretty emotional moment that struck me. I think it’s one of the most recognisable scenes from Neighbours to me.
Did you have a story that you liked the least?
It’s challenging since I did some absurd things. In 2004, when I first returned to the show, the narratives had already begun to become rather absurd. Because Paul was so benevolently nasty but also so absolutely charming and cheeky underneath it all, we were able to have the upper hand.
“For instance, the entire narrative surrounding Elle’s fictitious cancer was absurd. We made it seem plausible and pulled it off somehow. But as soon as I saw it written down, I thought, “You’re laughing, aren’t you?”
Paul was willing to do anything during that time. It grew so ludicrous that he practically passed for a Bond villain. That’s why, in my opinion, we were able to carry off that ridiculous tale. But I did think, “This is just incredibly ridiculous, guys,” when I read it.
Do you have any faith that Neighbours will come back?
“I’m going to return to the adage, ‘Never say never,’ which is extremely well known. Whether or not I’m in the show, I would really like to see it renewed. Even though I shouldn’t be saying anything, I feel like I should end the conversation now. But now that it’s happened, I’m all set to end this.
“I sincerely hope the show will return. Only because I genuinely think that the programme deserves it and that the Australian television industry does too.
“There is a reason why this television is recognisable. It goes beyond what you see on television. It has a fascinating past. It has a history of establishing standards and starting trends. In addition, I only refer to trends that have gained significant traction within the sector.
Because I’m so proud of it, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The first production business in the globe to resume production during COVID, the first lockdown, and the first wave of the pandemic was the soap opera Little Old Neighbours.
“For Easter, we were already on a two-week vacation. They then took an additional two weeks off to figure out a model for the studio and the show’s return. We returned to work within a few weeks, well ahead of the majority of other production companies.
“Our producer, Jason, used to receive at least 12 calls every day. While he was working to keep the show running, he was also occupied with calls from executive producers, producers, and studios all over the world asking: “How do we do it? How do we return?
Do you believe there are still options that haven’t been considered?
Why shouldn’t the ABC, which is owned by the Australian public, take on the task of ending the show if it is a financially sound decision? The Australian people would therefore essentially own Neighbours, carrying on the tradition of hiring performers, crew, production personnel, and providing them with training.
“It’s amazing how many people have received training and skills through Neighbours over the past 37 years. There are tens of thousands of them. So I think it’s incredibly unfortunate to lose something like that.
“I’m being entirely sincere here. It doesn’t matter to me at all. But I would really like to see the show renewed for the benefit of the cast, the business, and the 200 or so other individuals who would lose their jobs. I would reiterate it and advise people to “never say never.”
Don’t worry, I’ve heard murmurs from a few of my acquaintances who have significant positions in the sector. It won’t pass away. Anyone can say something very easily, but when it comes from the people whose mouths it came out of, I might pay attention.
But in the end, we all understand what it is: a soap opera. Shakespeare is not being produced. We are not producing a Hollywood drama that will win an Academy Award. Making a pretty fantastic tiny soap is what we’re doing.
What do you think of Paul and Terese’s current relationship?
“I sincerely hope Paul and Terese can reconcile. Paul has only had two true loves in his life: Gail and Terese. Gail is still alive, but that marriage has been broken off for good.
For a happy conclusion, I would dearly love to believe that Terese and Paul would reunite in the final few episodes. A final breakup between the two of them would be regrettable.
“Even though the programme may be coming to an end, the characters still have a lot of life left in them to do all kinds of fantastic things off-screen. But I believe it would be wonderful if they would reunite for the benefit of myself and the fans.
Do you believe Paul should be punished for his misbehaviour, or do you think he deserves a happy ending?
“That old thing is amusing. On Neighbours, there are two possible ways to end with Paul Robinson. It’s witnessing a happy conclusion and seeing him reunited with Terese.
Either it will be all wonderful and everything, or it will cut away and show a view of Paul at the bottom of the bay, rocking back and forth in the water while wearing concrete shoes. I believe Paul will experience one of those outcomes. There is no doubt that I had a hand in how my persona ended up. But I won’t reveal it to you.
How do you envision your future after “Neighbours”?
“I’m entering what I’m referring to as semi-retirement. That refers to giving up a full-time job due of Neighbors. Actors don’t retire; they die, as I’ve been saying to people and have said throughout the years. And I’d really like to be in John Gielgud’s position, literally working nonstop till my cogs fall out.
“Whether or not they want to hire me, or whether they believe I’m qualified to be hired, is entirely up to individuals all across the world. However, I would dearly love to continue working.
“I’m hoping to be in the very advantageous position of being able to be a little bit more selective about what I say yes to as an actor. That’s incredibly lovely, and I’ve never been in that situation before. Definitely something I’m looking forward to.
“My wife and I have also discussed the possibility of launching a side business. We are unsure. I have the world at my disposal right now.