Stefan Dennis on his enduring love for the craft – and his Neighbours character Paul Robinson

‘I never want to stop.'
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He may be synonymous as one of Australian TV’s greatest villains, Paul Robinson in Neighbours. But when he was younger, Stefan Dennis worried about being typecast as a soap actor.

“Somebody had said to me, ‘real actors don’t work in soaps’,” Stefan, 64, tells TV WEEK.

Neighbours fans love to hate Paul.

(Image: Supplied)

“And I used to poo-poo soaps. That’s not because I think they’re bad. I just liked to have the beginning, middle and end when I watch things. Soaps never have that. So, I was always afraid to get involved in something like that.

“Yet now I know of some of the biggest stars in Australian film and television who would love to work on this show.”

Stefan does admit he tends to be typecast as the bad guy in other roles, because of playing Paul. But he reasons that’s better than being typecast as someone who is “nice” or “wimpy”.

“They couldn’t have Prisoner – or Wentworth – without the character The Freak (played by Maggie Kirkpatrick in Prisoner and Pamela Rabe in Wentworth),” he says. “They love to hate her, and it’s the same with Paul.

Stefan was “afraid” to work in a soap.

(Image: Supplied)

“And Paul is so multi-dimensional. One minute he’ll be very vulnerable, next minute he’ll be a bully and then he’ll be really caring and then a really tough businessman.”

Stefan concedes he was always dubious as to how he’d be regarded in the street, given Paul’s shenanigans.

“I know of other actors who have been punched in the face because they’re villains and I always had that in the back of my mind,” he recalls. “But I get the opposite. I get, ‘Paul, you legend mate!’

“And I think, ‘You do know Paul’s a really nasty character, don’t you?'”

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Stefan – and Paul – have been with Neighbours since the first episode aired way back on March 18, 1985, and finished his first stint in 1992. He thought he was done with Paul (“Thanks very much, see you later, guys”), but he reprised the role briefly in 1993 and then came back for good in 2004, staying on for 18 years until the show ended last year.

When it came time to play Paul for the revamped series, Stefan says it took some convincing – on his part – to decide whether he should return to Ramsay Street once more.

“My wife (actor Gail Easdale) tried to convince me and she was great,” he says. “She sort of sat on the fence and said, ‘Look, it’s completely up to you. And if you say you don’t want to do it, and you want to remain semi-retired, that’s fine. I’ll go with that.'”

Ultimately, Stefan couldn’t say no to what he agrees is a gift of a role. He toured the UK earlier this year, with much of the core cast, for what was originally thought to be the farewell tour – but what turned into the celebration tour when the show was saved by streaming service Amazon Freevee.

His wife had a part to play in Stefan’s decision.

(Image: Supplied)

Even Stefan was surprised by the reaction from fans in Old Blighty.

“It was absolutely ballistic,” he says. “It was like the ’80s again, they [the fans] were frantic. Jumping on us. It was almost back to the stage where it was hard to walk down the street.”

Some male fans, he says, seem a little envious that Stefan (as Paul) has had the chance to kiss so many “fabulous women” over the years. He explains to them that kissing scenes are “technical” and, in fact, quite the opposite of romantic.

“You’re thinking about too many things,” he says. “This [camera] angle and that angle.”

In business, we can expect Paul to be his usual conniving self. Certainly, Paul won’t be retiring. “He’s a bit like me, he never wants to stop,” Stefan says laughing.

“People say to me that I must be ready to retire. And I say, ‘no’. My expression always is: actors don’t retire, they die.”

And Stefan is the first to admit his career is good now but it wasn’t always “beer and skittles”.

“I just find it remarkable that they still want to employ me,” he says. “I look back at my stuff that I did in the ’80s and think, ‘My God, why did they keep me?'”

And while the fans will continue to love to hate Paul, Stefan will “never understand” him. “It’s great, actually, because if I understood him, I’d lose interest,” he says. “Having Paul stay one step ahead of me is a good thing.”

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