Aussie actor Stefan Dennis talks to Alison Jones about his varied career, from serious drama to pop.
He has appeared in soaps and done serious drama. He has sung pop songs and taken to the stage in musicals.
And this Christmas Stefan Dennis’ career will take another turn when he comes to the Midlands to star in panto. And playing Dandini in Cinderella is bound to be more fun than his first appearance at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, in the harrowing drama Whose Life Is it Anyway, where he played a quadriplegic who was campaigning to die.
Stefan, who took the role in a break from playing Paul Robinson in Neighbours, says: “That was very challenging because all I could move was my head.
When the spotlight was off me I had to stop myself from falling asleep. I’d get sweat running down me which would itch like hell but I couldn’t scratch myself. “
He accidently found himself trying a bit of method acting after injuring his leg in a motorcycle crash during the first week of the show.
“It was fine when I was lying in bed because I didn’t have to move but people must have thought I had taken the role to heart when I came out for the curtain call on crutches.”
Paul took the stage role, along with parts in Blood Brothers, Casualty and The Bill, during the decade when he lived in England.
He had grown bored with Neighbours but was persuaded back in 2004 and is now happy to continue playing the businessman once dubbed Junior JR.
Despite his ruthlessness, Stefan thinks Paul – recently suspected of killing his own sister – is a much misunderstood character.
“Paul started out as a university student, which people have forgotten,” says Stefan, who first appeared in the soap in 1985.
“He was studying engineering then, much to his father’s disgust, left to join an airline and became a trolley dolly.
“He later became a bit of a cad but I wouldn’t call him a villain. I’d describe him as a bad boy with a conscience.”
It is because of his family – Scottish wife Gail and their three children, Cameron, Declan and Darcy – that Stefan has been content to stay in Australia rather than join the Aussie exodus to America.
It is in the States where stars like Nicole Kidman, Guy Pierce, Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, have been bagging all the best roles.
However, Stefan could follow the example of his screen dad, Jim Robinson, and wait a while.
Last remembered on British screens dying of a heart attack in Neighbours, Alan Dale went over to try his luck in the States and became the casting directors go-to-guy for playing powerful ruthless businessmen, popping up in 24, The OC, Ugly Betty, NCIS and Lost.
“He was very brave man to rock on over there at the age of 55,” says Stefan. “Everybody said he was mad. No one is saying that now.
“The opportunity to go to America is very real considering how many people from Neighbours have gone over there and had success.
“In America and the UK the more popular you are as an actor or performer, the more people want to use you.
‘‘In Australia it is the other way round, the less producers want to use you because they are afraid the public won’t accept you as another character.
That is the stigma attached to me playing Paul Robinson for such a long time.”
At one point it looked as if Stefan was going to follow his former co-star Kylie Minogue into pop stardom, when he had a 1989 hit with Don’t It Make You Feel Good. But his next single was a flop.
“I was doing a voiceover one day and the guy who was doing the engineering literally went ‘do ya wanna make a record?’. I went ‘all right’ and that’s where it started.
“I released two singles, of which one did exceptionally well and the other one bombed.It was my own stupid fault because I didn’t treat it like the business it is.
That is why Kylie is where she is today because she has some very shrewd and very smart people behind her.
“I just had too much fun with too many women.”
Stefan now has his own production company and an idea for a cookery show.
He’d like to appear with his culinary hero Jamie Oliver, drawing on his five years of experience working as a chef before he went into acting full time.
Having thrived on the intensity of 12 hour shifts in busy restaurants, Stefan could easily cope with pressure of a series like Hell’s Kitchen.
“I once left a job because the chef and people in the kitchen were so boring,” he recalls. “I stayed for two weeks and thought ‘I can’t stand this. Nobody smiles, nobody cracks jokes, nobody throws saucepans’.”