“I think the secret success of it can be summed up in one word – entertainment”: Stefan Dennis and Georgie Stone on Neighbours – A New Chapter
Neighbours is the longstanding Australian series that garnered fans across the globe with its relatable storylines, family at its core and a platform that seemed to launch a swathe of famous faces. Viewers were left distraught when suddenly in 2022 the series announced it was no longer going into production. Fast forward a matter of months, fans signed petitions to have it reinstated and Amazon Freevee picked up the show, dusted it off and breathed new life into the popular soap.
A host of new faces, including Mischa Barton of OC fame, were added to the bill, and all the beloved characters from past and present signed on the dotted line to bring it back to screen. With an updated version of the same theme tune, with vocals from The Voice winner Chris Sebastian, the beloved drama airs again and brings the story forward two years ahead from where it left off.
The Upcoming had the chance to speak to Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson) and Rebekah Elmaloglou (Terese Willis) about where we see their relationship as the series moves forward, where they were when they found out they were being drafted back in and what fans can expect from the storylines in this new chapter.
Did you think there would be a reboot of the show so soon after it ended?
Rebekah Elmaloglou: No, it was so quick. Obviously, we were hoping a white knight would sweep in and save the show but by the time we’d wrapped the show up it was quite evident that it was pretty much over. So, there was this whole grieving process, trying to finish filming the last show, getting to that finishing line. We didn’t for the life of us think four months later we were going to get that call. It was a bit of a shock.
The fans were very much part of reigniting this show, weren’t they? They even signed a petition to get the show back to screen. What was that like for you when you heard about that?
RE: It was really heartwarming. It helped me get through the process of knowing that the show was ending and knowing there was so much love for the show from the fans. It made such a difference.
Stefan Dennis: The thing is, even though we heard about these petitions, letters they wrote in, even with that we were so grateful to the loyal fans for doing that but we still didn’t think it would bring the show back, but it did. It’s unprecedented really.
When you had confirmation Amazon Freevee were bringing the show back, how did you get the news and who were you with?
SD: I was in bed with my wife when I got the voicemail and it was about 8am in the morning and I shouldn’t have been in bed but I was semi-retired. It was Jason who called and said he was in the area and could he pop in for a cup of coffee as he had a gift for me. He said it was this picture he’d had under his desk since before the show finished and he hadn’t had the opportunity to give it to me. Jason had been looking for a house in the same area we live in so it wasn’t that insane that he was in the area but I still thought it was a bit weird that he wanted to pop in and give me this present. So he came by, he did physically have the present and gave it to me, he wasn’t lying about it, it was a photo and when he gave it to me he dropped the bomb. I had to pick my jaw off the floor. The worst thing was him saying he wanted to physically come round and see me, Fletcher, Jackie and Ryan as the current original heritage members, as they call us, and then said, “The news isn’t breaking for another three days.” So he asked me to keep it top secret. I couldn’t even tell Rebekah, even when she was asking what was going on. Hardest secret I have ever had to keep.
RE: So, three days later, I was in my little house in my country town and I’d just had dinner and was about to settle down onto the couch to watch something when the cast Whatsapp thread started pinging and some had text that they’d just heard the show was back. I pushed my phone away for a bit to watch TV and then flipped it over after about half an hour and sure enough there was a message from Jason saying that we might have heard whispers but that it was exciting news and that the show was back. I was just screaming after that. I rang Jackie Woodburne and she was sorry she hadn’t been able to say anything sooner. Jason rang me at 8am the next day to confirm I was on the list of returnees.
Stefan, having been on the show since the beginning, did you ever think it would be such an institution and what do you think is the key to its longevity?
SD: No, I never thought Neighbours would become such an institution and it’s a well-known fact that I actually didn’t want the job at the beginning because I was gunning for a film at the time. I didn’t get the film and ironically it became one of the biggest box office flops of all time. My attitude at the beginning was that Neighbours was such a corny name for a soap and I said to my agent I thought it would probably only last six months and said I was happy to be a guest for three months. But they wanted to have me on board for at least six months or a year as principal cast. I was almost right as it only lasted seven months on Channel 7 before it was axed but then picked up by Channel 10. They were the ones that ran with it and turned it into what it is today. Very sadly, Brian Walsh, who died last year – I attribute the success of Neighbours to him and his sidekick Judy for promoting the show the way they did. But with this reboot of Neighbours, Amazon are pretty much doing what Brian did back then; they are just throwing everything at it.
I never thought it would be such a legendary and iconic thing not just in Australia but globally. It’s been saved twice now and I think the secret success of it I can sum up in one word: entertainment. It’s not just half an hour of heavy drama, it gives you a bit of lightness, a bit of comedy, it’s got a bit of everything thrown into every episode. It gives people something to relate to.
We get letters from people all the time saying that we handled a certain storyline well and they can relate as they’ve been throughout too. I got quite a lot of that when Paul went through a depressive stage. I got letters from people who suffered from depression thanking me for how I handled it and I think the show has just got something for everyone.
The show has moved on by two years, with an updated theme tune to match, but alongside that, there’s a host of new faces, including OC actor Mischa Barton. What was that like having her on board with the new series?
SD: Mischa is great, she’s lovely to work with. When I first met her I thought she was quite aloof but very quickly I realised she felt like a fish out of water. She was on the other side of the world with a whole much of people she didn’t know, studios she wasn’t familiar with and she was just having a settling-in period and she was absolutely lovely. I mean, it’s not just Mischa, we have a lot of new cast too like the Rodwells and we have Candice who was a guesty but is now a principal
RE: Yes, she’s been fantastic. Easy to work with and just lovely, with all the new cast and crew it’s given it a nice fresh feeling.
We know that Paul and Terese are supposed to be renewing their vows, so I think viewers are surprised to learn it is Paul who leaves Terese at the alter. Can you tell us what was going through his head?
RE: It was to protect Terese. Because of the two-year time jump, there’s a lot to go back and unravel.
SD: It looks like Paul was being his usual bastard self but actually he did it out of love for Terese, he did it to protect her, not do the opposite. The story will unfold. One of the reasons they had the two-year gap was to make it easier than trying to pick up from where we left off. Cleverly, the writers are then revisiting what has happened in those two years, unravelling those stories. It was more about what was unsaid than said with Paul and Terese, the miscommunication. Terese is devastated more by what Paul didn’t say than what he did say.
Rebecca, what did you think when they said Terese was getting together with Toadie? What was your initial reaction because they were both with other people when the show finished and seemingly happy?
RE: Well, they flew me down from New South Wales to Melbourne and I went to the studios all excited and sat with the producers and writers and apparently they wanted to tell me in person as they wanted to see the look on my face. Jason then told me there was a car waiting outside to take me to my wedding dress fitting. It was so bizarre, it was the last thing I expected.
SD: We wouldn’t have thought it was Toadie. Not at all.
Neighbours: A New Chapter is released on Amazon Freevee on 18th September 2023.
Watch the trailer for Neighbours: A New Chapter here: