The bad Neighbour with a good heart
After almost four decades of an acting career that has kept him front and centre of TV screens, Neighbours stalwart Stefan Dennis admits he has few regrets. Well, maybe one.
Dennis, 58, has played the role of the wicked Paul Robinson on Neighbours since 1985, having begun his TV career in the early 1980s in such series as Cop Shop and The Sullivans.
He says if he could go back to those times now, he would give the young Dennis advice about real estate.
“I began talking about property when I was 16, describing how I wanted to buy a shack on a beach and do it up,” Dennis recalls during a break in filming.
“If only I had then as the prices were all so cheap! If I had been more action and less talk in those days and started on the property ladder then, I would be sitting on a yacht in the Bahamas right now!”
But Dennis is proof it’s never too late to make a dream come true. About 15 years ago, he and wife Gail Easdale finally decided to venture into real estate, and have been playing the property game ever since, buying and renovating properties.
“We figured it was better later than never, and so this is our plan now as we head to retirement,” he says.
Stefan Dennis has played Paul Robinson on Neighbours on and off since 1985
“Gail is more about design and the business side of it, whereas I am good with a paint brush and I can do tiling and brick laying – my stepdad was a builder and taught me how to do this.
“And the thing about all of this, I have such a good time - real estate is great fun.”
The couple was married in 2000, and have two sons, Cameron and Declan, and a daughter Darci. The Dennis family lives in Melbourne, where they have been based since returning from the UK.
Stefan Dennis in 1987
Dennis holds the record as the only original cast member of Neighbours to still be on the series. He joined as Paul when the series debuted in 1985, and stayed until 1992 when he moved to the UK and launched his own pop career and a new life on the stage.
“I have given advice to younger cast members coming onto Neighbours now, telling them not to do what I did as a kid through that time when I bought fast cars and had too many nights out!” he says. “I tell them to get on a track to make sure they are set up for the latter years.”
He achieved success on the British stage in a range of plays and musicals, such as Blood Brothers, as well as on screen in the dramas The Bill and Casualty. He also was a producer of the film, The Truth About Love.
But it was back in 2004 that Dennis was finally tempted back to reprise the role of Paul on Neighbours – older, wiser and more dangerous than ever. Dennis has remained in the thick of the Ramsay Street dramas ever since.
“My dream when I was a kid was to win Oscar, but as I have gone on and been lucky enough to work constantly, I just feel fortunate to have had my career and doing a gig most actors would kill for,” he says. “I love what I do every day."
“Even after all these years, the greatest thing about playing Paul is he is such a firecracker and you are never sure when he is going to go off next. When he is wickedly evil – and that’s pretty often – it's such fun!”
While he has remained one of Australia’s busiest actors, Dennis admits it has been his marriage to Gail and settling down to raise a family that brought him the contentment he always sought.
Q&A with Dennis and castmate Rebekah Elmaloglou
“As soon as you have kids, your world changes and you career takes second place,” he says. “It’s then you realise that to be truly content, you need to be able to balance things out – and I like to think Gail and I have achieved that.”
So, for the foreseeable future, the plan forward involves more years on the Neighbours set, more time at home with his family and more work with a paint brush on the next renovation project.
“We love doing this, always looking to see what we can do with a place. We have been saying for years this is our retirement plan, although there is an old saying about actors - they don’t retire, they just die!” he laughs.
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