Neighbours spoilers follow for UK viewers.
Neighbours has launched the year with the return of a familiar face, as dangerous bad boy Kane Jones is back to cause more trouble on Ramsay Street.
Kane was last seen luring Ned Willis into a fight club in 2019, but is now posing a threat to Hendrix Greyson after they crossed paths during some illegal blackjack games.
Digital Spy recently caught up with Barry Conrad, who plays Kane, to chat about reprising the role and what's to come.
How did it feel to be invited back for another storyline?
"It was an absolute thrill. I was totally over the moon, because there was nothing to suggest that Kane would be back after the viewers last saw him. He went to jail and it seemed like that was it.
"All this time had passed, so when I got the call to say that I'd be coming back, I was like: 'Yes!' It was very exciting."
Was it a surprise to learn that you'd be working with different cast members this time?
"I naturally assumed that I'd be working more with Ben Hall (Ned) again, but I was really pleasantly surprised and excited to work with new people. It's fun to work on something completely different.
"We were obviously working within COVID guidelines, which made things more tricky. You didn't get to see the other cast members every day, like I did last time. But that made it all the more exciting to work with people like Charlotte (Nicolette), Benny (Hendrix), Dhruv (Jay) and April (Chloe) a little bit as well."
It seems that Kane hasn't changed his ways much…
"Well, he got out of prison on good behaviour, so he's been trying to change his life for the better. I can't give too much away, but you'll get to see a different side of him this time around. It's not just the rough and tough, as there are lovely moments with the characters too."
Have Hendrix and Jay underestimated Kane?
"They're in way over their heads! These boys don't know what they're doing and it's not going to end well, let's just put it that way. I don't think Hendrix and Jay know about Kane yet. They may have heard a couple of things, but I think they're heading for a big shock."
Can you tell us about Hendrix ending up in debt to Kane and receiving death threats?
"Kane definitely tries to scare Hendrix and Jay. Hendrix is indebted to Kane and owes him a certain amount of money, fair and square, but he keeps stalling paying him back. Kane has to do something to ruffle his feathers and scare him a little bit so that he pays up.
"Kane knows how to play these boys. He's two steps ahead of them. He's playing it as though he doesn't know what's going on, but he does."
How far do you think Kane would go? Would he really kill someone?
"With Kane, he's very aware of himself and how he can intimidate people. But I don't think he has the DNA to kill – I don't think he's that guy.
"Kane knows how to frighten people based on his past and he still uses that this time around. I don't think he's a killer, but he'll use that to get what he wants – and it usually works for him."
Would you like to delve deeper into Kane's background at some point to explain his behaviour?
"Absolutely. I've had to create my own backstory for Kane to justify it. None of us really do anything thinking that we're wrong. So I had to find those reasons myself to play Kane.
"I think it'd be great to actually flesh out some of that in the future. There's definitely more to Kane and I've tried to explore that as the episodes unfold in his interactions with certain characters. He's a complex, layered guy – like we all are. There's not just one side to anyone.
"This time around, rather than Kane just standing there looking grumpy and beating people up, you'll see more light and shade, a bit of levity. That's really exciting."
Do you enjoy playing the bad guy?
"I'm a really happy-go-lucky guy in real life, so it's really funny for my mates to see me playing Kane. It's not me at all. The cheekiness is like me and I can put that into the performance, but Kane is a lot more serious and it's a lot of fun to play him.
"I think sometimes people can perceive you a certain way. I've been stopped in the street by mums who have said: 'You're a bad influence, I was watching with my son and your character is fighting... but can I take a selfie?!'
"Sometimes people can look at that and typecast me, but you can't control that. You just have to go with it and hopefully show a different side as you go along.
"A lot of viewers and fans of soap operas are really invested and they care about the characters. Some people can't differentiate between you and the character. But I guess it means we're on the right track. We don't want to water it down – if it's meant to be bad, it's meant to be bad."
How has the pandemic affected life for you as a working actor and singer?
"It's been incredibly hard for all of us. Our industry here in Australia has shut down. Neighbours was one of the first pioneering shows to come back, because it has such a big lot.
"Before coming back, I was stressed and didn't know where the next job was going to come from. I also lost a role. I've lost opportunities because of COVID, so it's been incredibly hard – also for mental health and being isolated.
"Thankfully I recorded some music that I'm releasing soon, which I recorded during that time. Coming back to Neighbours was definitely a boost and I'm incredibly grateful, because I know that a lot of my friends are really struggling."
How did you get into the industry in the first place?
"I grew up in a pretty musical family. None of my parents were professionally in entertainment, but my father sang and played guitar. My mum recorded and hung with the church choir. I was always in plays in school and writing songs.
"I was born in South Africa and moved to New Zealand with my family. We had to leave for more opportunities and a safer environment. I joined a singing, dancing breakdancing crew, believe it or not. We toured a lot in New Zealand and were known over there, so we thought the next stop was Australia. We came over here and like a lot of groups, we broke up!
"From there, I started cutting my teeth in the studio, writing songs, singing background vocals for artists and made my way up that way.
"I also did the Australian X Factor and Dannii Minogue was my mentor. She's awesome. That gave me a platform to build on and I was able to use that to push myself forward after being in the background.
"I also studied screen acting in New Zealand and I started in The Sapphires and Power Rangers. On Stage I did Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Violet, Hairspray, Grease and Madiba the Musical, which is about Nelson Mandela. Then I ended up on Ramsay Street."
Was the Aussie X Factor a positive experience?
"It was such a layered experience. At the time, my second mother was ill with cancer. She was the one who encouraged me and said that I had to do it, because life is short. The day before we started our first round of the show, she passed away.
"I was at a crossroads professionally, wondering if I wanted to do this still. Losing her really pushed me forward and helped me to dig deeper than I have before. It was rewarding personally and more than worth it, as I grew so much as a person.
"You get the negatives with reality TV. People have opinions and you can have trolls, but the positives outweigh the negatives. If you genuinely want to be seen in the industry, it's airtime that you can't buy.
"I don't regret it at all and Dannii is great. She's very smart and has given me a lot of advice that I still adhere to."
We've heard you're releasing a new single soon...
"Yes, it's coming out really soon. It's nothing like I've done before. It's a love song and piano ballad. It's something that came really organically during COVID and something that is personal to me.
"I've shot a great music video for it, which I'm excited to share with everyone. It's coming out in a matter of weeks and I'm excited, because some of the Neighbours fans don't know that I'm a singer as well."
Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 5.30pm on Channel 5.
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