Hollyoaks fans see Doug Carter settle back into village life this week after he returns from New York.
Doug flew home to the US after splitting from Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) just before Christmas, but he seems much happier and ready to make a fresh start as he arrives back.
Digital Spy recently caught up with PJ Brennan, who plays Doug, to hear what the show's writers have in store for his character over the next few weeks. Read on to find out whether 'Stug' can be friends, if Doug is likely to find love again, and more!
How is Doug feeling when he arrives back in Hollyoaks?
"Well, right from the get-go, it's clear that going home did Doug a lot of good. He seems to have got back a bit of the spark that was there before the doom and gloom of the failed relationship with Ste. It's clear that he's sorted things out and he's more comfortable within himself. I think he's got his priorities back in check!"
Is Doug's father Herb doing better now?
"That will probably be explored at a later point, but his dad's condition has improved - at least to the point where returning to Hollyoaks is a viable option for Doug. So Doug pops up out of nowhere, to the surprise of many characters including Brendan and Ste!"
You've said in another interview that Doug wants to keep a distance from the Ste and Brendan situation, but does he still want to be friends with Ste?
"Absolutely. It's an interesting relationship to navigate at this point, which makes it fun to play. Doug comes back to the business, which obviously means that there has to be some sort of relationship there between him and Ste. It's a case of building up the genuine and solid friendship that was there before they even started a relationship.
"But Doug definitely does want to keep one foot out of the door when it comes to Ste and Brendan, because it's not really his place, and for his own mental health he realises it's probably for the best! However, due to Doug and Ste working in close proximity, Doug doesn't stay out of it as well as he would hope - and you'll see that in the next couple of weeks."
As an actor, were you sad to see Doug and Ste split up, or had you always known that was the plan?
"We knew it was the plan from the start, but I was still incredibly sad when it was ending - although that was because I spent most of 2012 working with Kieron, and I knew I'd be working with him less afterwards. That's enough to make anyone sad, because Kieron's a great person to work with!
"But we all knew ahead of time where the story was heading, and it's not as though Doug and Ste won't talk to each other at all from now on. They'll always be important to each other and they have the business, which is such a strong and uniting factor between the two of them. So there's still plenty to come, and they'll always be a part of each other's lives at this point."
Doug did encourage Ste to go after Brendan, but is he at all surprised when he sees that they've actually managed to work things out?
"No, I think Doug is just at peace with the whole thing! He doesn't give away any surprise that they're now together and have managed to stay that way for a month and a half! Doug knows that it's best not to get involved or give any commentary either way. Doug wants Ste to be happy, and that's why he encouraged him to go to Dublin in the first place. It was a selfless act."
Does Brendan still give Doug a hard time?
"Oh yeah, I don't think it would be a Doug and Brendan scene without some sort of quip being thrown at Doug's expense! There's one moment where Doug admits that he'd actually missed that, in a masochistic way!
"Regardless of the tone of the relationship, Brendan is still one of the most important people in Doug's life in Hollyoaks, because of all the backstory they have. I think it's a case of familiarity breeding some sort of affection!"
Doug grew quite close to Leah and Lucas, so is he hoping that will continue?
"Yes, what's nice is that they do acknowledge the fact that Doug was growing up and making some inroads in terms of being a good stepdad to Leah and Lucas. That thread isn't lost at all.
"I think that's quite nice, because we were portraying two young gay men getting married and having a family. It ended abruptly, but in the few moments that you saw, we were exploring the idea of a modern family. I think it's good to keep that going, and Ela-May and Reuben who play Leah and Lucas are fantastic."
Are there many scenes showing Doug back with his housemates?
"Absolutely. What's really nice about his return is that Doug immediately reconnects with the people who are important to him. Because of the way the story went last year, it's easy to forget that the characters in the lads' pad have been friends for a few years now.
"There's a long history with them and the core of Doug, Leanne and Texas is still there. What's nice is that in 2013 that area of the show will be explored a bit more - and there's a lot to come which Doug will be involved in."
When Doug left for New York last month, did you receive many tweets from fans who thought you'd left Hollyoaks?
"Yes, which is why I went on radio silence for a bit! Personally speaking, if I was watching a TV show and something that pivotal happened, I wouldn't want to know whether the actor was returning. I tried to keep my tweets as vague as possible."
You've been off screen for about a month, so did that translate into a month off work for you?
"It didn't, because of the way that we shoot with filming blocks overlapping. I had to explain this to my mother several times as she was very worried for my job! I had to explain that I wasn't necessarily having a month without any work!
"I was able to go home to New York for a week around Thanksgiving time. I hadn't been at home for Thanksgiving for five years, so that was really nice. I also went home for Christmas, so Doug's departure afforded me a two-week break that I split into two different time periods. But I like working and if I had been off for a month, I probably would have lost my mind!"
Would you like Doug to get a new love interest or stay single for a while?
"Well, I've read some people saying that they want Doug to concentrate on being a happy, single, young gay man. I understand that sentiment, but I don't think he should outrightly reject a romance based on that sort of thinking. I would think that Doug should be in a relationship of some sort - but one that's loving, healthy and not based on a lot of secrecy.
"As good as Doug and Ste were, there was a lot of mistrust and dodgy dealings going on. If there were to be a relationship for Doug, I would hope it would be a healthy one and one which makes Doug a happier person, which does seem to be the focus at the moment. But obviously not too happy, because who wants to watch that?"
This is just speculation at the moment, but some fans are already saying that Doug should get together with John Paul. Have you had any scenes with James Sutton?
"Perhaps! John Paul is a character who re-appeared while Doug was away, so I'm sure that Doug would be interested in finding out who he is. Also, Leanne already knows John Paul, so there's a connection there which suggests that there could be something coming along. But it's one of those ones where you'll just have to tune in and see!"
Would you like to explore Doug's bad boy side again, or do you feel that he's moved on from that?
"I always loved the bad boy side and I do enjoy playing villains because they're usually outsider figures, which is a vantage point that I like to approach characters from. But I do like the fact that Doug turned a corner, and since then he's been making sure that he's not looking back on those times.
"What I also enjoy playing is a severely flawed character, so if there are times when Doug sinks back into that sort of behaviour, it doesn't necessarily mean that he's a villain again. However, there are moments where he has a lapse in judgement and I'm all for that, because I don't think anyone ever changes completely. I just want Doug to be as honest and realistic as possible."
We've heard that the Hollyoaks wardrobe department have been kitting out Kieron with lots of new tracksuits, as Ste returns to his old self a bit! What do you make of his 'new' look?
"Well, I've been saying that I'd love to have a scene where Doug tries to have a sit-down with Ste and goes, 'Uh, Ste, I've noticed you've been wearing a lot of tracksuits recently...'
"I think it's good for Ste as a character, because it's re-identifying who he was and who he is. Kieron is very comfortable on set now because he gets to wear tracksuits, while the rest of us are wearing clothes which are far less comfortable! Kieron's walking around on set like he's just had a nap! It looks good, though!"
What are your thoughts on Emmett's upcoming departure from the show?
"Well, when I was originally supposed to be on the show for just five episodes, Emmett was the one who I'd go back down to London and talk to my drama school classmates about - telling them how incredible he is and how much I loved working with him.
"I think his departure won't really be felt until he's gone. No-one has an understanding of what the show will be like without Brendan Brady. Everyone, including those of us who are making Hollyoaks, will just have to see what it's like. Brendan has been such a central figure for so many storylines, and I think Doug wouldn't be Doug without Brendan.
"In terms of Emmett as a personal friend, he's someone who's been there at key moments for me. He's someone I'll miss because he was a good person to me on several occasions, so I'll always remember that. And I hope at some point I'll get to work with him again - fingers crossed!"
What's the atmosphere like on set at the moment?
"I've been buzzing over the ratings for the bullying storyline in the past week and I've been congratulating Jazmine Franks, who plays Esther, for that. There's a really positive atmosphere and that's in conjunction with a lot of things, including Bryan Kirkwood coming back to the helm as executive producer, which has perked everyone up.
"It's another one of those things which proves why Hollyoaks should be on the air, because I think the bullying storyline was handled very, very well, and no other show would really do it. Obviously it's having a positive impact because the ratings are so strong."
We've seen that Walker is back, so will Doug have any more scenes with him?
"Well, Walker returning means that there's definitely going to be some serious business going on. Because of the characters involved, Doug is definitely involved in that in some degree. You'll have to find out how and why for yourself - but Doug will be involved in some way or another, because Ste's still his best friend."
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Hollyoaks airs weekdays at 6.30pm on Channel 4, with first look screenings at 7pm on E4.
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