Hollyoaks fans may have seen the end of 'Stendan' earlier this year, but producers are keeping Ste Hay at the centre of the show with a dark new direction for the character.
Viewers have seen Ste return to drug dealing in recent weeks and he looks likely to be involved in even more trouble in upcoming episodes as he starts associating with returning bad boy Trevor Royle (Greg Wood).
Digital Spy recently caught up with Kieron Richardson, who plays Ste, to hear about his alter ego's future and his reaction to winning the 'Best On-Screen Partnership' prize with Emmett Scanlan at the British Soap Awards.
Congratulations on the British Soap Award win! How did it feel to claim the prize on the night?
"It really didn't feel real at first! When I started watching the clips of everyone else in the category, I thought, 'Maybe we haven't got this!' I was completely shocked when we were announced as the winners, and I think you could see that from my reaction.
"I imagined that it would feel horrible to go up on stage, because you're so nervous in that situation and your legs are shaking, but I actually loved it! I couldn't believe it. It was also nice that me and Emmett got to share that moment as our last ever Hollyoaks thing."
The 'On-Screen Partnership' prize was panel-voted, so had you given any thought beforehand that they might have liked Stendan?
"I hadn't, because we'd been up for the award before two years ago and we didn't get it. With Emmett going and the storyline moving on, our on-screen partnership had ended so I wondered whether that would count against us, too. Secretly I'd thought we might not win it!"
How have the five Soap Award wins affected the atmosphere on set?
"I think it's just a really positive atmosphere on set at the moment. We work just as hard as the other soaps, if not harder because we film single-camera and always have a lot of continuity to think about. We've had such a busy year with stunt after stunt and massive storylines, so for us to win some awards at the end of all that has just been amazing."
After two and a half years working closely with Emmett, what's it like to not have him around anymore?
"It's just like any relationship that ends in real life - you just have to learn to stand on your own two feet. Emmett was a little bit of a crutch for me, but he's not around anymore so I'm having to find my own feet and work out what I'm doing with the character, as well as portraying what the bosses want me to with Ste. I can't get the advice from Emmett anymore, but I think I'm doing an alright job."
How do you feel about the recent change in direction for Ste's character?
"It's challenging, because I played Ste a certain way for so long, but now I'm getting new scripts and it's like reading someone else's lines. Ste wouldn't be doing these things if Brendan was there. Now that Brendan's gone and Ste is acting this way, it's like having a completely different job and a completely different character! His head is messed up because he's so lonely.
"Ste also has a new friend in Sinead, and her life isn't exactly a bed of roses either. With her problems and Ste's problems, those two characters are like a little atom bomb waiting to go off. Their stories are going to be quite explosive, which is exciting!"
Ste's fans seem glad to see his bad boy side back, so are you pleased with the reaction?
"I am, because it's also the little things that people are noticing. The way I walk and the way I talk when I'm playing Ste is changing slowly, too. I've been working on those fine little details and making sure that it's quite a slow change rather than a quick one. People are starting to pick up on it now and I've had a few tweets about it. We're doing it subtly, ready for what is to come."
Will the fans be shocked by how dark Ste's storyline is going to become?
"Yes! They won't just be surprised by how dark it gets, they'll be surprised by everything that's coming up in the story. Every time I pick up a new script, there's something that's shocking for me to read. I keep saying, 'I never expected that to happen!' Everything that's going to happen will definitely keep the audience on their toes. It should keep the Stendan fans happy too, because I'm still in the show and hopefully they still like me."
Now that Browning and Jim own the club and Ste isn't saving for that, what are his aims when he's selling drugs?
"I think all Ste wants to do is make money. In the back of his head, it's always to prove to Amy that he can do the right thing, even though he's selling drugs. Ste wants to be able to provide money to support the family."
Ste's drug dealing starts to intensify next week. What can we expect?
"Ste has come up with a little master plan! He starts selling pizzas from the deli, but instead of just getting pizzas, people can ring up and get a drugs delivery in with the pizza. Robbie's not around anymore as he's been kicked out by the Roscoes, so Ste ends up getting Jason involved in the plan instead.
"Jason isn't really aware of the full story as Robbie hasn't filled him in, so Ste sends him off on a delivery. Unfortunately, Jason ends up taking the wrong pizza - the pizza with the drugs in - to the police station, which just spells disaster straight away!
"Doug ends up finding out and then there's a massive fall-out between him and Ste all over again. They have a big bust-up at the deli."
Later on, Ste tracks down Freddie's supplier Trevor (pictured above). Is Ste aware of just how dangerous Trevor is?
"He isn't, but Ste is attracted to bad boys. In comes Trevor, which means that Ste is going to get involved in even more messy and dark stuff, which is going to be exciting. Is he going to be the new Brendan - who knows?"
Can Ste hold his own against someone like Trevor?
"No, just look at the size of him! Inside, Ste is petrified of Trevor and what he's capable of. But Ste can do some quite nasty things himself. I think he's going to be led up the wrong path…"
> For Kieron's thoughts on Doug, Tony and more, read the second part of this interview in Soap Scoop
Hollyoaks airs weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel 4, with first look screenings at 7pm on E4.
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