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'Neighbours' actor James Mason on Chris's future: Interview

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Chris Pappas

© Channel 5

Neighbours mechanic Chris Pappas became a permanent fixture on the soap this year after previously being introduced as a guest in early 2010.

Chris has proved popular with Neighbours fans and Erinsborough residents alike since his introduction and now has a major storyline on the way as he embarks on a romance with nurse Aidan Foster (Bob Morley).

Here, actor James Mason chats to Digital Spy about playing Neighbours' first ever gay male regular and also reveals details of what the future holds for Chris.

How have you found the transition of going from guest to regular on Neighbours?
"I'm lucky because I've had time to blend into the Neighbours world, instead of being thrown into the deep end. So from that perspective, it's been a really comfortable transition. And it's great to see the character evolve more now, there's more depth to Chris. Prior to this, Chris was part of a storyline, more in the background, and now he is in the forefront which is fantastic as an actor. I'm loving it."

We recently saw an interesting storyline where Chris was faced with a homophobic customer at work. What did you make of that plot?
"The hard thing for Chris was that he just didn't know how to respond to the situation, and he has never had an adult speak to him about gay people like this guy did. It was very confronting for him. And because the guy wasn't pointing his remarks directly at Chris, Lucas didn't understand why Chris was so offended. At first, he didn't have an appreciation of how deep those comments hurt Chris."

The storyline also seemed to divide opinion quite a bit, as some viewers could understand why Lucas wouldn't want to rock the boat with a customer, while others were on Chris's side. Are you pleased it got people talking?
"I'm really pleased that there is discussion about this storyline and I can appreciate both sides. Lucas wasn't there when the customer was saying these things, so he didn't understand Chris's point of view. However, as the story went along, we saw Lucas change and his respect for Chris grew.

"They both had their own opinions, and to a certain extent, they were both valid under the circumstances. But that storyline was basically about understanding where the other person is coming from and being willing to change your ideas, as it isn't always easy to admit you are wrong."

We've seen on a number of occasions that Chris's relationship with his dad is quite strained. Will that continue or could they find some common ground?
"A bit of both. This sort of relationship isn't going to mend itself overnight - however, I can say that there are events coming up where Chris's father supports him and realises there are more important things in life than the constant bickering."

Chris's scenes with Tash often seem to show a different side to her character. Do you enjoy portraying their strong friendship?
"Yeah, I do. I think Tash brings another side out in Chris and he feels really comfortable with her. Now that Summer and Andrew are in a relationship, Tash is the one he gravitates to. Tash leans on Chris and to a certain extent, he does the same with her."

Australian soaps often seem to be a bit more hesitant when it comes to gay characters compared to the UK. Has the reaction to Chris been positive among the Australian audience?
"Personally, I've had absolutely no negative feedback from fans, which is outstanding. With most storylines you generally get those for and against, but for me, it's only been positive."

Thanks to Twitter and fanmail, do you get much chance to interact with fans in the UK too?
"Yes, most definitely. I have a pretty Twitter account which I should devote more time to, but I try to get back to most people who ask questions and give some feedback. I love the immediacy and the fact that people take the time to make contact."

As Chris is the first gay male regular on Neighbours, is there any pressure when it comes to representing what members of the audience may be going through in real life?
"Yes, absolutely. I'm very lucky because our writers and producers are incredibly committed to all the storylines we do, and there is a lot of discussion around whatever we do to ensure it's realistic to our viewers. The great thing about Chris becoming a regular is the development of the character and there is time to explore his reactions."

Is it true that you were inspired by a friend of yours when you were portraying Chris's coming out storyline?
"Yes, I do have a friend who went through a similar situation, plus some of the writers and their friends have been there as well, so it's a collaboration of real experiences which is what I enjoy about the storyline."

Chris will grow closer to Bob Morley's character Aidan in a future storyline. What can we expect from Chris and Aidan's scenes?
"Their relationship will be treated just like any other heterosexual relationship. It's a very slow build-up for these two because Chris isn't someone who shows his feelings openly, this is all new to him, so in terms of seeing them as a couple as such, that will happen early next year."

Will they have a proper relationship or just a close friendship?
"It's definitely a romance, however whether it's long term, that's up to the writers. You'll have to wait and see!"

What has Bob been like to work with on the storyline?
"Fantastic. As actors, it is very challenging and exciting at the some time, and because of this, we have developed a connection. We're rapt that the characters are going down this path and based on the feedback I've had to Chris coming out, I think viewers are going to like why the relationship unfolds. Well, I hope they do."

You mentioned on Twitter that Chris could be involved in Australia's end-of-year cliffhanger. Can you tell us anything about this?
"Let's just say that Chris is involved in a potentially life-threatening experience which will also have a major impact on some of the other characters. And through this incident, he meets Aidan."

Finally, what's it like to have Chris Milligan (Kyle) back on set following his recent absence due to injury?
"Chris is a very funny guy, so it's great to have him back in the green room. We just have to remember not to kick his foot!"

> Read more Neighbours spoilers and news

Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 5.30pm on Channel 5 in the UK and weekdays at 6.30pm on Eleven in Australia. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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