He's been a Neighbours cast member for almost 14 years now, and here Alan Fletcher chats about his long assocation with the show, his singing career and why he thinks the Kennedy family have been so successful for so long...
How did the role of Karl first come about?
With the departure of the Willises from Ramsay St a whole new family was needed. The scriptwriters dreamt up the Kennedys and I am very glad they did!
How would you describe the character of Karl Kennedy?
Karl is a slightly arrogant but caring doctor. His primary focus in life is his family but he has a genuine concern for all his patients and friends. His major flaw is his inability to control his emotions on occasions when the opposite sex show affection toward him! A flaw that comes a close second is his over-inflated view of his own musical abilities.
When the Kennedy family first arrived in 1994, it took some time for viewers to warm to them. Did you ever worry then that the characters would be written out of the show? Did you ever imagine you would still be around fourteen years on, and amongst the show's most popular characters?
When I started on Neighbours it was a one-year contract and I never thought beyond that. I also had no idea how the public felt about the characters so concern about their longevity didn’t occupy my thoughts. I certainly never imagined they would still be living in Ramsay Street 14 years later.
If the Kennedy family had been cast back in 1985 when Neighbours began, do you think you would still be on the show now?
Impossible to say. Neighbours was quite a different show in 1985. If the Kennedys had arrived then Karl and Susan would have been played by different actors because Jackie and I weren’t old enough to have teenage children.
Most Neighbours fans know you best as Karl Kennedy, but some will remember you as mechanic, Greg Cooper back in 1987. How different is it being a guest on the show to being a regular? Had things changed a lot by the time you returned in 1994?
Playing a guest role on Neighbours is very difficult because you are working in an unfamiliar environment with actors who are very established in their roles. The great thing about the Neighbours over all the years I have been associated with the show is that the regular cast are very supportive of guest actors. Neighbours evolved between 1987 and 1994 quite a bit but the essence of the programme was still there very strongly.
Would you have liked Greg Cooper to have become a regular character back then?
I was invited to continue playing Greg Cooper but preferred to work in the theatre at the time. I love playing Karl and carrying on with Greg would have robbed me of that chance.
Do you prefer to act out dramatic or comedic storylines?
I don’t have a preference except to say that it is very important that Neighbours has a healthy mix of comedy and drama. I certainly love playing comic scenes between Karl and Susan – can’t get enough of those!
What has been your favourite Karl storyline so far?
Obviously the key dramatic moments between Karl and Susan and Sarah and Izzy have been very rewarding to play. However, Karl kidnapping Marlene Kratz’s garden gnomes is my favourite story!
Jesse Spencer has often said that he would love to make a return visit to Ramsay Street should his schedule allow it. What do you think is the likelihood of us seeing the Kennedy clan all together on-screen again? Are you still in contact with him and Benjamin McNair?
Everyone would love to see a full Kennedy re-union and I don’t discount that possibility. Jesse is totally tied up in House, one of my favourite shows by the way, but I have my fingers crossed that getting him back for a few episodes can happen. I see Benji all the time as he often appears at the Neighbour’s Nights at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow. Haven’t seen Jesse for quite a while but he returns to Melbourne at least once a year so no doubt we’ll catch up soon.
How has it been having Kym Valentine return as your onscreen daughter, Libby?
Fabulous. Jackie and I have a very close relationship with Kym and having Libby back in the mix in Ramsay Street is a huge boost for the show.
Neighbours has been praised in the UK press recently for two storylines involving the Kennedys, Tom's dementia and Susan's MS. How important do you feel it is for the show to highlight these issues which affect so many people?
Very important. Behind people’s normal lives there is so often serious illness somewhere in the mix. In fact most people will have to deal with serious health issues at some time in their lives, whether it affects them, a loved one or close friend. It is important that a show like Neighbours addresses these issues.
When we spoke to you two years ago, Karl and Susan were in the midst of another separation, and you hinted that you’d like to see them get back together. How are you enjoying being one half of a fictional TV couple again?
The Karl and Susan breakup was very difficult because my work relationship with Jackie is so strong and rewarding. I think having the characters separated for a while led to some great stories but I am very pleased to be an on-screen couple again.
Do you think we’ve seen the last of their relationship woes, or do you believe there is scope for more?
Every marriage is plagued with little battles of will but I think Karl and Susan have worked out that they are destined to be together. Having said that, trying to predict the future of characters in the show is a precarious business. The unpredictability of the stories makes the show all the more watchable.
How do you feel about Karl and Susan coming full circle and becoming parents of school-age children again?
It has been terrific developing a new working relationship with Caitlin and Matt. They are fine young actors and having them in the Kennedy/ Kinski clan gives all the characters exciting and interesting stories to play. It is very interesting to explore a relationship with teenagers as older parents.
Any plans for panto this year?
Yes, I am off to Aberdeen to play Captain Hook in Peter Pan for the second time. I absolutely love this show and the character of Hook. Peter Pan is a musical play rather than a panto and an audience favourite where ever it plays. I am looking forward to visiting Aberdeen as well. Stefan Dennis and Dan O’Connor have played there and rave about the city and the theatre.
Do you get any strange requests from fans?
Not so much strange as ambitious. I am constantly invited to play music at people’s weddings, play cricket with regional clubs and attend BBQ’s organised by dedicated fans of the show. Obviously I am rarely able to oblige given my work schedule and the tyranny of distance!
Do you have any future plans for your music?
The band continues to play every Monday night in Melbourne at the Official Neighbours Trivia Night. We also play interstate occasionally. We recently released a Live album and I hope to release a Live DVD very soon as well. The band are also working on a single as a follow-up to last year’s single So Wrong. Don’t forget all our music is on iTUNES, YOUTUBE and MYSPACE. (shameless plug!)
Was Karl a cult figure among students before he started doing the gigs or did it develop as a result?
Not sure to be honest. I know a lot of medical students had enormous affection for Karl almost right from the beginning. No-one knew how the band would be received on the first tour and the reception was amazing. Most people who came to see Waiting Room play were there to see Dr Karl. Nowadays I meet so many fans who have seen the band play in the UK and are eager to see another gig because they love our music. That is very gratifying.
How would you like to see Neighbours' 25th Anniversary commemorated?
Something modest and simple would be nice. Maybe the entire cast could fly to the UK and perform at the Queen’s Variety Concert – its been done before!
What do you believe is the secret of Neighbours' enduring success?
Stories that explore strong and believable domestic drama between interesting characters that the audience can like and relate to,balanced by some charming light comedy that gently amuses.
2009 sees the Kennedys celebrate 15 years on-screen, what do you think is the secret to their success?
If I knew I would bottle it! I suppose the Kennedys have endured because the balance of the characters' personalities has been matched by a good balance and strong working relationship between the actors who play them. Whatever the reason is I would like to say thank you to the audience that has supported us for all those years. Bless you all!
Interview by Kate. Added on 10th May 2008