Actor Patrick O’Connor has spent four years in Summer Bay getting a glimpse into a world he didn’t know existed.
The Queenslander, who has played River Boy Dean Thompson on Home And Away since early 2018, was on the point of quitting acting to return to study when he got the call that he had been cast in the show.
Dean has bounced from one problem to the next since being dragged to the bay by Ash (Kiwi George Mason) to join the hunt for Robbo (Jake Ryan) in the wake of Constable Kat Chapman’s (Pia Miller) death.
He’s dealt with everything from murder to life-threatening injuries along the way, as well as falling in and out of love and reuniting with a slew of previously unknown – and often difficult – family members.
Dean and O’Connor are now both in love – with the same woman.
Dean gets reunited with mechanic Ziggy Astoni (Sophie Dillman) on screen, while in real life, O’Connor and Dillman are also in a relationship and have been together for a long time.
The duo has a lot of fans, but O’Connor isn’t sure why.
“I just think we’re a bit of a dull couple,” she says. “We’re Brisbane-based Queenslanders who want to have a good time and simply enjoy the ride,” he adds of their friendship, which began years before they were cast on the show.
“Both of our families are from Brisbane, and when we relocated to Sydney, we both got jobs on the show, and everything just fell into place.” We’re simply grateful for our good fortune and happiness.”
One of the few parallels between the actor and his character is his choice of partner, however, the actor believes the mobster – like many men his age – has mellowed over time as his focus shifts from the gang to his family.
“I was nothing like Dean when I first came on the show.” I’m not a member of any gang. “I don’t fight or beat anybody,” he declares emphatically.
“He still perceives himself as a River Boy, but I believe it stems from a desire to care for his (gang) brothers, and he no longer does so in a violent, gangster manner.”
“I believe Dean made the decision, consciously or subconsciously, to let go of that life a little bit.”
On Home And Away, though, it was one of Dean’s run-ins with the law that provided O’Connor with his most memorable scene.
In a narrative that concluded with the young cop in prison, Dean assisted his childhood friend Constable Colby Thorne (Tim Franklin) in covering up a murder.
“That kind of thing doesn’t belong in my reality.”
“I could never picture doing something like that, but it was really lovely to have a crack and watch it go to television,” O’Connor adds, adding that Franklin’s departure from the show was also painful.
“I was devastated; I guess it was because we’d both arrived at the show together and then went off like a house on fire. It was a somewhat depressing experience.”
The actor, who was raised in a nice family, had to deal with Dean’s problematic family as well.
He’s reconciled with his mother Karen (Georgia Adamson), a recovering alcoholic with mental health concerns, estranged father and former AFL star Rick (Mark Lee), half-sister Mackenzie (Emily Weir), and, most crucially, Jai (River Jarvis), the son he didn’t know he had, during the last four years.
Dean as a father was discussed extensively between the actor and the writers long before the tale was completed.
“I don’t believe Dean knew what a decent father should be or how a father should be at that point,” he says.
“I believe he saw Jai as a younger brother, which was really great (for me) because I don’t have any children.”
O’Connor, on the other hand, has a lot of experience working with kids.
“I have 26 or 27 younger cousins — my father is one of seven – and as the oldest, I get to watch them grow up and spend a lot of time with them.” I took some of that and tried to incorporate it into Dean.”
The river has now been a regular in the drama, and their connection is still developing, just as it is on film.
“He’s a fantastic performer, but during the casting process, he was the only one of the kids who flatly refused to listen to me.” ‘Perfect,’ I guess (the casting officials) said at the end. That’s exactly what we want for this River Boy’s son,” O’Connor says, adding that he still has to keep his young co-star on board.
“Some unusual bargains have been done.” I need to make promises that we’ll hang out after work or… play games during our lunch break.”