|Shortland Street character|
|Portrayed by||Martin Henderson|
|First appearance||25 May 1992|
|Last appearance||25 May 2017|
|Created by||Bettina Hollings|
Caterina De Nave (1992)|
Maxine Fleming (2017)
Property investor (1994–95)
Dr. Stuart Neilson is a fictional character in the New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street who was portrayed by Martin Henderson as part of the original cast until early 1995. The character returned after 22 years off screen to celebrate the show's 25th anniversary episode which aired on the 25th of May, 2017.
The character's three years on the soap exhibited several major story lines as well as social commentary on youth, religion and mental illness. Stuart was introduced alongside mother, Marj (Elizabeth McRae) and father, Tom Neilson (Adrian Keeling) and brothers, Darryl (Mark Ferguson) and Damien (Mark Ferguson) who appeared on sporadic stints and eldest brother Patrick (uncredited actor) who appeared for a single guest appearance.
The character was generally well received with Henderson winning the "Best Male Dramatic Performance in a Television Show" in the 1993 New Zealand Television and Film Awards. The character has since become iconic after leaving in 1995.
Creation and casting
With the intention of creating a diverse and racially sensitive cast for a New Zealand soap opera, Caterina De Nave, Bettina Hollings and Jason Daniel decided to incorporate two teenage heart throbs to draw in the teenage audience. The characters of Stuart and Nick were created with the intention of Nick being a drug smoking rebel whilst Stuart was to be an articulate homosexual. The character was written as part of a family unit consisting of himself, his father Tom (Adrian Keeling), mother Marj (Elizabeth McRae) and several recurring brothers. This again allowed more relevance to the audience and a greater chance of drawing in a diverse audience.
Martin Henderson was in his final year of high school when he auditioned and won the role over 900 other contenders. Oliver Driver also auditioned for the role and ended up getting the role of Mike Galloway several years later. Stuart debuted in the first episode with the gay storyline set to be exposed when female character – Kirsty Knight (Angela Dotchin), made moves on Stuart. However the character of Nick as portrayed by Karl Burnett was vastly different from the character's original badboy synopsis and was hastily rewritten to suit Burnett's more comedic portrayal. However this left viewers with only one heart throb on screen and a nervous Television New Zealand requested the character was rewritten to be straight so that the show remained appealing to the target audience of young females. However, on screen Stuart was shown to be rebuffing Kirsty's advances and writers quickly rewrote the character's backstory so that rather than being gay, he was heavily religious and celibate.
In 1994 Henderson began to tire of the character's lack of diversity nor challenge and began to feel the character was becoming one-dimensional. He quit the show to pursue a film career. The abrupt departure of Henderson was leaked to the press and there began to be speculation that Stuart would leave the show following the 1994 December cliffhanger. Some storylines that were suggested by media included the idea of; Stuart winning Kirsty over Lionel and marrying before fleeing the country and also a series of episodes that would see Stuart become a priest and flee. None of the stories came to fruition and the character made his last appearance on 27 February 1995.
Producers discussed bringing back Henderson in 1998 as part of the write off of the Kirsty Knight character, however Henderson ended up not returning. Henderson was asked to reprise the role for the show's 15th anniversary in 2007, but declined due to a busy workload. However he expressed interest in returning in the future as the idea "still appeals" to him. In 2014 Henderson dismissed a suggestion by a journalist to return to the soap, but acknowledged the "exciting times" he had during his 3 years on screen. When planning for the shows 25th anniversary in 2017, producers decided to kill off the character of Marj. It was decided to approach Henderson to reprise his role for the episode. Henderson agreed to return. However issues arose with Henderson filming Grey's Anatomy in the United States, meaning scheduling proved difficult. Ultimately the whole episode was filmed then Stuart's scenes were filmed at a different date and integrated in. Henderson described the experience as feeling like an "alien" as there had been "water under the bridge" since his last appearance.
Stuart helped his friend Lisa Stanton (Anne Cathie) deliver her baby and claimed to be the father, much to the shock of his parents - Tom (Adrian Keeling) and Marj (Elizabeth McRae). It soon turned out the true father was Stuart's manipulative brother Darryl Neilson (Mark Ferguson). Stuart grew close to his best friend Nick Harrison's (Karl Burnett) friend Miles (Hamish MacFarlane) but he was devastated when Miles committed suicide following his 17th birthday party. The ordeal drew Stuart to Kirsty Knight (Angela Dotchin) and he ended up sleeping with her despite his Catholic faith.
In 1993, Stuart's father, Tom disappeared. Stuart was devastated by Tom's disappearance and renounced his Catholic faith and his plans to become a priest. He dropped out of his heavily religious school, much to the annoyance of the teachers and Marj. Stuart briefly had a fling with the middle aged Alex McKenna (Liddy Holloway) but he truly fell for her daughter Rachel (Angela Bloomfield). The two broke up following Rachel's discovery of Stuart and Alex's past relationship. Stuart ended up with Jo Jordan (Greer Robson). In 1994 Stuart started to work in the real estate business but fell in love with Rebecca Frost (Luisa Burgess) whom he dumped Jo for unsuccessfully.
Stuart realised he was in love with Kirsty and attempted to stop her marriage to Lionel Skeggins (John Leigh). The embarrassment at his actions led to Stuart fleeing Ferndale before returning several weeks later with a girl named Lulu (Meighan Desmond). Lulu was fostered by Marj and Stuart ending up leaving Ferndale unannounced and did not return. Marj later reported Stuart had refused to attend Darryl's funeral as he had despised him. In mid 1995 Marj informed Jenny (Maggie Harper) that Stuart was in India.
22 years later, Stuart returned to Ferndale in 2017 for Chris Warner's (Michael Galvin) 50th birthday but ended up having to look after Marj who had been hospitalised. Harper Whitley (Ria Vanderkis) was instantly attracted to Stuart and discovered through Marj that he had become a doctor and was recently divorced. Stuart helped in ED during the volcanic eruption and ultimately shared a kiss with Harper as he struggled to deal with Marj's illness. Upon finally reuniting with Chris, the two discovered that Marj had died in the hospital reception.
Following the airing of the shows first episode, Henderson was praised by many reviewers; Jill Graham of The New Zealand Herald referred to him as, "becoming a stand-out actor in the Street", whilst Colleen Reilly from the Dominion Sunday Times suggested he was New Zealand's answer to Luke Perry from Beverly Hills, 90210. The character picked up a "heartthrob" status and remains well known to viewers of Shortland Street as the first teenager on the show. Henderson won the award for "Best Male Dramatic Performance in a Television Show" in the 1993 New Zealand Television and Film Awards. Stuart and Jo Jordan (Greer Robson) were labelled the, "Golden Couple" of Shortland Street. In 2012, the character was named as one of the standout characters of the show's first 20 years. The storyline that saw Stuart crash Lionel and Kirsty's wedding, has been voted by fans as one of the show's most iconic moments. In 2016, Stuart was named by a stuff.co.nz reporter as the 2nd character they most wanted to return to show. The following year Ricardo Simich expressed his desire for Stuart to return for the soap opera's 25th anniversary saying it would best represent the 25th cycle. In 2017 stuff.co.nz journalist Fleur Mealing named Stuart as the 10th character she most wanted to return for the show's 25th anniversary.
Stuart's romance with the middle aged Alex Mckenna was viewed as scandalous, with Henderson replying to the outcry stating; "Age has nothing to do with it at all. It's about people, not numbers." The storyline that saw Stuart become involved in the property market was criticized by reviewers, with some claiming the writers were so intent on telling the story, they forgot the characters past personality and ignored his young age. Henderson himself criticized the character in his final year of the soap, calling his earlier storylines; "more believable" and labeling the character one dimensional. He wanted the character to have more "fun" and act more like a teenager. The period around Stuart's departure was a highly successful one for the show, receiving record high ratings which some speculated would not occur after the exit of the highly popular Stuart.
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