Virgin River’s Annette O’Toole talks about her casting reunion and the emotional reason behind her absence from Season 3

Nikki Morris

Annette O’Toole reveals the honest reason behind her absence from Season 3 Virgin River In an exclusive chat with Hello!.

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Virgin River is one of the NetflixBiggest offers now. The spirited romantic drama has proven to be just as popular in all four seasons as it was when it debuted in the winter of 2019.

WATCH: Have you caught up with season 4?

One of the characters that contributes most to the show’s unique charm is the sharp-tongued and gossip mayor Hope McCrea, played by the adorable Annette.

While the actress is known for her impressive list of screen credits, her role on Netflix has earned her a huge fan following.

Everyone was left apprehensive for her character when it was revealed that Hope had been in a serious car accident at the end of Season 3, which Annette was largely missing from.

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more: Virgin River star Alexandra Breckenridge reveals shocking end to Season 4

Taking a break from filming the upcoming fifth series, Annette sat down with HELLO! To reveal the big moment fans can look forward to in the new series…

What was it like playing someone with a serious brain injury?

Annette: I’ve always liked a challenge, so it was really nice to have something concrete that I could work on and look at. The interesting thing about TBI is that it is very unique to each person. So while there are general things like memory loss and balance issues that are common to everyone, everyone recovers at a different rate or sometimes gets worse at a different rate. So I can sort of measure it from episode to episode but from scene to scene and talk to the producers and writers about how they’d like to go about that. So it was great to work on that.

I’ve had a few responses to emails and twitter from some people who’ve gone through it or browsed through it by family members and they say it’s a real ring to them. So I am very happy with that.

I know the producers want me to recover. They want hope to return to where it was. I don’t know if she’ll come back completely because she had a very serious injury later in her life, so it’s always hard to recover when she’s older.

Annette plays the role of Hope McCrea in the Netflix drama

What can we expect in season five? Will there be more setbacks for hope?

Annette: Not so much with a gentle brain injury, that she would be able to deal with medication and with help and physical therapy. We show some of that on screen and some off screen and it’s dealt with, but she’ll come back and be part of the community and take on her role as mayor again. This is really fun.

We have a new model this year named Patrick Sean Smith. It’s cool and some things are getting more complicated. The characters you love will still go through all the trauma we go through.

Let’s talk about Hope and Doc. What do the new episodes look like to them?

Annette: Some things will become easier for them, some things will be more difficult. But their relationship is strong. They’ll go on as a couple at least for Season 5, which I know, and deal with these things together. I’d love for them to have this really rocky relationship. It’s interesting because they’ve been together for a long time but haven’t lived together like we think as a normal couple for nearly 20 years. They got back together when her injury happened and so they don’t really know what’s normal, but it worked out for them.

Together, they are still great friends and companions and I believe they will always be, no matter what the label for their relationship is. It’s kind of cute that way because it shows that even the elderly didn’t make it work. Just because you’ve been on this planet for a long time and been married for a long time, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is always smooth and fiddly, and I don’t think it is at all.

“I’d love for them to have this really rocky relationship”

What was it like for the cast to reunite in seasons 4 and 5 given Hope’s absence from series 3?

Annette: It was great to be back. I missed them, I missed work a lot and it was really out of my hands. Season 3 happened at the worst time for Covid. There was no vaccine and being away from my family for the first time was, sort of, a real problem.

Usually I can fly back and forth. But my mum would be 97 in two weeks and at the time she was 95 and I was very worried about being able to get back to her because I’m her only child and she’s so dependent on me. But that was the issue not being afraid of the virus so much, although that was scary, it was mostly about being separated from my family. I had to be away all my life from my family and it wasn’t easier, in fact it got even more difficult.

I was [in Vancouver] On 9/11 and when that happened, all the planes grounded and I had to go home to Los Angeles when I could go. So this was my fear, it would happen to me again and maybe because it had happened before, it was more on my mind than it could have been. The return was wonderful. It was great. We went right back to where we were and it was like it never happened.

“It was great to be back”

Star Alexandra Breckenridge said the new season is “very heavy” and likely to leave viewers on “the edge of their seats.” do you agree?

Annette: I totally agree with that. She really hits her in the head with this. There’s something big happening in the middle of the season and it brings the community together in a very big way And it’s kind of a timely topic in our country and I’m really glad they’re going there.

I don’t think we’ve done anything like this before. It’s an important issue and I’m glad we’re getting into things like that on the show. I don’t know if that will last, but it sure is something the city has to all come together and be a part of and work together.

Do you think fans would be surprised to see that?

Annette: You know, once they know what it’s like they’ll say, “Of course that makes sense.” I wish I could say more. It’s really fun. It involves a lot more than we did on the show with artistic things happening.

Netflix has yet to confirm another series after the fourth season. Do you want to return?

Annette: Absolutely. I love the show. The only thing I wish is that we can be consistent when we shoot Because that’s the other thing that’s hard to solve and make plans. There’s a play I’ve been wanting to do for two years and we set it up and then they change our shooting schedule.

It’s hard with plays because theaters need commitment. You need to commit to them two years in advance because they have to do the publicity and they have to make plans and we have to get two directors out. So this was difficult. But I love the show and would love to keep playing this part. There is so much to explore and it’s great work. The other thing is I wish we could do it where I live but we can’t. Golden handcuffs!

Annette made a big search moment for her in Season 5

Virgin River is one of the most popular Netflix series. Were you expecting to be very popular when you started?

Annette: I knew it would work fine. I had a feeling about it because it was so different than anything else on Netflix. This was the first time they had ever done anything in the romantic genre.

It was funny, during season one I was sitting with Alexandra and we were filming something on the outside of Jack’s Bar. This is the restaurant we use to take out in Squamish. It is a beautiful suburb of Vancouver that resembles the Virgin River. We were sitting there and I was exhausted at the end of filming and she said, ‘Do you think anyone will watch the show? Do you think this is just hopeless? I said, ‘Alexandra, I think you should be prepared because this could be a very, very big. I have a good feeling about it.’

She said, “Really?” She just didn’t think so at all. Now she knows. I think it hit at the right time. I think it would have been popular any time, but because of Covid and a lot of people needed to escape from their real life and what was happening until they turned into this.

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