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Exclusive: Virgin River's Annette O'Toole talks reuniting with the cast and the emotional reason behind her season three absence

Annette spoke exclusively to HELLO!

Nicky Morris
Nicky MorrisTV and film writer
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Annette O’Toole has revealed the heartfelt reason behind her absence from season three of Virgin River in an exclusive chat with HELLO!.

MORE: Virgin River star Zibby Allen hints at shocking revenge storyline

Virgin River is one of Netflix's biggest shows right now. The heartwarming romance drama is proving just as popular four seasons in as it was back when it debuted in the winter of 2019.

Virgin River's Annette O'Toole reveals EMOTIONAL reason behind season 3 absence | INSIDER | HELLO!

WATCH: Have you caught up with season four?

And one of the characters that heavily contributes to the show's unique charm is sharp-tongued mayor and town gossip Hope McCrea, played by the brilliant Annette. 

While the actress is known for her impressive list of screen credits, her role on the Netflix show has gained her a legion of fans.

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

MORE: Virgin River fans will adore this upcoming Netflix drama - all you need to know

MORE: Virgin River star Alexandra Breckenridge reveals shocking season four alternate ending  

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...

annette spotlight cover

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

Annette: I always like a challenge, so it was actually nice to have something concrete I could work on and research. The interesting thing about traumatic brain injury is that it's very unique to each person. So while there are general things like memory loss and balance issues that are common to everyone, each person recovers at a different rate or sometimes gets worse at a different rate. So I could kind of gauge it from not even episode to episode but scene to scene and talk to the producers and the writers about how they wanted that to play out. So it was wonderful to have that to work on. 

I've gotten some response on emails and Twitter from some people who've gone through it or have had family members go through it and they say it's ringing true to them. So I'm very glad about that. 

I do know that the producers want me to get well. They want Hope back to where she was. I don't know if she'll ever be completely back because she had a very serious injury later in life, so it's always hard to bounce back when you're older. 

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Annette plays Hope McCrea in the Netflix drama

What can we expect in season five? Are there going to be more setbacks for Hope? 

Annette: Not so much with the TBI, that she's going to be able to manage with medication and with help and physical therapy. Some of that we go into on screen and some of it is off-screen and it is dealt with, but she is going to come back and be part of the community and take on her role as mayor again. So that's really fun. 

We have a new showrunner this year named Patrick Sean Smith. He's fantastic and some things are getting more complicated. The characters you love will still be going through all the trauma that we go through.

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

Annette: Some things are gonna get a lot easier for them, some things will be harder. But their relationship is strong. They're going to continue on as a couple at least for season five, that I know about, and deal with these things together. I love that they've had this really rocky relationship. It's interesting because they've been together a long time but they haven't lived together as what we think of as a normal married couple for almost 20 years. They had just gotten back together when her injury happened and so they don't really know what normal is, but it has worked for them. 

They're together, they're still great friends and companions and I think they always will be no matter what the label is of their relationship. It's kind of nice that way because it shows that even older people don't have it all worked out. Just because you've been on this planet a long time and you've been married a long time, it doesn't mean that your relationship is always smooth and figured out, and I don't think it ever is. 

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"I love that they've had this really rocky relationship"

What was it like reuniting with the cast for seasons four and five given Hope's absence from series three? 

Annette: It was wonderful to be back. I missed them, I missed work so much and it was really out of my hands. Season three took place at the worst time of Covid. There was no vaccine and being away from my family for the first time, kind of ever, was a real issue. 

Normally I could fly back and forth. But my mother is going to be 97 in a couple of weeks and at the time she was 95 and I was very concerned about being able to get back to her because I'm her only child and she depends on me for a lot. But that was the issue. It wasn't fear about the virus so much, although that was scary, it was mostly about being separated from my family. My whole life I've had to be away from my family and it doesn't get easier, it actually gets harder. 

I was [in Vancouver] for 9/11 and when that happened, all the planes stopped and I had to drive home to LA when I was able to go. So that was my fear, that would happen to me again and maybe because it has happened before, it was more in my mind than it would have been. Coming back was wonderful. It was great. We went right back to where we were and it was like it never happened.

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"It was wonderful to be back"

Your co-star Alexandra Breckenridge said that the new season is "pretty heavy" and likely to leave viewers on the "edge of their seats". Do you agree? 

Annette: I totally agree with that. She's really hit it on the head with that. There is a big thing that happens right in the middle of the season that brings the community together in a very big way and it's a kind of timely topic that's happening in our country and I'm really glad that they're going there.

I don't think we've ever done anything like this. It's an important issue and I'm glad that we're getting into things like that on the show. I don't know if that will continue but it certainly is something that the town gets to all come together and be part of and work together.

Do you think fans will be surprised to see that?

Annette: You know, once they know what it is as they'll say, 'Oh of course that makes sense'. I wish I could say more. It's really fun to do. It involves a lot more than we've ever done on the show with technical stuff happening. 

Netflix has yet to confirm another series after season four. Would you want to return? 

Annette: Sure. I love the show. The only thing I wish is that we could be consistent with when we do our shooting because that's the other thing that it's hard to work around it and make plans. There's a play that I've been wanting to do for two years and we had it scheduled and then they changed our shooting schedule. 

It's hard with plays because theatres need to commit. You need to commit to them a couple of years in advance because they have to do publicity and they have to make plans and we have to get directors. So that's been difficult. But I love the show and would love to continue playing this part. There's so much more to explore and it's a great job. My other thing is I wish we could do it where I live but we can't. The golden handcuffs!

vr s4 hope doctors

Annette teased a big moment to look out for in season five

Virgin River is one of Netflix most popular series. Did you expect it to be so popular when you first started?

Annette: I knew it would do well. I had a feeling about it because it was so different from anything else on Netflix. It was their first time doing anything in the romantic genre. 

It was funny, during the first season I was sitting with Alexandra and we were shooting something at the exterior of Jack's bar. It's this restaurant we use for the exterior that's way out in Squamish. It's a beautiful suburb of Vancouver that looks like Virgin River. We were sitting there and she was feeling exhausted at the end of shooting and she said,  'Do you think anybody's going to watch the show? Do you think this is just hopeless?' I said, 'Alexandra, I think you have to be prepared that this might be very, very big. I have a good feeling about it.'

She said, 'Really?' She just did not think so at all. Now she knows. I think it just hit at the right time. I think it would have been popular at any time but because Covid happened and so many people needed an escape from their real lives and from what was going on that they just turned to this.  

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