Star likes Dr Warner's medicine

ROUGH TIME: Michael Galvin says the worst episode of <i>Shortland Street</i> he had to film involved a very gay space suit.
ROUGH TIME: Michael Galvin says the worst episode of <i>Shortland Street</i> he had to film involved a very gay space suit.

Ask Shortland Street's longest surviving actor who the best kisser is of the four wives and numerous girlfriends he has clocked up during his tenure on the long-running soap and Michael Galvin, aka Doctor Chris Warner, refuses to kiss and tell.

His diplomacy is probably one of the reasons he's lasted the distance and why his character has survived addictions to both marriage and morphine to celebrate the show's 4000th episode screening this Friday.

Sensing his reticence might make dull copy, the 43 year-old Galvin volunteers that he is proud to have snuggled on the couch with the comely Siobhan Marshall (Outrageous Fortune).

Galvin auditioned for the part of Dr Warner back in 1992, fighting for it with his then flatmate Marton Csokas, who is now a famous international movie star.

"We made a deal that whoever got it would buy the other dinner," Galvin remembers, observing that the movie star doesn't shout him a meal now when he comes to town.

"I doubt if he'd even recognise me. He was special. Back in drama school you knew he was going to go far because he'd always do things differently from everyone else."

Being the nation's most famous doctor causes no problems at his local Grey Lynn supermarket, where everyone is blase about the film industry, but when Galvin visits Henderson's Pak 'N Save, he still manages to cause a stir among the frozen veg.

When he's not performing on the South Pacific Pictures studios lot, Galvin - who last year won the Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award - retires to the dressing room he shares with Renato Bartolomei to plug away at the playwriting, taking advantage of the peace and quiet away from baby Lily at home.

He is grateful for the steady job and would happily do another 16 years if it came his way. (Actually Galvin had four years off in the middle).

Personal Shortland Street highs include working with Tim Balme and particularly with Shane Cortese, when Chris and Dom were deep and dark in sibling rivalry.

The personal low would probably be universal - when the cast spent weeks rehearsing for a musical in which Warner had to don a very gay space suit.

The hugely expensive episode was ill-fated and the least watched as it clashed with the September 11 attacks.

The show has been lucky for Galvin, who met his wife Melissa through actress Angela Bloomfield, who played the love of his life, Rachel McKenna.

Bloomfield, now a director on the soap, remembers being awed by Galvin when she walked on to the set to play the spoilt and aggressive teenage daughter of the hospital's CEO.

During her nine years (she had broken service, appearing from 1992 to 1999 then returning in 2001-2002) Rachel managed to overcome two eating disorders, married Nick in order to get a student allowance and hit the glass ceiling in her HR career before becoming a spectacular drunk.

"I loved my drinking days and being unstable because there was so much opportunity as an actor to spin out of control, be tortured, then build yourself up again."

Bloomfield downplays the experience of featuring prominently in the first crop of full blown women's magazine celebrities, but noticed how they dumped her like a hot spud when she left the soap.

However, the bad fairies were back in contact and hovering round the cot when she got pregnant on season two of Dancing With the Stars, where the inclusion of a Shorty Street star is essential.

She has fond memories of sharing a box of a rehearsal room and "travelling through many years" with Stephanie Tauevihi, Claire Chitham and Angela Dotchin, and says the cast and crew share a special bond over the compromises of working in fast turnaround television where there are no second chances.

Looking back, Bloomfield is amazed that Rachel never married, had a baby or died, "which is kind of ridiculous in nine years", and oh, how she wishes they'd dressed her up more.

Executive producer Simon Bennett is closest to the stories he produced back in the late nineties – the Caroline Buxton euthanasia story, Ellen and David losing a baby to Sids, Oscar and Henry and MacKenzie Choat as parallel villains and more recently the Joey serial killer story (Bloomfield wonders if they went too far in a family viewing hour on this one) and the exploration of Gerald's sexuality.

A less than stellar storyline for Bennett was the introduction of the Hudson family in 2001.

"With the best will in the world the intention to introduce a down on their luck Maori family who moved from the country to the city came across as mawkish and somewhat PC in flavour."

THE show is more flexible these days compared to the early years, when every episode had four or five story threads which ran every consecutive day, and Bennett promises more challenging locations and medical sequences for the future.

"Now the show tends to concentrate on two or three stories in more depth and sometimes particular scenarios earn a special one story episode."

Come Friday the clan will gather together to have a few bubbles over the soap's memory. As Bloomfield sees it: "I think people need to give themselves a pat on the back.

"The reality is that we've made good New Zealand television that people can watch while they're eating their dinner. We make good fodder for tucker."

*Shortland Street, TV2, 7pm, weeknights.

The Dominion Post