Earning Street cred

ERICA THOMPSON
Last updated 05:00 15/05/2012
Michael Galvin
HAIRSTYLE REGRETS? Michael Galvin, alias Dr Chris Warner in 2003.

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Hairstyle regrets – actor Michael Galvin has had a few.

"They're all bad," says Shortland Street's longest-serving cast member of his different looks over his 15-year tenure on the soap. "It doesn't matter what I do, it always ends up silly."

However, not taking things too seriously may in fact be the key to the programme's longevity.

Galvin says one of the co-stars he most admired was Elizabeth McRae (who played original receptionist Marj Brasch) who, along with Paul Gittens (hospital boss Michael McKenna), taught him to "take the work seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously".

"It has to be enjoyable. If you're not having fun, the audience won't be having fun."

Two decades after his character, Chris "Dr Love" Warner, shocked viewers with a romp in a gym with a married aerobics instructor (Suzy Aiken), and many weddings and flings later, he is front and centre in the show's milestone 20th birthday storyline. But Galvin, who is also an award-winning playwright, says being a Shorty stalwart hasn't yet scored him any perks at work.

You left Shortland Street and returned a few years later. What drew you back?

I was down and out in London, basically, and I got the call. I thought about it for a long time and I said yes and they said "OK, you can audition for it" – for the role that I played for four years! I think [they wanted to see] I hadn't gained 50 pounds and lost my hair in the years I'd been away.

The show received a lot of criticism when it first started. What was the worst thing you heard at the time?

It was all pretty much the same – just going on about how terrible the acting was, how terrible the scripts were and all the rest of it. It was all a bit depressing. Funnily enough, I watched the first episode the other day and it wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered it. I thought it was a bit slow and it was very quiet, there was no kind of atmospheric sound, but it wasn't that bad. I think we were raked over the coals unjustly when it started. I think part of the problem was it had this massive hype around it. I remember the network just throwing all this publicity at it and so I think people's expectations were very high and those high expectations were not met [laughs]. But six months in, we were a Kiwi favourite.

What's been the best feedback?

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We get people coming to the set who have had a rough time of it. Often young people who are very sick, and [to see] how happy it makes them and how excited they are just to be there – that's the best thing. It puts you in a position where you can really cheer people up who really need it.

Given your experience, do you offer the new actors any advice?

I used to do it a bit, but whenever I gave someone advice it would always make their acting worse [laughs], so I stopped. But on the show now I've got two sons and so I figured that's where I could be of use. Especially Geordie [Holibar], who plays my oldest son, Phoenix. He's had a lot of very heavy storylines recently where his character is really going through the mill and, where I can, I just try to help him and give him suggestions. I don't feel that I'm in any position to offer advice to actors who are over the age of 20. But every so often I can't help myself. People always nod and listen politely, you know, because I've been there since the beginning of time. But I feel I should give people the respect they're due and not throw in my two cents worth.

You've got quite a dramatic storyline coming up for the anniversary...

Let's just say things go from bad to worse. It's a real reversal for Chris and I can honestly say it's a situation that he's never found himself in. The writers on our show just do a fantastic job. The fact that 20 years in they can throw something at Chris that's never happened to him before, it's a great credit to them and it's been extremely satisfying to play.

PARTY TIME

Your guide to the Shortland Street 20th Anniversary celebrations.

MONDAY MAY 21 7pm Billed as the single biggest episode of Shortland Street ever made, this 90-minute action-packed special will see a popular character's life placed in jeopardy.

FRIDAY MAY 25 7pm The actual 20th anniversary features the return of original receptionist, Marjorie Brasch (Elizabeth McRae). But expect to see old faces, like the Jefferies family, appearing throughout the week as well. 7.30pm Naughty Shorty: 20 Years Of Bloopers. A look at all the mistakes, pranks and inappropriate moments that until now have only ever been seen by the cast and crew at Christmas parties.

- Wellington

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