Michael Galvin

by Diana Wichtel / 30 September, 2006
Playwright, actor.

He may be the last improbable soap medic standing from the original cast of Shortland Street, but Michael Galvin has never been one to rest on his fop-fringed Dr Love laurels. He's had his kit off on stage in Ladies Night, published short stories, taken time out from the Street to experience life as a small fish in the piranha pool of the London acting scene and penned a well-received play, New Gold Dream. This year, he's burning several candles at both ends with another play (the bleakly funny The Ocean Star) about to open and a new baby keeping him and wife Melissa up nights. "Baby brain," explains Galvin as he trips over the word "inarticulacy". Happily, he manages to keep his eyes open long enough for a chat about television, the theatre and being made to wear a gay spaceman suit.

New play, new baby, all go on Shortland Street: you sound busy. I am, which is a shame in terms of timing with the baby. That's her there [pause to admire cellphone shot of four-week-old Lily]. Writing's really great because you can fit it around other things.

Writing and acting: you've chosen two very precarious professions. It's working at the moment because of Shortland Street. That allows me to write and not worry about making money out of it. If I left, I'd be in the same position as any actor or writer - extreme insecurity. As long as I'm on Shortland Street, I'm okay.

Speaking of the National Soap, Shortland Street - The Musical: what were they thinking? That was a truly low moment. They got costumes made. I had to wear what I called my gay spaceman outfit. I had to rap with Calvin Tuteao. He was quite good at it because he's cool and I'm not. It was just horror. It screened on September 12, 2001, so it was the least watched show in the history of Shortland Street.

You've been Chris Warner for around a quarter of your life. Everyone has to ask the Ken Barlow question. Yeah. I've stopped worrying about it. People assume Ken Barlow's not getting any satisfaction from it. But I still find it interesting and challenging to work there. And I've got my writing for a creative outlet. I'm not apologising for a second. I'm proud of it.

Your new play, The Ocean Star, features a couple of dysfunctional brothers. Anyone you know? I have a brother 18 months younger than me so I'm familiar with the sheer cruelty that you inflict on the ones you're closest to.

Then there's their agoraphobic father. I haven't had that exact fear, but I have had irrational fears. I know what it's like to feel that way and it's not nice. If you get hit by a car everyone goes, "Oh, you poor thing." If suddenly for no reason you're consumed with panic, it's like, "Get over it, you idiot."

You could see the play's perpetually malfunctioning television set as a symbol of the antipodean male psyche. Yeah. "It'll fix itself." That's quite a guy thing, isn't it? Coming back from London I found just how much inarticulacy is valued here among men. Here, it's about what you do. If you say more than you do, you're a blowhard, a dickhead. In London, it's all about how you express yourself. Even your stereotype barrow boy's got his patter. I have my own crackpot theories about the high suicide rate among men - one of the reasons is that not expressing yourself is very highly valued in Kiwi culture.

Your first play, New Gold Dream, is about performance artists with an obsession with 80s music. Where did that come from? Looking at 80s music videos. We thought they were pretty profound. I thought, wouldn't it be funny if there were people who took them as seriously as they wanted to be taken and had evolved a kind of pseudo-religion from it. And how is that more stupid, say, than Catholicism or Scientology? I was brought up a Catholic so I can say it. When you're in a religion it makes perfect sense. But viewed from outside, they're all absurd. To me, all religions are just variations on Santa Claus.

So, despite the religious references in your work, the Catholicism just never took? The opposite. I was totally into it until I studied philosophy at university. The tutor said, "There's no proof. Why do you believe it?" I struggled to come up with an answer. I thought if it's really true and I keep an enquiring mind, I'll be led back to it. If it's not, I'll be led away from it. And that seems to be what's happening.

Your plays are about coming to terms with disappointment, the limitations of life. Anything to do with that period where you did it tough in London? [laughing] You mean coming to terms with the concept of failure?

I wasn't going to put it quite like that. Yeah, I guess. I've always found the negative things -- failure, fear, depression, all that - so much more interesting to write about.

So the bit in The Ocean Star where they do psychodrama was therapy for you, too? Oh, absolutely. Working through my own messes through these characters.

Nervous about opening night? I will be. I'm not at the moment because rehearsals are going so well. They're very good actors, very funny, but the best thing is that they're really relating to the characters. That shows me the characters are worth investing in. That shows me the play's got legs.

THE OCEAN STAR, Auckland Theatre Company, Maidment Theatre, Auckland, September 30 - October 21.

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