Interview with Michael Galvin, Grey Lynn, 23 October 1996
I kicked off the interview by showing Michael a letter I had received from my very own fan: a woman who worked in a shop on Ponsonby Road: a pathetic sample of the only public recognition I received from my brief appearance on Shortland Street earlier that year.
Peter Feeney: She got my address off the back of a cheque. She’s asking me out, I guess.
Michael Galvin: [Reading letter] Great! Is she nice?
I honestly cant remember.
Have you seen what she looks like, have you investigated it?
What would your approach be?
Oh, walk past the whatever shop it is with dark glasses and check it out and –
– you wouldn’t want to get the wrong girl would you –
– well that’s what she’s done to you hasn’t she, she’s gone and checked you out from afar, you might as well do the same to her and go from there!
You think this is a sound beginning to a relationship do you Michael?
Well is there such a thing as a sound beginning? I don’t know they’re all about as sound as one another I think. Fate has thrown this in your lap! Who are you to toss it aside!
How would you deal with it? Is this how you deal with this sort of thing?
No. If I got a letter like that I’d completely ignore it.
Yeah right, cos you’d get a few of them I gather.
We got a lot through Shortland Street when I was there – I haven’t been there for six or seven months – but mainly the letters we got were from teenagers, mainly girls, really young, and they weren’t like: “Hey I want to meet you and really get to know you” they were like: “Hey you’re really cool and Chris is really cool and my cat’s called Tiddles and my dogs called Muffie and” – it’s really funny – no, really – there’s like a formula they must stick to, they’re all exactly the same, they say:
“Hi. I really like you” – they list your character, they don’t mention you – then they list their friends, then they list their pets and they might list their family.
It’s great they took the time out but it’s so funny… very sweet. Sometimes they enclose a picture or something that is really cute… But nothing like your note.
I want to try and elevate this discussion… but not by much. You were interviewed by some crappy magazine recently, one of the women’s magazines I think, and you said that after four years on Shortland Street you’d got to the stage with Dr Warner where there was so much of you in it you weren’t sure where he ended and you began, he just became more and more like you –
Yeah, yeah –
– but you actually appear different to me, to meet you, actually…
Oh that’s good.
Yeah which is kind of surprising because I would have thought too that if you were chipping away at the coalface like that, for years, you’d end up playing yourself in the end.
Maybe all that happened is that just because of the luxury of actually getting in there and working every day, acting every day maybe I just became more natural at it. So maybe it seemed to me like it was more of myself but maybe that’s a good thing, because whenever you play any role there should be as much of yourself in it as possible: you should use the role as a form of self-discovery, to learn more about yourself and about people, rather than trying to escape yourself and going “Oh well gee what do people like that do?” and “how do people like this behave?”, try to think instead: well what would I do if I was that person, and what would I do if I was in this situation? – and use as much of that of possible. That is how you get truthful performances that are good to watch because the audience are being let in on something. They’re learning something because you’re learning something.
That sounds like that New Zealand actress – the one who was in ‘Shallow Grave’ and ‘Angel at my Table’ –
She said in a ‘Pavement magazine’ interview last year that when she was doing a film she just played it scene by scene, go for the basic situation in each scene, and play that. What you were saying reminded me a little of that.
I do really believe though in seeing whatever scene you do in terms of the whole story. Maybe I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying.
You’re criticising Kerry Fox!
No – god forbid! How could I criticise her she’s got a film career for Christ’s sake, she’s an international star, I’m not going to criticise her, she’s obviously doing it right. But in terms of doing a scene I think you have to be really aware of where it fits into the story with all the other scenes, rather than just goin’ into a scene and seeing that as a little world in itself. It is in a way, but also it fits in to the rest of the story and other scenes, and the way you play other scenes will directly affect how you play the scene you’re playing now. I don’t believe that it’s a self contained thing at all. You really learn that on Shortland Street –
– you’re telling a story aren’t you –
– you are, that’s right, and that’s the main thing about all acting really: just to tell the story as effectively as possible. And that requires often a real sense of the dynamic of scenes. Not to regard each one as equally important – some can be thrown away…
As a guest actor on that show one piece of advice I got was that I was there to feed the core cast characters lines to serve their storylines –
– Is that right?
It’s humbling but –
– No no no that’s not fair –
But there’s something in that –
– No, I disagree with that.
There was something about ‘soap’ acting also in this wonderful book by Shurtleff, a Broadway casting director –
– I read that book, it’s called ‘Audition: Everything you need to know to get the part’.
Terrible title but wonderful book, great book.
Yeah, yeah, I agree. In it he talked at one point about soap actors, given that Shortland Street is more drama than soap admittedly, and much faster than the funereal-paced American Soaps, basically I’m going to say do you think Shortland Street ruined your acting because that’s what he said happened to these soap actors he was auditioning: their reactions had become so slow and they were hugely into what he called ‘transitions’ – going “OK I’m going from angry to sad now so I’ll go through a minute of sortof moving into that new emotion.”
For me it’s exactly the opposite. I think Shortland Street has made me a much, much better actor. No one at Shortland Street regards it as a soap and if any actor does then they’re in trouble and they’ll do crappy work, and it’ll look crappy; and the only way not to do crappy work there is to not regard it as a soato regard it as valuable, to think, there is a potential for this to be really great – a lot of things are against it, ie the time, and sometimes the storylines can be a little, unnatural, shall we say (but sometimes they’re brilliant) – so you just do as great a job as you can.
Were you there from day one?
The initial public reaction was lukewarm…
No it wasn’t lukewarm. It was freezing cold. It was glacial. They fucking hated it.
Well I didn’t want to say that so thanks for your honesty. But what I heard was that that developed a sense of camaraderie on the set and a really good feeling with that original cast and you guys just pulled together and worked harder.
Yeah, it was like that. The way it actually happened was we started shooting it and we were getting lots of encouragement from Caterina De Nave (the show creator), who never stopped encouraging us… she was just such a strong person and such a great producer, she never let us kindof lose sight of the fact that “yes this will be successful don’t worry about it.”
But anyway we started shooting it and we were getting pretty good feedback from people that were seeing the rough cuts and all the rest of it, and then it went to air and it got the big rass. And yeah, the first effect it has on you is to unsettle you and to make you feel –
– “what am I doing wrong” –
– Yeah, but then we all kindof, as you said, pulled together and I think it probably did make the bond between us stronger.
There were technical lessons to be learnt too. I saw one of the early episodes recently and the sound seemed all tinny and echoey. Now they layer in a lot more background noise I suspect in post-production.
Yeah. A technical thing like that can hugely dislocate an audience out of believing.
To continue the saga: what then happened was that someone, be that NZ on Air and SPP and maybe TVNZ decided that all that the show needed was time to work out all the bugs and they put that investment in didn’t they, they just kept making the fucking thing. That was a leap of faith wasn’t it? –
– Yeah –
– so how did that come about?
I think because it was so huge, because we were doing five episodes per week and there was so much money invested into it, I’m not sure if they really had the option – I think they thought there was more to lose by taking it off. But I’m not sure, I don’t know anything about that. But yeah, you’re right. It was a leap of faith.
But there was something about the Shortland Street formula that was basically sound wasn’t it? – and if it hadn’t have been no amount of floor time lavished on it could have made it better…