Siena Yates is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Goodbye Rachel McKenna: The reason Angela Bloomfield quit Shortland Street

When you leave a show like Shortland Street after being on it for as long as Angela Bloomfield has, the question everyone wants to know is: Why?

The answer is simpler than you'd think.

"Geez, is 24 years not enough for anybody?"

Bloomfield has been on the long-running soap since just after its inception in 1992. She was just 19 when she joined the cast, playing the no-nonsense Rachel McKenna on and off ever since. Five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

And while it may come as something of a shock to fans that Bloomfield is leaving, she's actually been planning the departure for years.

"It just felt like the right time for me and you know, it is really hard to break away from that show so it was kind of a couple of years in the planning," she says.

Rachel McKenna with her brother Jonathan.
Rachel McKenna with her brother Jonathan.

The reason is far less dramatic than some would like to think. There was no big fallout, no drama, no hard feelings. She simply felt like enough was enough.

"I'm 43 and I feel like I've played that character to a place where ... I was thinking it wasn't going to be a place where I could be further challenged. I kind of did it so much that I understood it more than you understand most things.

"That said, with the storyline they came up with for the exit, I was like 'oh no wait, now I'm being challenged - this is awesome'."

Rachel's storyline saw her go down the path of destruction to a point where she eventually had to leave in order to get herself in a good place.

When I read it, I was like 'oh God, OK this is the way we're going'. I mean, I get what they had to do; they had to leave it in a certain way and create a situation where Michael wouldn't follow her. So for me as I started to read it, I was like 'oh I'm bummed'."

She wanted a happy ending for Rachel, not everyone "hating her".

Angela Bloomfield and Michael Galvin have starred opposite one another for more than two decades.
Angela Bloomfield and Michael Galvin have starred opposite one another for more than two decades.

The problem with an exit like Rachel's is that it called for Bloomfield to go to a dark place, a place in which everyone gave her a wide berth - "because they don't want to get in the way of your process".

"So it wasn't the most fun at work I could have in a day. It was pretty depressing."

But she was grateful those final days presented a challenge she hadn't had in years. "[I] dug my heels in, and at the end of every day I felt really satisfied."

"It's fine to be in the day and really exhausted and confused and lost, but if you get to the end and go; 'that's exactly where you were meant to be', that's great."

The show's producer and writer Maxine Fleming says finding the appropriate exit line for such an iconic character wasn't easy.

"Rachel McKenna has been an icon of New Zealand television for over 20 years and that is testament to the ability of this talented actor. Angela and her alter ego Rachel will be missed, personally, by the whole cast and crew as well as the audience," says Fleming.

Which is why the exit "needed to be dramatic and give some sense of closure for Rachel and the characters close to her".

"It was also a reflection of the complete trust in Angela as an actor to have the ability to dig deep and take on such an emotional storyline."

Angela Bloomfield as Rachel McKenna on Shortland Street.
Angela Bloomfield as Rachel McKenna on Shortland Street.

Before Rachel's exit, eagle-eyed fans smelled a rat and began to question the nature of her downfall on social media, wondering if the show might be about to kill the popular character off.

But that was never an option. For one, "we've killed off a lot of people and ... you take away the potency if you do it too many times through the years."

Besides, if Rachel was dead, the door would no longer be open for Bloomfield to return to the show.

Returning to Shortland Street is certainly not off the cards, though Bloomfield does hope it will be in a directing capacity.

She's been directing for some 16 years now, starting on Shortland Street and going on to work on short films, which she began showing at festivals - it's part of the reason she decided to free herself up from her Shortland Street schedule.

That said, leaving the Street isn't as easy it sounds.

Angela Bloomfield has been on Shortland Street since the mid-90s.
Angela Bloomfield has been on Shortland Street since the mid-90s.

Before Shortland Street, Bloomfield had no acting training and only a few commercial roles - without any lines - under her belt.

The five-week contract she originally landed saw her train on the job. She and other younger members of the cast were sent away on workshopping weekends to upskill and learned what they could on set.

"I learned everything on that job," she says.

"It's an amazing opportunity and some of my dearest friends are people I met on that show. But that's what life is, isn't it?"

Looking back on her time on Shortland Street, Bloomfield "remembers" everything - every person she's worked with and every storyline she's acted out, right down to the smallest detail.

"Of course I do. It was my first acting job. When you've done a bunch of auditions and missed out on things and it was a show that already existed so it already meant something to me - I mean, I can remember what I was wearing my first day on the job. It just meant so much to me," she says.

"I think I was kind of born to act, to play a character and ... bring truth to it. So once I started doing that, I felt really, really comfortable. And someone had gone, 'OK cool, we see you and we're gonna give you the opportunity to do that all day every day.

"You become really connected to the people in that little building and they become your second family and the people you trust and stand up for, and that hasn't changed."

Flashback: Waverley Wilson, Rachel McKenna and Donna Heke.
Flashback: Waverley Wilson, Rachel McKenna and Donna Heke.

So leaving is as difficult as you might expect.

Not only is she leaving behind a family she's worked with for most of her life, she's also leaving the security of a regular, full-time, secure acting job - and those are notoriously difficult to come by, especially in New Zealand.

For anyone else, the prospect of voluntarily giving up that financial security would be terrifying. For Bloomfield, it's what she's been craving.

"In terms of being a paid actor, I've ticked that box. So it could be time for me to be an actor that auditions and doesn't know where the next job is, because I haven't done that," she laughs.

"With the trepidation of, 'where is the next opportunity', is the excitement of, 'any day I could wake up and have something new that I get to sink my teeth into'. So I'm more excited than I am anxious about what's coming next," she says.

Of course, she's about the only one who's actually pleased with the decision.

Rachel McKenna and Nick Harrison got married to scam the student loan system in one of Shortland Street's early plotlines.
Rachel McKenna and Nick Harrison got married to scam the student loan system in one of Shortland Street's early plotlines.

Leaving was such a big deal she didn't actually tell anyone other than the producers, leaving them the task of spreading the word.

Some people didn't even find out she was leaving until they got the invite to her farewell party.

And she probably wasn't crazy to play it that way. She says there was a supportive few - the people closest to her who knew her best - but otherwise, "there was a large percentage of people who were messed up by the idea", she laughs.

"No one was overly happy about it. No one thought that was a great idea. They couldn't get their head around it," she says.

And they weren't the only ones. Bloomfield anticpates her fans won't be overly impressed either.

"I remember when Amanda [Billing] left. I had kind of already decided [to leave] then, and I remember going, 'oh, I'm really nervous. Because I know it'll be similar'," she says, recalling fans' upset over the departure of Billing's character Sarah.

"But you know, I think they're going to be upset the same way that I was upset, and they'll grieve her the same way that I've grieved her and then, they'll watch the next night and - you know, 'they'll be right," she laughs.

"No, they will - they always are. There's other characters and that's how this show exists."

Rachel McKenna has always been known for her strong opinions and personality.
Rachel McKenna has always been known for her strong opinions and personality.

No matter how determined Bloomfield is to break away, how excited she is for something new and how much peace she's made with her decision, she's still leaving behind a massive part of her life and she isn't playing that down.

She speaks of Rachel like someone she knows. Not a friend, per se, because she says there's "no way" she and Rachel would be friends.

It's not that she doesn't like her, it's just that the character is so closed off and so utterly different to the actress. But she says she's come a long way from the troubled teen she started off as on the show.

"The weird blessing of playing a character for so long is, when I think about people and how we grow and how we evolve - she is the product of that teenager. She felt incredibly abandoned, she didn't trust people she didn't know where the love was coming from," says Bloomfield.

Between Rachel's alcoholic father and "head-in-the-sand" mother, she was desperate to have them acknowledge, love and celebrate her. But they died before she got a chance to make see that happen.

"She lost them way too soon and she was alone in the world and all she had to fall back on was how they were, which is 'play hard or go home and don't put up with people's bullshit'. So she's really brittle and hard but didn't suffer fools and got to say really good lines," Bloomfield laughs.

"But she let a few people in and there were a few she loved and when you saw her feel protected and loved you got to see a softer side of her. But then again, when the shit hits the fan, all she can fall back on is self-preservation. She's very flawed in a way where she didn't realise people could see her flaws but it doesn't take much to pick holes in her. She's a really interesting person."

Of course, it will be hard to find another character like Rachel, for no other reason than she took decades to build up. But Bloomfield is keeping and ear to the ground and preparing for what might come next - whatever it is.

And while she may not be on our screens in our living rooms every weekday at 7 o'clock, she's also not running off to chase work in Los Angeles, as many before her have.

"Trust me, I'm not going anywhere," she promises.

Not only is she avoiding doing "anything that would uproot" her kids - Max, 12, and Maya, 10 - who are in school and have "started their journey", she simply can't fathom living anywhere else.

"I can't imagine it, this is my home. I'm not saying I won't take up opportunities but I can't see me moving," she says.

And until those opportunities present themselves?

"You keep yourself busy, of course. But it's a nice pace," she says of life without Shortland Street.

"It's a really nice pace."

- NZ Herald

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