Shortland Street: Remarried to the job

By ELEANOR BLACK

Between them, Angela Bloomfield and Michael Galvin have survived five failed marriages, a near fatal case of bad breath, a lightning strike, alcoholism, addiction to painkillers, two abductions, countless dramatic parties and an amateur musical.

Or at least their popular alter egos have. But after years of playing the feisty Rachel McKenna and spoiled "love doctor" Chris Warner, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference.

Not for the actors, you understand - it's Shortland Street viewers, a passionate and opinionated bunch, who sometimes miss the distinction between actor and character. It has led to some weird moments for the on-screen couple, the most veteran cast members to celebrate the programme's 10th anniversary next week.

Galvin, an original cast member who took a break in 1996 to write and travel and returned to the soap early last year, gets more credit for finesse with the ladies than he might deserve. And Bloomfield, who debuted as a privileged high school student soon after the programme's start and left after seven years to become a trainee director, is done apologising for her acerbic character's behaviour.

She directed episodes of Jackson's Wharf and Shortland Street before getting back in front of the camera late in 2000, when she reprised the role of Rachel McKenna, now an ambitious hospital administrator.

Both actors are happy with the progress made by their emotionally fickle characters in the past year, as they have - after much dilly dallying - formed a committed relationship and moved in together. It is an unusually happy domestic situation for the pair, who have spent much of the past decade reeling from one bad match to another.

Working with each other has made the transition to on-screen contentment easy.

"We're on the same wavelength," says Galvin of their acting relationship. "It's rare that we'll have a different view of how the scene should go but often we'll have a different view from the director. So we'll listen to what they say and we play it our way."

For Bloomfield, the most challenging and enjoyable storyline in her time on the sudser was Rachel's alcoholism, which taught her a lot about performance and people.

"I think for the audience, though, it was probably when Rachel was struck by lightning, because that was really exciting," she says with a laugh.

Galvin found Dr Warner's addiction to painkillers and his brief descent into drug dealing fun to portray, although one of his more memorable scenes was about the unexpected consequences of bad breath.

"Chris thought he had halitosis. He had this breath freshener [spray] and at the same time Kirsty [Angela Dotchin] was worried about being mugged, so she had a mace thing, and whaddyaknow, they got swapped and then Grace Kwan [Lynette Forday] had to give him an emergency tracheotomy with a Star Trek pen."

When asked about favourite characters, Galvin and Bloomfield fondly point to the bumbling Nick Harrison played by Karl Burnett, the last original cast member to leave the programme. His character moved to London early this year.

"It may be a small bias because of Karl," says Bloomfield. "He [played the part] with no ego. He doesn't worry about being silly, or wacky."

"When the show started, Karl [then 16] by far got the most abuse from people because he was playing this kind of Westie, but that didn't stop him from playing Nick like that," adds Galvin.

As for their own characters, there is a mixture of affection and frustration at the situations in which they find themselves. Galvin is pleased that the charming plastic surgeon he plays seems to be growing up. Bloomfield, who admits to having "Rachel moments" in the early years, enjoys playing a woman who is so sure of herself.

"[Sometimes you find yourself] leaning on a part of your personality you found through acting. It might be confidence, which I have none of."

But the actress is not always impressed with her character's behaviour.

"She has had more less endearing moments in the past year than ever before and I think that's because she's getting older and because I'm getting older. When we are in our early 20s we all make mistakes. You would hope she would have learned from them but she keeps returning to them."

A decade of celebrity in a country where there are few stars has been demanding for the actors, especially Bloomfield, who was 19 when she was first beamed into our lounges.

"I wouldn't change any of it for the world because there are so many plusses, but you're a normal adolescent, getting to know yourself and you're at a party and people are staring at you, and it's not because you've got a great dress on, or your hair looks good, or you're quite good looking but because you're on telly every night," she says. "It can be a bit weird. It's changed my behaviour a little bit."

But the the fame "comes and goes in waves", they say. With a collection of new actors on the show, they are attracting less attention than in years past.

That would change overnight if their characters were to marry, of course, although they won't be drawn on what the future holds for Chris and Rachel. But there are at least two Shortland Street weddings to look forward to in the not-too-distant future, says Bloomfield.

"A lot goes into [the weddings]. They are a lot of fun. There are conversations about hair and nails and it's a bit strange. It's like, "this is pretend guys'."

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