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New Zealand actor Alan Dale has no regrets - except wishing he'd moved to Hollywood sooner.

"I've had a fabulous life but I should have come here instead of going to Australia," says the former Neighbours star, on the set of his latest hit show, Ugly Betty (TV2, Tuesday, 8.30pm).

Since moving to LA a few years ago, Dale has enjoyed the kind of success most TV stars experience only once in their careers. This time last year he sat on the set of The O.C. extolling the virtues of his conniving tycoon character, Caleb.

When Caleb was killed off, Dale walked into another dream role, as magazine mogul Bradford Meade on the Golden Globe-winning Ugly Betty. (Bradford's the guy who hired Betty so his son wouldn't be tempted to sleep with his assistant.)

Fans will also recognise Dale as the Vice-President on the Kiefer Sutherland smash 24, the head honcho on procedural crime drama NCIS, plus roles on Lost, ER, The West Wing, The Practice and The X-Files.

On the big screen he has appeared in Star Trek: Nemesis, Hollywood Homicide and After the Sunset, among others.

"I've been lucky in lots of ways in shows like The O.C. that have become a smash. Then I leave and it dies," cackles the actor, who turns 60 in May. "It's great."

Years after starring as Jim Robinson in Neighbours from 1985-1993, Dale decided to move to LA as an experiment. "I was in my mid-50s so I'm thinking, if I don't do it I never will."

Unlike most actors who struggle through endless auditions, Dale found himself walking into a series of strong, authoritative roles.

"When you're old and bald, that's what they give you," he says. "I'm not going to be a juvenile lead, am I? I'm the go-to powerful guy. But I did have a role in a thing last year called Bow, which was a comedy pilot that didn't ever get picked up, working with Bow Wow, the little rapper guy. I was playing his gay English butler. That was fun. I was really sorry that didn't get picked up."

Dale says he brings a little bit of New Zealand to his American work but he identifies more closely with Australia. It's not hard to pick a slight bitterness.

"I like both places but I get a lot more respect and recognition from Australia than I do in New Zealand. New Zealanders don't want to know me at all, really. I've been Australian for 20-odd years.

"Everywhere I went I was the guy from Neighbours so I was Australian. Then when I came here, because I have a New Zealand passport I became a New Zealander again. It's odd."

Dale is certainly funnier and more laidback than his character, but he has more in common with Bradford than you might think. His wife, Tracey, is a former Miss Australia; Dale "tried to model" at the age of 18. He also worked in publishing after what he says was unfair treatment after Neighbours.

"When we decided that we hated each other - the company and me - one of the things the company did was to market everything they could out of us and pay us nothing. So I actually did publish two Neighbours magazines in Britain and Australia and New Zealand and made quite a lot of money out of it actually."

Then he says he lost the lot on a magazine for kids. "Years and years ago I used to publish a guide to motorcycle prices. So I did know a little bit."

It wasn't his only disappointing experience in the acting game. Dale says, with a degree of disdain, that it was his manager who told him he'd been written out of The O.C.

"No one came and said, 'Hi Alan, I'm sorry about this'. The only discussion I had was when I got the final script - 'You're going to have a heart attack and drown in the pool'."

The producers wanted him to take his clothes off for the scene but he refused. It wasn't as if they could fire him.

"I was very hurt, very hurt. I also didn't think it was very smart. I mean, they weren't paying me what I get paid here. And they got me cheap because I had come in there as a recurring role."

He concedes he could be written out of Ugly Betty but doesn't think it's likely to happen, even though the role almost didn't come about. He knew he'd impressed during his pilot audition but the producers told him they wanted a bigger star.

Eventually his manager called to say the bigger star was "causing trouble" and that Dale was booked on a flight to New York the following day to film the pilot of Ugly Betty.

"I listen to actors do this: 'Y'know, I choose my roles when I read the scripts.' The one I choose is the one I'm offered."

Even if it's the go-to powerful guy.