Michael Hurst is pissed and pissing. A bottle in his hand, a bucket at his feet. Sweet relief and it's hard to know which is sweeter.

He sways. Swings his coat. "The sheer weight of it," he says and the sentence buckles under an heavy Irish "r". The actor stops. Does it again. Stops. "Except it's not that heavy," he says, considering the coat, which, according to the script and the label sewn into the collar, belongs to a dead man.

His voice is back to normal. Pleasant timbre, excellent enunciation, segueing from stage to true story. Once, Hurst informs the director who is wearing shorts and bare feet, he bought a green leather jacket from a man at a pub who was selling on behalf of the deceased's estate. Life imitates art. Art is Hurst's life.

The actor has been in more than 100 theatre productions. His film and television credits run to pages. He's forever referenced as the made-it-in-America sidekick on Hercules: The legendary journeys, but he was already 37 - practically middle-aged - when he did that. Back then, he liked to do his own stunts, a teenage fencing champion who grew into a man who could co-choreograph a Shakespearean fight scene with 450 individual moves. He's 61 now. His knees are giving him hell.


Tonight, Hurst is Danny Moffat - "an ageing Irish raconteur retreating from the harsh light of the world to his bedroom", according to the Auckland Theatre Company billing for The Daylight Atheist, the play Tom Scott wrote about his father.

"Basically, Tom is presenting a selective and jaundiced view of Dad," says Hurst.

"And I'm not saying it's unjust or anything, because clearly I've read his [Scott's] autobiographies so far, and clearly his dad was like a lot of those mid-20th century men. F***ed up, basically, by his upbringing, church, parents - non-parenting - so his dad had a lot of problems and took them out on his family.

"Think of all the poets and artists and writers and especially the men, who had terrible lives and no counselling to help them through it and inherited a just intolerable situation of escape via booze …"

We could talk about this play (and we do) but it is more interesting, perhaps, to talk AROUND this play: Fathers and fatherhood. What it means to be a man.

"There's this guy, and at the end of the play, where is he? Well, he's on his own ... he's not kept up, he's isolated and lonely and living in the past."

Hurst lists real-life parallels: Donald Trump (one of those men who "explode on everyone else"). Mike Pence. Don Brash. Even closer to home: "Roger Hall, the other day, getting into trouble ... I'm sorry Roger, but what have you done?" (What playwright Hall did was write a letter to the editor conflating the female response to the murder of British tourist Grace Millane with a call for women to reduce the number of fetal alcohol syndrome cases recorded each year. Social media hated it. This week, Hall told Canvas "part of me wishes I hadn't written it, but it is an issue that seems to have been hidden under the carpet for too long.")

"I'm hoping that those men are like dinosaurs. And they are going. Because their world is not the new world," says Hurst.

"We do not live in this world anymore, the world of Danny Moffat and this play. It's changing more rapidly now, in the last 10 years, I reckon, than it ever has, and here they come, they're all coming, the oncoming hordes and what are they? They are gender fluid, they are looking for gender equality. They don't do the things that we did."

Actor Michael Hurst: 'My time is ending' / Supplied

In 2008, Hurst told the Herald one of the things he learned from his father was "there is only today, now".

In 2019, he says, "My time is the time I'm in right now, and my time is ending."

What is it like, this end of days? Actually, says Hurst, it doesn't worry him. Because he's an actor and so is his wife of more than 30 years, Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

"I'm at the fluid edge of society and always have been. I don't want to sound my own trumpet but Jennifer and I, a lot of actors I know, we're actually at the good end of it, because actors are like that. That's why we're so scary to people. Because we float through all sorts of things."

Although: "Look how many actors now are being outed for their bad behaviour. "

Hurst has heard the excuses and here, he says, are a few that don't work: "'Well, it was a different time then.' 'Not all men are like that.' Well, sorry, let's just shut up and change it and move on."

He has never, personally, witnessed "inappropriate behaviour" ("I just never saw it or looked for it"). But Hurst has, personally, rejected sexual advances from older actors and directors.

"Male, never female. At least two or three times. And I've just gone, 'No, sorry, that's just not me.'" The experience was "invasive" rather than predatory. He never felt his career was on the line, nor feared for his safety.

"It's not like they've cornered me and I've had no escape."

Michael Eric Hurst is the oldest of three sons. He was born in Lancashire, England, and moved to Christchurch, New Zealand when he was 7.

"My dad had a stint in the army, in Kenya, in 1960. National Service. He'd seen a bigger horizon. And if you think about the north of England in 1960-61, it was pretty dire. I think that's the overriding reason [they came to New Zealand]. They just saw blue horizons."

Hurst draws parallels between the character he is currently playing and the life his own dad might have had.

"Working class, married at 19, pregnant, no escape. Coming to New Zealand was the best thing they ever did ... what I'm getting at, is for people like that, it's a trap. Marriage becomes a trap and the patterns of behaviour, we repeat them. We repeat, unless we break those patterns."

The move was also a circuit-breaker for a certain 7-year-old.

"It wasn't that I was particularly vindictive, I was just a little kid with all these other bigger kids who were vandals and we were just in a gang. I was really lucky I got away with it. I think some of the other kids said 'he was just the look-out'. But I did the thing. I smashed all the plaster and ceilings and smashed windows and put my foot through doors.

"I knew it was naughty, but I was with the big boys and it's that pack mentality, isn't it? I was terribly scared when the police came around. It was good we came here."

He went to Papanui High School. By his senior year he'd left home - sharing a flat with two university students while his mum and dad were on an extended trip to the UK - but after they separated, he moved back in with his mother. He finished school with cups for debating and speech, a "first" in English and a Canterbury fencing trophy. It had become obvious theatre might be a career option.

Michael Hurst in rehearsal for Auckland Theatre Company's production of The Daylight Atheist. Photo / Doug Sherring
Michael Hurst in rehearsal for Auckland Theatre Company's production of The Daylight Atheist. Photo / Doug Sherring

"I went to the Court Theatre for two years and then up to Auckland. And the rest, as they say, is Auckland."

A formative moment. Lying on his first professional stage looking at the lights, thinking "I'm here. I'm being paid for this thing and I love it and I want to do it. Right, always remember it's just the work. The work will get the work. Be professional, do the work, work hard. Jennifer is the same. It's a real thing, it's not just a fly-by-night thing."

Recently, a younger actor who Hurst won't name, declared they had not read a book for at least three years.

"And I go, 'How are you ever going to string words together? How are you ever going to do three pages of a speech if you don't know how to concentrate like that?'"

The Daylight Atheist is dialogue-heavy and Hurst is the only man on stage. "Already, this northern Irish accent is really hard to sustain, because it's muscularly difficult."

But that accent, Hurst acknowledges, makes the play funnier. There's something about the Irish. Something about that strain of humour, he says, "that comes out of poverty and desperation".

He thinks his dad (who still lives in the South Island) has a streak of it. He thinks he and his brothers and also his actor/singer niece, Phoebe Hurst, have all inherited it. It is dry and it has a curious logic. A favourite Irish joke: "Have you lived here all your life, Patrick? Not yet sir, no."

Nevertheless: "Here we are, I'm learning these lines and some of the things that Danny Moffat says, if I said them in a joke, you wouldn't be happy about it ... there's a classic one, where he goes, 'I was in Germany in the occupation forces after the war and I saw shocking sights that no human being should ever have to witness.'

"And then he goes: 'Like fat-arsed German frauleins trying to squeeze themselves into lederhosen 10 times too small. Some of them would have needed three bullocks' worth of hide, which I reckon would have looked a lot more erotic on the cattle.'

"And you go, oh my God - who says that these days? There are some people who still say that and find it funny, but I think they're of a certain age. Because the excuse is, 'It's just a joke.' And you've got to be able to take a joke."

Recently, Hurst has been having conversations with women about the fear they live with: the fear of violence from men.

"And it's easy for a man to do that thing, 'Well, that's not me and I resent that I'm being tarred with that brush.' Well, what's the real thing about that? I'm ashamed of that. I'm ashamed that that happens and it's hard, but I have to admit it. That's the truth of it. I'm ashamed of my sex for doing that.

"Because what happens? Men kill women."

Just to be clear, says Hurst, he does not want to come across as "that bloke talking about feminism". For the record, Hurst is following the prompts, taking his cues from a question line that occupies a particular space and hashtagged time.

"I've read a lot of feminist stuff," says Hurst. "I've done the plays. Caryl Churchill [ Top Girls , etc] in the 80s. You know, we did the plays, we read the books ...

"I could be wrong here but I don't perceive anything has changed in terms of what that literature was asking for or positing. It's just that, for some reason now, I think the dinosaurs are making themselves more obvious and everyone is going, 'Holy shit - are you serious?'

"You have to think about it. Simple things. We were playing a board game on holiday recently - one of these big, complicated group ones - and the rules were full of 'when such-and-such happens to a play, HE then has to ...' And it was all HE. Even reading out the rules, I was changing it to THEY. I couldn't help it."

Hurst and Ward-Lealand have two sons, Jack (22) and Cameron (18).

"They are so different to the way I was when I was their age. They're more informed. They've got a grip on things that's savvy."

Hurst never wanted to have kids. After his own parents separated, "a whole lot of stuff happened and I thought, well I really, my first thought was I'd rather not have kids because I don't want to inflict any of that anybody. But then I'm not like that and Jennifer and I aren't like that."

One day, he says, "We woke up and said, 'Shall we have a child?'"

And now, as an actor, he knows where to find tears.

"I'm not really a method actor but all I have to do is think about Jack being being born and what that was like. It's just a physical thing. I just remember what my body was feeling at the time. So, yeah, that's a good plus."

He remembers when Ward-Lealand was pregnant ("we're being cool, I'm being grown-up") and the first proper scan when they learned they were having a baby boy ("and we went, oh yeah" - also cool, also grown-up) and then the doctor told them the boy was healthy. Hurst re-enacts heaving, sobbing tears. That was the moment, he says, he really knew he was going to be a father - and that it was going to be an emotional ride.

"Every time I felt I couldn't cope, I'd go, 'People do this all the time' ... and actually, it's more intense at the other end."

This end. Their time.

"I feel ... obviously they are less vulnerable than women are, I'm ashamed to say, but they are still vulnerable. I was in situations as a young man where I just had to be aware ...

"I had long, blond hair, I was as fit as a buck rat ... There are blokes who will pick on the ones that seem to have more energy or whatever. 'What are you looking at, you four-eyed little prick?' and then, before you know it … I've had that happen."

Hurst pulls out his phone to share pictures. Shots from the New Zealand tour of his own Shakespearian show, No Holds Barred (Cameron travelled with him as his techie). There's one his father took recently - Hurst, against a frozen TV frame from Hercules.

In 1967, Hurst's dad Brian won a talent quest in Timaru singing The Green, Green Grass of Home , unaccompanied. Then the glass cutter-by-trade came second in a TV competition and formed a band and got paid for singing three nights a week. He was out all the time. Things got "a bit intense" at home.

"He was a funny guy. He would tell jokes and be the life of the party and some people in those sorts of pubs said, right, we're going to take you down.'"

Hurst retells a story from a book about Southland steel guitarist, Les Thomas. Brian is singing and these guys up front "are giving him arseholes". The song builds to a musical break. Brian gets off the stage.

"Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! And gets back up in time for the chorus ..."

Hurst roars with laughter. "It's not really funny when you think about it, is it?"

Michael Hurst as Iolaus in television show Hercules. Photo / supplied
Michael Hurst as Iolaus in television show Hercules. Photo / supplied

Life boils down to eras, says Hurst. Consult the yellow manilla clippings file marked "Hurst" for the truth of this.

In the 1990s he was the larrikin face of Lion Red's "red-blooded" campaign. The ad-men told him he was great, that he'd really caught the spirit of the beverage.

"And I'm thinking, 'I never drink it, I don't like it, what is this culture again, sorry? It's just a job.' I always think of it as a bit of a dag. But I suppose," he says, "It was cultivating something. "

A decade later, he's posing topless for a campaign promoting breastfeeding in the workplace. It is pulled after protest and a bemused Hurst says to the Herald "I don't know whether they think it's not politically correct. Basically it's a great cause."

And now he's 61 with the theorem of Pythagoras and a quote from King Lear inked on his forearm.

"Bear free and patient thoughts," says the quote. Hurst says that's useful when he's on a TV set and something has gone wrong. It makes him think, "How can we fix this - as opposed to what are you f***ing doing?"

And the theorem?

"It's true for all possible right-angle triangles. And how many of them are there? There are an infinite number - so long as there are people to think about them. If we didn't label them, would they exist? It's all about human beings and we make it all, and we're in it. I've always wanted to be reminded of how amazing it is to be in it. Right now. In this soup of existence."