1. What's the toughest audience you've ever performed in front of?
Pre-schoolers at a public library in 1979. They were expecting clowns that juggle and do magic and fall over and have rabbits or performing pigs with them, whereas we were all white-face, silent, mimey, French existential clowns who simply appeared on the landscape and interacted with the environment. The kids' disappointment turned to rage in a heartbeat. It was horrible.
2. Do you ever watch Hercules if you come across it on TV?
Making that show was one of the best times in my life, and I am proud of the work we did, but I never watch it. My kids, as far as I know, have never watched it, certainly not with me. When it was on they were little and we didn't watch it. By the time they were old enough to be interested, they weren't. Hercules is a part of my life that seems a little unreal now, and I look forwards, not backwards.
3. How has being a father changed you?
Immensely, in terms of my emotional recall. Since my kids were born I have been able to access tears more easily - mainly of joy. It has also given me a kind of patience to "get on" or "get through" things. Those long nights of crying babies, those days of sick babies, of being a taxi driver for the kids - all of it brings a kind of stoic ability to put up with stuff.
4. Can you remember the moment when you realised that you were going to be an actor forever?
Yes, clearly. It was February 1977, and I was in a production, the first proper one I was in, when I was doing a sort of two-year apprenticeship at the Court Theatre in Christchurch. I have a very precise, tactile memory of lying on the stage looking up at the lights, with an empty theatre and an incomplete set, and thinking, "Wow, I've just got two years' work. I'm going to be doing this a long time, this is want I want to do." It was a real sleeves-up theatre environment, which is what I love about theatre. It doesn't matter how glam it gets, there's a graft to it. The previous year I'd been doing a schools tour and then I had been asked back to be an apprentice. I'd had to make a decision - I was at university, studying English, history, French, and was going to be a high school teacher. I decided to quit university and that's probably governed or affected me more than anything else. I've spent the rest of my life doing an incredible amount of reading and research - in a way I'm always doing a degree.
5. Are you trying to make up for quitting university?
Kind of. I'd been absolutely hell-bent on going to university because my dad wanted me to. It was that idea that people have when they grow up working class: "You're going to have the things that I never had," and the best way to do that is to get an education. Had I not been an actor I would have been an academic probably. But acting had the vigour and the intensity.
6. What kind of kid were you?
I think I was pretty quiet. Around my parents at least I was. They had a pretty tough time. They'd come to New Zealand with no money and it was really hard for them. I was pretty good at telling jokes but I was pretty well behaved. I'd done some plays and escapism was definitely part of it - escaping into a safer world or something - and I'd go to the movies and sit right in the front row. I still do that now - Imax 3D, front row, that's me!
7. Do you read your own reviews?
Yes I do. I like to know what people think and reviews are useful, good or bad. To ignore them is in my view a bit "head in the sand". If an actor can't cope with criticism, then that actor has to ask whether this is the right job for them.
8. How do you cope with criticism?
Ha! I ask around, usually. I have an extremely honest critic in my wife Jennifer and some strong opinions myself. No one can be more critical than me. Of course I want everyone to like it or to have an opinion and to dislike it with intent - I don't care about that really. But if people don't know what they're talking about, that drives me crazy. With directing, the litmus test is if you like it. It's kind of a lonely place to be sometimes because all you're doing is backing yourself. Anything I direct, I can rigorously defend. I can support everything I've done with research and ideas, nothing's left to chance. That doesn't necessarily translate to good reviews or even an audience reaction, but by in large it has. Acting's different, though, because it's hard not to take it personally. We all struggle with that sometimes, but you know, today's newspaper, tomorrow's fish and chips paper ...
9. Where do you get your confidence from?
I don't know if I really am a confident person but I know people think that about me. I have insecurities, we all do, and I often find myself doing something that people seem to be liking and I'm not sure why or what or how. It's not about having confidence - it's knowing that come hell or high water there is going to be another day and we're all in this together. You take a deep breath ... and off you go. I like a laugh; I see absurdity as a good thing. I find a lot of humour in just walking into a room and, you never know, that might be a defence mechanism. It certainly was when I was a kid - it stopped me getting hit!
10. Do you feel like you have to defend what you do for living?
It hasn't happened to me in a while but some people do get asked, "Oh you're an actor - but what do you do for a real job?" Acting and directing is real work. I've broken wrists working on stage. People really work hard. The generation of actors I'm in, we all did major classical work with Raymond Hawthorne, doing things like spending an hour in a class learning how to sit down on a chair and stand up again. He once yelled at me, "For God's sake Michael, sit down like you're standing up!" I can tell stories from both sides of the coin, though. I was directing a scene on Hercules once and it wasn't very long. I thought, "If we can do this little one-page scene we won't have to come back tomorrow." There was this actress - I won't name names, she wasn't a New Zealander, and not famous or anything - and she came stomping towards me saying "Michael! Michael! You've just thrown this scene at me ... I haven't even learned it." So I took her script off her and had a look - and she had four lines! I learned them in about three seconds flat ... and she just stared at me.
11. Actors do have a reputation for being "luvvies", don't they?
The fact people call us luvvies is the most irritating thing ... as if all we do is air-kiss and go "darling, darling", and are all highly strung, emotional beings that can't govern our own lives. There are both sides to the coin, like in any profession.
12. Who's the one person who truly knows you?
My wife Jennifer. Thank heavens someone does.