Twenty years as a policeman gave Steve O'Reilly the confidence to tread the boards and sing his heart out with passion.

The 47-year-old actor's mid-life crisis mirrors his new role in the rock opera State Highway 48, which follows his character, Dave, as he juggles his family, friends and colleagues through the often dramatic roads of middle age.

In 1998, fresh from the UK, O'Reilly joined the New Zealand police. He tells Spy he had always wanted to perform and being a police officer gave him the confidence to do so.

"It gave me the push I needed, and I was soon performing in local community theatre. Due to the part-time nature of local theatre groups, I was able to work it in with my shift work, and it served as a welcome contrast to the rigours of frontline policing."

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Over the past few years, his community theatre hobby has transformed into the big time, landing him a recurring big role in Amici's Mamma Mia, and although the productions were getting bigger he still made time to be both officer and singer.

Earlier this year the singing policeman made the leap to performing full time.

"My enthusiasm for the job was no longer there so I took a leap of faith. We Will Rock You soon followed and I had the privilege of playing opposite Annie Crummer as her henchman Khashoggi," he says.

Two years ago, O'Reilly worked with choreographer Emma Morgana Carr. The pair clicked and have been inseparable ever since, welcoming a baby daughter this week.

All these mid-life changes are being channelled for his debut in State Highway 48, which premieres at the Bruce Mason Centre next month.

O'Reilly is pretty excited about the role in the Kiwi-created musical and not just because it resonates with his mid-life changes, but also its deeper connections to mental health and depression.

"The show sends out a really important message about mental health awareness which resonates with most people globally. For myself, I have certain daily practices that help centre me and keep me mentally strong. No-one is immune to depression, so it's important to work on it constantly," he says.