'It's great! I love it!' he says of his character's philandering. Now a household name, Chris Warner first thrust onto our screens in a steamy locker-room scene with fitness instructor Jill, played by Suzy Aiken, and soon earned the moniker 'Dr Love'. His four marriages, numerous engagements and affairs account for around 20 relationships and a brood of six children! The cosmetic surgeon's seductive lines would make most actors blush, but Michael says the journey has been an amazing ride.

Michael admits, though, if Chris was his friend he'd give him some sound advice: 'I would tell him that the next time he felt like sleeping with someone he wasn't in a relationship with that he should take a deep breath and count to 10. Then, if that didn't work, he should pour a glass of ice water down his underwear!

'Chris has grown up over the years. He's become less flakey, but he still can't really be trusted when it comes to women.' Having joined the show in 1992, Michael, 46, is Shortland Street's longest-standing cast member. As the popular TV soap celebrates its anniversary this week, he hopes Chris will still be here in another two decades.

'I'm very happy where I am in life. Shortland Street suits what I want to do and I can't see that changing. If I am here in 20 years I imagine I will still be as happy as I am now,' says Michael, who is likened to Coronation Street's Ken Barlow for his longevity.

So how does he handle all of Chris' romantic hook-ups. Isn't it confusing? 'No, because whoever you're with gets all your attention or if there are two, you divide it.'

As a key character who never fails to deliver the shock factor, the programme's feature-film length anniversary episode shows Chris as we've never seen him before. 'His life goes from bad to worse to much worse,' reveals Michael.

Michael is quick to credit the writers for their ability to keep both the cast and audience on their toes. 'They do an incredible job.' And, as an accomplished playwright, he knows what he's talking about – Michael has written several critically acclaimed plays and received the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award in 2007.

In 1996, after four years as Dr Love, Michael left to travel and focus on writing and theatre acting. During his time away, he toured Japan with a musical and lived in Australia and London.

Michael knew he wanted to be an actor since starring in primary school theatre productions, and he went on to graduate from Wellington's Victoria University and Toi Whakaari. It was during his time in the UK, where the actor was 'living on the bones of his arse', that he received a phone calling to lure him back to Shortie. 'It wasn't a tough decision because I was doing bugger all in London!'

TV audiences welcomed his return in 2001. By this time Shortland Street was succeeding beyond anyone's expectations, especially the critics. 'When Shortland Street first came out the response was so negative that we just assumed they were going to can it,' recalls Michael.

Instead, the show has grown to become part of the country's social landscape and has launched countless careers. While co-stars such as Temuera Morrison and Martin Henderson have moved on to Hollywood, Michael is happy to have stayed. 'I've never really thought about Hollywood. It's not something I was too concerned about to be honest,' he says. 'It feels great to have been on Shortland Street since the start. It's a good thing for New Zealand to have this show. Obviously, the drama is heightened, but there is something essentially Kiwi that everyone can relate to.'

Michael prefers to keep his own love life out of the limelight. His marriage in 2004 to artist Melissa Dines ended in 2009. Their daughter Lily, 5, would rather watch Scooby Doo than Shortland Street, but occasionally boasts that Dad is Chris Warner. 'It's funny to her. I'm doing what kids do, playing and pretending, but it's hard to explain to her that I'm paid to do it,' says Michael.

With 20 years to reflect on, Michael's Shortie highlights are all about the people. "I've had opportunities to work with Ian Mune which was fantastic, and Tim Balme, Craig Parker, Shane Cortese and Sarah Wiseman – so many wonderful actors."

The only episode he'd prefer to forget is the least-watched in the soap's history, the Shortland Street musical. 'I had to rap,' he says, laughing. 'The thought of it fills me with dread!

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