In 2003, Michael received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award.
As a teenager Michael attempted escape from his parents' troubled home life by going to the movies, where he would sometimes have fun practicing stunt fighting on the steps of the theatre's foyer.
In 2006, Michael was invited to participate as a director in 24-Hour Deadline Theatre, which randomly assigned a writer, a director, and three actors to each of 8 teams. Each team was given the same mystery props and twenty-four hours in which to write, create, and rehearse a short play. All of the plays were then performed in front of a paying audience when the time had elapsed.
In late 2007, Michael starred with Oliver Driver in the play The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Silo Theatre. The production was named "Best Fun" by Listener magazine in its Best of NZ Theatre article, and, after a sold-out season with a one-week extension, the NZ Herald reported that it was a "100 per cent success which left many would-be punters frustrated, unable to buy tickets".
Michael had his first starring role in a tv series back in 1984 on a NZ series named Heroes. It was about a rock band; Michael played Dave Nelson, the drummer. Michael actually learned to play drums so he would be eligible for this role. After a one year absence, the series was brought back for a second season in 1986.
Michael had support roles in two New Zealand films released in 2007, The Tattooist and We're Here to Help.
In December 2007, Michael was named a New Zealand Entertainer of the Year by the New Zealand Herald.
In 2002, Michael starred in the NZ tv series Showstoppers on which he and co-host Stacey Daniels auditioned nearly a thousand would-be showstoppers throughout New Zealand and trained the final eight to perform in a variety show. Michael directed them all in a production that formed the final episode of the series.
In January of 2008, Michael and his wife Jennifer Ward-Lealand taught masterclasses for the Centre City Music Theatre Summer School, which is aimed at anyone interested in theatre from age 8 on up.
In 2003, Michael was picked by the New Zealand Listener as Auckland's "Best Actor" for his title role of Hamlet. He was also runner-up for best director for the same production. The New Zealand Herald also lauded the production, saying, "His performance was an unalloyed pleasure because he approached the text with such intelligence and sensitivity that even the famous soliloquies sounded as if we were hearing them for the first time. Dizzyingly exciting, it was unquestionably the best reading of a Shakespeare tragedy and possibly the best local Shakespeare ever."
Xena director of photography Dave Duncan said of Michael, "I really, really liked Michael's energy and enthusiasm. And nothing was ever a problem, and just he always just spurred you on to want to do your best work at all times. It was just great."
In the four episodes of Hercules in which he played The Widow Twanky, Michael is credited under the name "Edith Sidebottom" (correctly pronounced "Siddy-Betowm"). The name is a combination of Mrs. Sidebottom, the first pantomime character Michael ever played, and his own mother's first name, Edith. Michael's Widow Twanky is a broad impersonation of his mother, especially her English north country accent. He also plays a beggar under the pseudonym "Billy Wagstaff" in the Hercules episode "Greece is Burning".
While making the Hercules episode "Once a Hero", Michael hid a broken arm by wearing a leather strap designed by Ngila Dickson, the show's wardrobe designer. Although the producers of the show wanted him to wear a sling, Michael convinced them the strap would look more rugged.
Michael's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth pared away all of the psychosexual relationship of Macbeth's relationship with his wife in favor of telling the story of a man who has rightly or wrongly "declared war upon his mortal soul".
Michael's all time favorite movie is Ben Hur. He says he saw the movie fourteen times by age ten.
Michael was one of the presenters for one episode of The Gibson Group's one hour documentary series Here to Stay (aka "Settlers") for New Zealand's TVOne. Here to Stay journeys back into New Zealand's colonial settler past as viewed through the eyes of six different migrant groups. Michael's episode was titled "The English".
Michael is trained in martial arts, and did many of his own fight scenes for Hercules.
Michael is a very versatile voice artist, and can do a great number of accents- American, German, French, various British dialects, and Australian.
One of Michael's pet peeves it text messaging, because he has to ask himself, "why can't people spell?"
Michael is represented professionally by the firm of Johnson & Laird Management, as is his wife Jennifer Ward-Lealand.
One of the things that is always mentioned in terms of injuries on the set is the one where Michael hurt Kevin Sorbo. "It was nine stitches. I've seen the shot, well, it's actually been edited. I'm doing a reverse spin with the sword, and in those days they gave us real metal swords - idiots, you know, but anyway, he didn't duck quite far enough and my aim was off."
Michael's 2007 production of Tis Pity She's a Whore sold out for the entire season, and they added performances in response to the demand.
Instead of the usual division of labor of directing an tv episode using a second unit director to film noncritical footage, Michael did his own second unit directing on the Xena episodes "Who's Gurkhan?" and "To Helicon and Back".
Michael was extremely busy in the year after he finished filming Hercules. The day after his final day of shooting Hercules, he began preparations to direct the movie Jubilee. After that, he directed a number of episodes of Xena and Jack of All Trades, and directed the one-hour comedy Love Mussel for New Zealand television. He had guest starring roles in Xena, Jack of All Trades and Topp Twins, he performed in the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, as well as doing some writing and taking several courses at university.
Whenever he's asked if he prefers acting or directing or TV or theatre, he always says, 'It's always one thing for me: it's telling stories. That's what I do. It doesn't matter how I do it.'
Michael wrote the screenplay and directed the 1994 short film I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, which was selected for competition at Cannes.
Sometimes being an actor as well as a director was helpful to those he was directing. Not only could he explain what he wanted more clearly, but he also passed on techniques to his actors. While directing the Xena episode "Who's Gurkhan?" he suggested to Renee O'Connor that she read Hamlet to help her find her character's motivation for revenge. Renee did it, and she found it extremely helpful.
Michael was awarded the 1997 Best Supporting Actor, Television, New Zealand Film and Television Awards, for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, 'Iolaus'.
Michael won the 1999 Best Director, Comedy, Television, New Zealand TV Guide Awards, for the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode ". . . And Fancy Free". He also had a guest starring role in the episode, though he does so under the pseudonym Edith Sidebottom.
Michael was named the "Best New Zealand Actor", 2005 Metro Readers' Poll. His wife Jennifer Ward-Lealand won the "Best Actress" award in the same year.
Michael is the eldest of three brothers.
Michael thought that after his character Iolaus was killed in the beginning of the fifth season of Hercules that he was done with the show, so he cut his flowing blond locks. But a few months later he got a call from Rob Tapert asking him to come back to the show to play the alternate universe Iolaus 2, so he had to let his hair grow again.
Michael is an actor first, even when he's a director. While directing the Xena episode "Who's Gurkhan?" he held a "Frock Day", where all the crew (especially the men) put on their best dresses while they worked. Michael wore a simple blue dress that went very nicely with his eyes.
Michael wished they would have done a third Hercules episode using the Prisoner of Zenda theme, with him playing Iolaus, the ghost of King Orestes, and Orestes' wicked cousin (with black hair).
Michael is 5'5" (1.65 m), with blonde hair and blue-gray eyes.
Michael has been married to noted New Zealand actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand since 1988. They have 2 sons- Jack Louis Ward Hurst born January 25, 1997; and Cameron Lane Ward Hurst, born December 2, 1999
In 2006, Michael directed the Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night which received major year-end kudos from the New Zealand Herald and Metro and Listener magazines. Listener said, "For best production for the year, nothing could beat the Auckland Theatre Company's Twelfth Night, Michael Hurst's playful and dazzling take on Shakespeare's giddy, lovestruck comedy".
Michael has directed the play Mr. Marmalade at the Silo Theatre, Auckland New Zealand.
In 2005, Michael and his wife Jennifer Ward-Lealand co-starred in a production of the Edward Albee play, The Goat. It was voted "Best Play" in Metro magazine's annual Readers' Poll, and Listener magazine named 2005 "The Year of The Goat" in honor of the production: "No doubt about it, Michael Hurst and Jennifer Ward-Lealand gave the performances of the year, possibly of their lives . . . " This was the first time in close to a decade that Michael and Jennifer had appeared on stage together.
June 6, 2005 was a fantastic day for Michael. He was invested as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for "for service to film and the theatre". But he's not the only member of his family to receive this honor- a little over a year later his wife Jennifer Ward-Lealand was also made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Michael: It's all about story-telling for me. I seem to be here to tell stories, and for me, that's directing, acting, writing - doing it all. I'm not going to stop acting.
Michael: (on some of his recent roles) I seem to get a run of playing the sleazeball. I love anything cheeky.
Michael: (on why he loves live theatre) You get to see the audience going 'Ooo, aah, gasp, shock, chuckle, recognition' right in front of you.
Michael: (in the New Zealand Herald, 17 May 2003) I've always said that what theatre can offer that television and the movies can't is the experience of the actor going through it at the same moment as everyone else, that wonderful sense of risk.
Michael: (on the "Hercules" episode "Mercenary") The fellow who played the bald-headed pirate had to be completely revoiced, so in the end I said, 'Oh, well, look, I wanted to be in the episode myself the way Hitchcock appeared in each of his films', but I never had the time. So I just revoiced the lines myself, so when the pirate speaks you're really hearing my voice!
Michael: I love it when directors have acted, it's like we share a secret code.
Michael: I love comedy. Yes, I play a lot of tragedy in theater [but] I've had to fight the fact that I was typecast for my first ten years when I did comedy, comedy, comedy, comedy. I played all of Shakespeare's fools, among many other comic characters. You name it, that was me, so I wanted to explore the other side.
Michael: (referring to "Hercules and the Amazon Women") It suddenly hit me, 'Hey, I'm in a real action movie, an American one!' I remember very clearly my exhilaration at that. I also remember a fantastic sight of thirty horses with armed Amazon women galloping down one of the sand dunes, and I could only think, 'Wow! This is so big!'
Michael: (on working with actor Tony Todd) Tony Todd had this intensity, he did every line of every scene [in the Hercules episode "Gladiator"] on the edge of tears, it was really quite theatrical and powerful. And when he told me, 'I played Worf's brother on Star Trek,' I nearly fell off my seat. Because I was being all cool, and suddenly I was like a kid stammering, I was so impressed!
Michael: (when asked what memory he cherishes the most) Meeting my wife [Jennifer Ward-Leland] in a rehearsal. It was love at first sight. We have been together now for nineteen years. Also, the births of my two boys. What a truly amazing thing!
Michael: (when asked what inspires him) Poetry and ancient wisdom inspires me. People creating beauty inspires me. My children inspire me. People who take risks inspire me. Myth and Faerie inspire me. The vastness of space inspires me.
Michael: (when asked which role he's played was his favorite) I have a few: Macbeth, Hamlet, Arthur Rimbaud, Mozart, Gregorus (The Holy Sinner), The Widow Twankey (especially in the pantomime Aladdin), Arnold Beckoff (Torch Song Trilogy), and Joseph K. (The Trial).
Michael: (on the Xena episode To Helicon and Back) The version that, I've got - the director's cut - is actually much more graphic than the one that was finally shown. It's slightly too long - by about four minutes - but it's far more dramatic - it's got a whole different structure, and I really love it. It's actually the one Xena episode I've kept all the dailies from, because I think some of the stuff I shot was the best work I've ever done. I was really thrilled with it.
Michael: (on the Xena episode Who's Gurkhan?) I did the second unit shoot on it - which I decided it a really good way to go - and I got carried away shooting it. We really went to town with the scene in which Xena decides to let herself get beaten to a pulp for the love of Gabrielle. But then when I saw the dailies afterwards, I went, `Oh, my God, this is so violent! Did I do this?' What you, see in the final episode is only about a tenth of how far we actually went - it was really extreme! So on that episode I learned a great lesson concerning the power of television.
Michael: (on the continued popularity of Hercules) The truth is, I was ready to move on. The continued interest in the show still surprises me... It's kind, of strange to me to be dealing with fans who still want to talk to me about episodes that frankly I can barely remember! That life the show has now is no longer in my control, and it's a strange thing to me. In some ways I think, 'Okay guys, I've moved on. Let's not dwell on Iolaus. Iolaus has outlived his usefulness. But who knows? In a few years, if they were to make a feature film and asked me to do it, yeah, that would be fine.
Michael: (on Hercules) It was never hugely popular in this country, believe it or not. I don't go out of my way to watch it, but sometimes I catch it. I'll turn the TV on and think, 'Wow, look at me! I look so different, it was so long ago...' Sometimes it feels like that. But other times the memories flood in and it feels like it was only yesterday.
Michael: If they ask me to be on Andromeda, and if I can fit it in, of course I would love to be on the show. I'd love to work with Kevin again. We keep in touch. We email a lot. When we see each other, its always great. It's a funky show. I quite like it. I get episodes sent to me, so I've seen most of them. So if it happens, I'll be there if I can.
Michael: (on his movie "Jubilee") Jubilee's been very badly handled in my opinion. It's a good movie, I just don't know why, but it got buried. I'm not going to worry about it; I'm going to move on. It has got me recognition from some people who have seen it, especially in the US, so it's done it's job for me.
Michael: (on directing the Xena episode To Helicon and Back) The version that I've got- the director's cut- is actually much more graphic than the one that was finally shown. It's slightly too long- by about four minutes- but it's far more dramatic- it's got a whole different structure, and I really love it. It's actually the one Xena episode I've kept all the dailies from, because I think some of the stuff I shot was the best work I've ever done. I was really thrilled with it.
Michael: (on the Xena episode You Are There) It was the funniest, happiest, wildest time on the set that I can recall. We would just stand around laughing all the time. We were professionals - we got the job, done in record time - but it was also very loose, and everyone was being naughty. Lucy was; Renee was... So we all had a laugh.
Michael: You know you're going to win if you fight a monster- it's Hercules, for heaven's sake! But what if a force came out from the east- a dancing Shiva or a Kali from India or maybe a Chinese demon- a force that didn't respect the Greek Pantheon of Gods, so therefore those Gods had no power? Then we would have to face it in a different way and rely on other skills.
Michael: (On the Hercules episode Monster Child in the Promised Land) It was like acting with Muppets. I felt it was so corny. And I felt I was there as wallpaper. I often get asked, 'What is your least favorite episode?' And I'm afraid that it is.
Michael: (on playing "The Widow Twanky" on Hercules) For Herc, the boobs were filled with sand and covered with a panel that was transparent with a cleavage that was drawn on it. I had a huge cleavage and they were quite heavy but I quite liked it. Thank goodness I don't have any, I'd never stop playing with them.
Michael: (on performing as "The Widow Twanky" for New Zealand's Prime Minister) Helen Clark looked at me and said one word. 'Horrendous'.
Michael: (when directing the Xena episode A Day in the Life) We kept finishing our days early and I kept thinking, 'God, there's something wrong here,' but no, it was really good. It worked really well. I get a lot of positive feedback about that.
Michael: (referring to the stunt fight on Xena where he actually broke his wrist) My arm got stuck on the floor like that, and his whole weight came down on it, and it broke across there. You can see, its a whole different shape, and it snapped across here. And in the one (take) that doesn't work, I flip up into a close-up, its all perfectly in focus, I've seen it, but my face is like white, and I'm screaming without making a sound, and I'd broken it. And on the take that the break is happening, you can hear it go [snap].
Michael: (on directing) When I'm directing I tend to prepare everything so that by the time we come to the first day of rehearsal I know exactly what it's going to look like from the beginning to the end, and the only thing I don't know is how the actors are going to take, or where they are going to take their characterisations, but I do know where I would like them to go.
Michael: (when asked about becoming an actor) If you want to act, don't.If you really, really, really, really, really want to act don't. If you really, really, really, really, really, really want to act, don't. If you have to act, do it. There is a big difference.
Michael: (when directing the bath scene from A Day in the Life) So I just said to Lucy and Renee - don't play sexy, don't do anything, if you do anything it'll be too much. Its two women in a bath - it's YOU two in a bath, you don't have to do anything. And they didn't, they just played it - you watch it and there's pieces like Xena scrubbing Gabrielle's ear and getting in there and its all so real I just love it, it's my favourite, favourite shot.
Michael: (referring to Hercules and it's sister show Xena) Although we all know each other and we cross over occasionally we are run on such different timelines, each hierarchy is completely different. The areas which are shared are design and things like that. And I've directed both so I know what thats like but you just never see the crew, you just never see them.
Michael: (On the character he played for six years on Hercules) Iolaus is pretty much me on a stick.
Michael: Comedy has to be so much more ingenious. You can fool around with tragedy, but comedy's serious business.