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Shortland Street star Matt Chamberlain is flying high

After his moving exit, the former soap star looks to what's next.

His character may have just sailed off into the sunset on Shortland Street, but since his shock departure from the hit New Zealand soap, Matt Chamberlain has been flying high.

For five years, Matt has played family man Murray Cooper on the show, but last August he found out his contract would not be renewed.

He says while he suspected Murray’s time might be up, it was sad leaving the show that had become like a second home.

“I knew it wasn’t a done deal I’d be staying on – the Cooper family was already dwindling,” shrugs Matt. “When I was told, I felt oddly calm about the whole thing. To be honest, it was almost the people having to give me the news that I felt worse for, who were worrying about how I would take it!”

As family man Murray on the country’s favourite Kiwi TV drama. A close working relationship with co-star Jacquie (left) was key to Matt being able to draw on the right emotions for their heart-wrenching scenes.

He found out around the same time that good friend and onscreen wife Jacquie Nairn was told she too would be leaving the show.

Jacquie’s character Wendy was a central part of the Christmas cliffhanger storyline, which saw Murray eventually make the difficult decision to turn off her life-support machine after she was shot during a dramatic hospital shootout.

Matt, whose character underwent an intense grieving stage before leaving to go sailing, says he’s quite pleased the door is left slightly ajar and that he may get to visit the show sometime again in the future.

“I guess you can never say never on this show, especially while Murray’s daughter Bella is still on it. It’s unlikely, but it’s quite nice to think that there is a chance.”

But for now, Matt is relishing trying new things since leaving the show. He’s been reading film scripts and auditioning, and is working on a television feature based on the life of Kiwi aviator Jean Batten.

“I’m really enjoying trying something different,” he says. “I’m playing Jean’s dad Fred, who had a bit of a wandering eye – Murray never really got close to that, so it’s quite a change. Plus, I get to wear a wig!”

He’s also been helping his wife of 20 years, Rebecca Rose, with her work as a sculptor while she prepares for several exhibitions.

The high school sweethearts relocated their children, Will (16), Tom(15) and Lucy (11), from their home in Wellington to Auckland’s Titirangi when Matt won the role on Shortland Street.

Matt with his family (from left): Will, wife Rebecca, Tom and Lucy.

It was Rebecca who Matt first let know he’d be leaving the show.

“She was great,” Matt says with a smile. “She said, ‘Oh, okay then! Well, I guess it’s like the world is just telling you it’s time to do something else.’ And she’s right. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on and, to be honest, I’m really enjoying it!”

Rebecca and Matt decided not to let their kids know the news until it was absolutely necessary.

“Because it was part of that Christmas cliffhanger, we didn’t tell them until the week before I actually left,” tells Matt. “I just didn’t want them to have to – well, not that they watch the show all that much – but I didn’t want them to have to be careful about it and know too much.”

While he wondered what their reaction would be, he says they hardly batted an eyelid when he eventually told them the news.

“My eldest just said, ‘Oh, yeah? What are you going to do now?’ So I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just go and get some more work.’ And he just said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ And that was that!”

He wanted to let the three kids know in time to make sure they could all be on set for his last day of filming, which turned into a real family affair with two of his three siblings also present.

Of course, his former onscreen wife Jacquie was there to bid him farewell too.

“It was a really nice send-off and it’s the people I worked with that I will miss most. It’s not that hard to keep up with people, so it’ll be okay.”

Matt says he’s continued to regularly meet up with his former castmates, including Jacquie, who now works as a director on the show.

“She’s loving it,” he tells. “I spoke to her recently and they’ve been increasing her workload and she’s starting to direct scenes on her own. She clearly must be doing really well, which really doesn’t surprise me at all!”

After working alongside Jacquie for all those years, he says the emotions weren’t difficult to tap into when acting out the heartbreaking scenes following the shooting.

“We had a ‘real’ pretend relationship, I guess,” he laughs. “We had so much history that it was actually really nice to be able to do those scenes, and hopefully do them justice. There are other jobs where you have to turn up on your first day and they say, ‘So this is your wife of 30 years and you’re divorcing her in this scene – go!’ For those scenes involving Jacquie, it wasn’t hard to find and draw on the right emotions.”

And now he’s looking forward to what else might come his way.

Shortland Street was a fantastic job and it was my longest by far – as soon as I got to the six-month mark there! I learned a great deal and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.”

Words: Alice O’Connell

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