Michael was born on September 20, 1957 in Lancashire, England. He was eight years old when his family moved to Christchurch, New Zealand where he attended Papanui High School. He has three younger brothers: Mark, Stuart, and Nicholas (half-brother).
Michael began getting involved in school drama projects when he was about fourteen, developing an interest in everything from acting and directing to painting sets. When he was nineteen, after a year at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, he joined the Court Theatre on a two-year training programme.
At twenty-two he was accepted into Theatre Corporate in Auckland. He was there for seven years, ending up as Chair in 1985. He joined the Mercury Theatre, performing in or directing over twenty plays there between 1982 and 1991. In 1987 he became the first New Zealand actor to be contracted to Australia when he won the role of D’Artagnan in the Melbourne Theatre Company production of The Three Musketeers.
By the early nineties Michael had become something of a Shakespearian authority in New Zealand, both interpreting and teaching the works of the bard. In 1991 he was a co-founder of the Watershed Theatre, and in 2003 became co-founder and Artistic Director of The Large Group. He also co-founded the movie production company Screen Adventures in 1999.
In 1993 he was the first actor cast for the Renaissance Pictures production of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, in which he starred for six years as Iolaus, Hercules' sidekick and best friend.
As both actor and director, he has a very long list of theatre, film, television, and radio work to his name. He has received awards for both acting and directing, as well as the prestigious Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and an appointment as Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit "for services to film and the theatre". Michael is happily married to award-winning New Zealand actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and they have two sons, Jack Louis Ward Hurst (born 25 January 1997) and Cameron Lane Ward Hurst (born 2 December 1999). He and Jennifer are the Patrons of The Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC), and in 2005 became Champions of Auckland's New Theatre Initiative.
Michael's skills include acting, directing, writing, dancing, and singing, and stage fight and fencing choreography. He was also a fencing champion.