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Anthony Stewart Head - FilmForce.com Interview Part II

mercredi 8 janvier 2003, par Webmaster

While most TV fans know Anthony Stewart Head as the sometimes stuffy - though eminently cool - Rupert Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he also has quite a varied career in theater (ranging from Godspell to playing Frank-n-Furter in Rocky Horror) and TV (the Taster’s Choice ads and VR.5).

IGNFF : As an actor - to have any longevity in a career - you essentially have to be doing it for acting’s sake, don’t you ? You can’t have that sort of longevity thinking, "I’m only doing this to be a star."

HEAD : I guess so. There are some people that do that, but I don’t know how they survive. Ultimately, if you’re not getting a buzz out of the acting itself, you’d think the answer would be to stop it. I don’t think there is any rhyme or reason to what makes people act, and I think ultimately it’s sad when anybody gives up... when anybody sort of goes, "I can’t cope with this." You kind of want to clap them on the back and say, "Well done" - just because it’s a very hard decision to make. It’s not even an admission of defeat - it’s just kind of seeing reality. Just going, "Okay, this is not for me. This really is a stupid way of earning a living." My partner, who I’ve lived with going on 18 or 19 years, you know, she was going to act. She has enormous talent and, in fact, when she was auditioning for drama school, she got into all of them. *Howard Brenton - the famous playwright - gave her a piece from an unpublished play... but she lived with me for a very short period of time and she realized it was a particularly unpleasant way of earning a living. I came back from some interview where I’d just been hammered by the director - and I’d gone in really, really proud. I’d just got a gig at the National Theater, and I was really, really pleased with it. I thought, "At last !" He turned it around and basically used it to make me feel bad, and what I found out later was, in fact, that was his thing. What he wanted was to get a reaction from people. I’ve heard of and know lots of directors like that, and that’s basically their M.O. At that time, I was very polite and I went "Okay," and came away with my tail between my legs. And she said, "This is not for me." In fact, she would have done much better, because she doesn’t take crap from anyone, and in fact would have turned around and told him where to get off - and he probably would have given her the lead part.

IGNFF : How would you compare when you were starting out acting to the young actors that you see today - or even now, since your daughter’s moving into that ?

HEAD : I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t know. The business changes, it moves. It’s like anything - it has its ups and downs. I initially was making all the noises about - "What do you mean, you’re going to act now ? Yet ?" And Sarah pointed out, she said, "Look, you know that they’re going to want to do this when they’re 22, or 30. If you don’t let them have their outlet and just do that thing, they will regret it for the rest of their lives." I’m not going to stand in the way, and I’m not going to be the constant voice of "if you don’t do this or you don’t do that" - ultimately, it’d have to be their experience, and their journey, and their learning curve. I will help, if I can, and - not by bypassing things, but certainly by cushioning some of the blows, if I can. If they want me to help at all, I will.

IGNFF : So being supportive, not deceptive.

HEAD : Exactly, exactly. Supporting is a great - as a parent, it’s the one thing that we can do, that we can be encouraging, and we can say, "Never mind, let’s move on to the next thing," when they have a bad one. If we take it on ourselves to seemingly offset those setbacks - if we take it on ourselves to jump ahead of the game and say, "Well, there might be such and such" - all we do is become the disappointment ourselves.

IGNFF : Right.

HEAD : So I think I have learned a great deal about being supportive and just being there, really.

IGNFF : While still knowing that to pursue that kind of career you have to develop a thick skin...

HEAD : I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve got a particularly thick skin, to be honest. And I’m 47 and I’ve been in the business for - I have learned, I’ve developed a lot of skills, and I’ve learned an enormous amount in the last five or six years, most especially from my teacher, and from trying to make a go of it in L.A. It’s been a very interesting experience. But I don’t know that thick skin necessarily equates with being a success as an actor. I think you do remain sensitive. There’s nothing that can prepare you for the letdown of being rejected - and you are, constantly. And even when you get a gig - I got a part in Metal God... it ended up as Rock Star. I could’ve done something nice with that... I was going to play the band’s manager. You know, third or fourth draft, suddenly I didn’t have a part anymore. They said to my manager, "Does he still want to be in it ? It’s much reduced." He said, "Well, how much is it reduced by ?" And he’s like, "It’s a line." "WHAT ?" It went from quite a nice part, to a line. And I said, "All right, all right, okay - let’s go with it. Let’s see what we can do with it. Maybe there’s room for improvisation and it’d be nice to do, it’ll be fun." Take the name off the credits - because you don’t want to get a credit for one line - but you know, let’s see where we go. Look at Seth [Green] in Enemy of the State ... no credit and what started off as a tiny, tiny role and it became - not pivotal - but man you were hooked by that performance. He was fantastic ! So you know, you can always do something with whatever. But when I finally got the script, it basically turned out that the only line I had was a typo. They’d forgotten to give it to the other character.

IGNFF : That’s got to make you feel good.

HEAD : They paid me, and they were very sweet about it. It was absolutely nothing to do with talent - it was basically that somebody felt that there would be confusion between if the band had a manager and a roadie... that it might to be confusing. Duh. But anyway, that’s the way it panned out. As it happened, it meant at the time that I was able to be here, and come back to my family, and it was an extremely important time to be back here - and I wouldn’t have been. I would’ve been making a movie in Hollywood. Everything happens for a reason.

IGNFF : How would you compare yourself as a young actor starting out to the actor you are today ?

HEAD : Green. Possibly...

IGNFF : Is it intangible, mostly ?

HEAD : There are tangibles. It’s difficult to come up - the thing of it I’ve learned now is a degree of freedom of expression which I didn’t have, because I went to a drama school, and drama schools tend to - and I’m not blaming the drama schools, because this was kind of my pathology anyway - of always thinking less is more, and always being inclined to not wanting to overact, so therefore underplaying everything. So, consequently, never really having those moments where you just have... as Sarah has said in the past - and I think it’s really interesting - it’s that basically what makes an actor predictable is knowing what he won’t do, rather than knowing what he will do.

IGNFF : So by being minimalist, you didn’t really probe those boundaries ?

HEAD : Possibly. I think I did some good work, but I think I could have - but, again, could’ve would’ve. I think ultimately I’ve followed the course that I have and ended up where I have, because that was the course I had to follow. Perhaps if I had been there earlier on, I wouldn’t have been here now.

IGNFF : What was your first professional job ?

HEAD : Godspell. National tour of Godspell, as understudy.

IGNFF : National being the British tour.

HEAD : Yes.

IGNFF : What year was that ?

HEAD : That was ’76, I think. I left drama school - a bunch of us heard that they were handing out equity cards at this audition, and if you didn’t own an equity card, you could be fairly sure of one. It was one of those apocryphal rumors that get around, and everyone goes, "REALLY ?" and you go, "I don’t know, but let’s go and try it !" Of course, we turned up and they said, "No." But they did say, "Look, since you’re here, let’s hear you all and give you a chance. We’re not going to turn you away." We all went, "Oh, that’s really nice of you." It just so happens that I’ve got a range that goes from a light baritone to - well, I can sing quite low, and I can sing quite high, and so it happened to be the range that needed to be covered for the understudy for all the five guys. So I got the gig, and I got an equity card, and I got a year’s work touring, playing the three clowns and Judas and Jesus. It was pretty good.

IGNFF : Good range.

HEAD : Yeah, and I got on every week. I used to do a matinee every week - they used to put me on just to make sure I could remember them all, and it was fun... fantastic.

IGNFF : Was there anything that drama school didn’t prepare you for ?

HEAD : Life ?

IGNFF : Do you regret not going to a traditional university, as opposed to drama school ?

HEAD : Oh, good God no. In those terms, I think all that business of going straight from school into university is extremely self-defeating, and you don’t get any chance at life - you just go from one school to another. I didn’t get into the first drama school of my choice, and then I went to a youth theater and had a brief season at the youth theater, and then the director took me aside and said, "I think we should talk about drama school," and took me through a couple of pieces and got me into LAMDA [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts]. At that point it felt right - I was a bit green before, and it wouldn’t have been right to go to drama school any earlier. The actual experience of drama school is not that different. You know - I got laid, and I got drunk, and I got to strut myself a bit as a 20 year old, but I don’t think any of that really prepares you for life and all the things you really need. But then, what is life except a journey, and so really all you need is your walking shoes and whatever limited baggage you need.

IGNFF : Essentially just that forward movement...

HEAD : Yes. That forward movement is very important.

IGNFF : Was there any time during that forward movement that you stumbled and reconsidered the path you were on ?

HEAD : Yeah, many... of course there are many times that you stumble, and you go, "What am I doing ?" And there were times when I’d hang out with a buddy of mine, and all we could afford when we wanted to get out a bit was we’d buy a bottle of sherry and a bottle of fizzy water, because sherry’s very cheap here - I don’t know about in America. It gets you out of it very quickly, especially if it’s got bubble in it. And we used to pick through the... a hideous habit of picking through the ashtray when you haven’t got any cigarettes left, so you go through the butts to see what ones got a little bit left that you can smoke. Really awful. I’ve just done a series called Manchild here, which is about men in their late 40s and about the various silliness that we do when we get to 40, and people have said what happened when I hit 40. My 40s have actually been really interesting and much more about learning to embrace change, and to actually sort of try and find out what’s good about me and lean towards that - rather than completely going to pieces and saying, "I’m never going to climb Mount Everest."

IGNFF : So, essentially, it was solidifying who you were as opposed to looking for who you were ?

HEAD : Not necessarily, actually. No, because - again - I think it’s a mistake to say, "This is who I am, and I’m not going to change." In terms of solidifying, I think sometimes one makes the mistake of thinking, "Well, I can’t change this," but I think it’s just developing who I am, rather than rejecting who I am... I think that’s probably it. Developing who I can become.

IGNFF : Was there any snapshot you took that you were disappointed at - where you say, "I wish I wasn’t like that, at this point."

HEAD : Oh, plenty, bloody hell, but I’m not going into that !

IGNFF : What was the most positive thing that you saw about yourself at that point, then ? At 40... Career-wise or personally.

HEAD : I was actually surprised that I was well liked, for myself. I actually, I don’t know, it was one moment where I just looked around me, and I was cheered. And the fact that I’ve learned to be alone with myself, in the last few years - I was always very uncomfortable with myself. If I was in a room alone, I got on the TV or I got on music - somehow drown out the silence. I’m very happy with just being in the room with silence now - and myself, and my thoughts. But I was going to say, by contrast, my 30th birthday was extremely traumatic, because I had set myself a number of goals which, because I limited when I had to achieve them by - rather than just saying, "I need to achieve this in the next couple of years," or whatever, I said, "I’ve got to do it by the time I’m 30 ! If I don’t, I’m going to give up !" - and sure enough, 30 came and I hadn’t achieved it. Once I let go of that desperation, I achieved it.

IGNFF : How difficult was it for you to get your start in professional theater ?

HEAD : It was actually uncannily easy. Basically one of those chances, when you’re about to leave drama school. Here, we used to have a situation that was called a "closed-shop" - that you could not join the union unless you had a contract... but you couldn’t get a contract without being a member of the union.

IGNFF : So it was a catch-22.

HEAD : Yeah. There was a certain leniency showed to people who were in drama school. But, having said that, that later became more fixed. Later, they actually specifically gave cards out to people from drama school - not many, but they did it. Then the conservatives - Margaret Thatcher - basically put an end to closed shops, so now our union has much less power... but it doesn’t mean that anybody can get in. Anyway, so the long way around is that when I was about to leave drama school, there was the rumor that the national tour of Godspell were looking for people without equity cards and that they were willing to give equity cards out ... they had been looking low and high, for someone to understudy the five guys in the show ... basically they said, "We will lobby equity for you, because we can’t find this person, and you are perfect for it." So I got the gig, went on the road for a year...

IGNFF : What was your opinion at the time - I know that some British actors who go the theater route detest film and TV, and some aspire to film and TV - what was your take on that ?

HEAD : Oh, no detesting. Basically, as far as I’ve always been concerned, it’s all one. Basically they each have a very different vibe, and a very different buzz, but I wouldn’t discount one against the other. I love live theater, there’s no doubt about it, and as I say, TV and film has a buzz all of its own - and immediacy, and a way of being able to do more specific work on a scene. But you know, if I think I was to concentrate on one area constantly, I would be wanting. The fact that there are so many ways of expressing yourself... I love being able to sing, and that is another way of just letting out extreme emotion.

IGNFF : And we also discussed your love of writing...

HEAD : Yeah - anything will do. It’s all well and good, really.

IGNFF : So you have no personal preference of the five of those ?

HEAD : I think ultimately, now that I’ve gone for so long, I suppose the ultimate buzz of all time is probably theater, because it does change from night to night. You can feel the audience go with you, and there is an immediate rapport with the audience. You can feel them going with you - and if you’re doing something which requires audience participation, like Riff and Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror, it’s the most incredible power in the world. Actually being able to silence an audience, or make them laugh, or take them with you - it’s just fantastic. But having said that, I want to do more film, and I’m probably in a position to do more film now. I’ve always been extremely fortunate in my career that when I thought, "Hmm, I’d like to do a musical now," somehow a musical or something comes up. It makes itself available. I still, as I said before - I firmly believe that life gives you whatever challenges you need at the time. You may be wrong about what challenges you need, but certainly in the main part, it allows you to pursue whatever challenges are necessary.

IGNFF : As far as your theater credits, I’m going to try and do a compression method to try and cover all of your theater credits. So, basically, I’m going to name your theater credits, and if you could give the first recollection that comes to mind of working in that, that would be a quick way to get through this.

HEAD : Absolutely.

IGNFF : Anatol in Love.

HEAD : I made the mistake, when I read it - I thought it required an accent. It’s actually a German play - Austrian play - by Schnitzler, and I thought it would be improved by doing it with a German accent, and basically was.... wrong.

IGNFF : To the audience’s dismay, or to your personal dismay ?

HEAD : To my personal dismay. There were areas of it which were quite good... but not really, no.

IGNFF : Around the World in 80 Days.

HEAD : God, you’re pulling out all the stinkers.

IGNFF : They’re in alphabetical order.

HEAD : Oh, I see... okay. The music was written by an old friend of mine, in fact - the original music director from the Godspell tour I did, Chris Walker. It was unfortunately... again, I made a huge mistake thinking that this guy - Phileas Fogg - basically was extremely anal... does not show his emotions. His whole deal was the fact that he doesn’t show any emotions. And David Niven did this brilliantly in the film. I did not, however, do it brilliantly on stage, and actually it was an extremely boring performance to watch.

IGNFF : Do you think that kind of act only works with the intimacy of film ?

HEAD : I don’t know... I don’t know... but I just gauged it completely wrong. I was constantly at odds with the producers and the director. The director was a celebrity who they brought in to direct, who really didn’t know how to direct - he had no idea. We ended up all in a long line across the stage. It was far too ambitious for them, and ultimately the producers were... it was an unhappy kind of - it just didn’t work. In fact, they tried to repeat it again with a new cast, and it still didn’t work. But I totally own my own part of that.

IGNFF : You released two musical singles in conjunction with that, didn’t you ?

HEAD : I didn’t release anything - they released a single. It was actually not the kind of music that I’m comfortable singing. I prefer soul, and there was not a lot of soul in it. There was one number which I really, really got off on, but the rest of it ... it was kind of old school music, and it was not my bag. It did the run, it never went anywhere else, it never went into the West End - and thankfully for me, it died.

IGNFF : Confidential Clerk.

HEAD : One of my early experiences in what’s known as repertoire. Basically, all repertoire theater is a regional theater. They wanted me to do Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and - basically on condition, I said - that I could do some of the plays. I did two or three plays. I have no idea what I was like in it. I was quite young. It was an interesting experience, and it was T.S. Eliot, which is difficult stuff to watch and to be in. I have no idea.

IGNFF : I guess the next one would be Chess.

HEAD : Chess was a really interesting experience - great music, flawed hook. They never really cracked how to make it a musical... it was really a performance piece. My brother had done it, and they asked me if I’d take over for my brother. I said, "No" - and then they asked me about a year and a half later, and I said, "Oh, all right, why not ?" I was able to go back and watch the guy that took over from him, and I had a few ideas about how I could change it. There would’ve been absolutely no point to have done it unless I could see some ideas, and something I could do with it that would take it on some. And I did, and they liked what I did. In fact, Trevor Nunn - bless him - finally showed up, I think the night before my last performance, and he liked what I did. Great songs to sing... fantastic songs to sing. I don’t have as high a range as my brother, and I had to cheat... not cheat, but I did something else instead of really going for the note at the end, a very high note - I went into a falsetto and went soft on it. But it worked ... it was good.

IGNFF : Was it intimidating at all, following after your brother ?

HEAD : No - no, no, no. I basically said no because I didn’t feel it was necessary to beg a comparison. I thought if I went in straight after him, people would compare me and say whether I was better or worse or as good as. With a year and a half under your belt, nobody cares anymore.

IGNFF : Danton’s Death.

HEAD : Danton’s Death was where I met my girlfriend - my partner, really. It was an interesting play... good translation by Howard Brenton, bit of a sporting piece, and again a bit flawed - but good stuff. I used to have to wait... I used to go in as a French soldier at the end, it was one of those where you do lots of different parts - it was an ensemble piece. At the end I used to lead the traitors to the guillotine, and it was huge, huge open stage, and there was nowhere to sit. So I used to sit in the corridor in the back, and Sarah’s mom used to work in one of the departments and she used to visit, and she always used to take a glass of beer to what turned out to be a mutual friend. She used to get there and sort of sit down and talk to me. It’s true what they say about a man in uniform, obviously.

IGNFF : No matter the validity behind it...

HEAD : Yeah, and also no matter the age, because it was a French soldier from the French Revolution. It was kind of cool - high collars and all that stuff - and I liked to get there earlier and earlier in the hope of seeing her, and she used to get there earlier and earlier, and we used to sort of sit back there and chat. It was cool. I learned the ***Le Cierge -which I’ve been able to sing for years, but I haven’t seen it recently and forgot. Good song, Le Cierge - very, very stirring, very cool stuff.

IGNFF : Godspell.

HEAD : Yes. Well I did that first year, and I got to play all the guys. In fact, the guy that was playing Jesus, I can’t remember why, but he missed a lot - he dropped out of the tour at one point. I got to play Jesus a lot and I also got to play John the Baptist or Judas a lot - my favorite parts. Then we brought it into the West End a few months later, and we did a limited run in the West End, which was fantastic - really, really good cast. They pulled together a bunch of people who’d been in various casts, and it was cracking - great show.

IGNFF : The Heiress.

HEAD : Wonderful play, and I got to play one of the greatest villains ever written. He’s fantastic, because you just don’t know whether he’s a villain or not. It’s one of those really interesting parts where the audience - it’s fascinating - an obvious instance where you can take the audience with you, and you can feel when the audience suddenly goes, "Ahhh ! - oops !" And it’s great. The audience is rooting for you to elope with this girl, and then when you don’t show and she’s left heartbroken, it’s fantastic. Just very good theater...

IGNFF : Henry V.

HEAD : Henry V was my first straight play, in Ludlow - it was a Shakespeare festival, and they do it in Ludlow Castle... I remember largely in the rain... it was horrible. The castle was fantastic at night - we used to sort of putter around the ramparts. Each of us used to compete to get more blood on our sword during the battle scenes, running around a lot pretending to be butch.

IGNFF : Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

HEAD : Did it twice, both times in Cheltenham. It’s a piece of old tat, but it seems to get everyone’s hearts. I don’t know, it basically has a - I just remember that it always has a kiddie’s choir. The choir is basically made up of various local schools, and I just always remember literally hundreds of littlies all crowding around for autographs and things, because at that time, they think, "Joseph, you must be a star !" It was early on in my career, and it seemed nice to do. I don’t think I’d fancy doing it now, though.

IGNFF : What is it like, as an actor, going back to a production you’ve already done in the past ?

HEAD : Interesting. I once actually made the mistake - I did actually do another production of Godspell, where I went in as one of the Clowns, and somebody who later became a friend of mine was playing Jesus. I did that classically bad thing of trying to tell him, "Oh, well, we did ..." and he said, "I don’t care. Because what I’m doing is what we’re doing now. Okay ?" "Sorry, sorry - I do apologize, you’re absolutely right." But it’s that thing - I always thought there was a little bit of a director in me. When you sort of see someone and you think, "Well, I can help them, I can help !"

I went back and did Rocky once, and I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again - but if I did, I’m sure I would find new things to play with. As long as it’s fresh, as long as basically you’re responding to who you’re working with and they’re different and you’re working in possibly a different set, as long as you don’t try and just go, "Oh well, I did this, let’s do that"... as long as you keep it fresh and keep things moving, I think it’s fun, and fine.

IGNFF : Julius Caesar.

HEAD : Was where I met Peter Gill, who was a leading light in English theater - very much a rebel and used to be able to pull together these fantastic companies in this very small space called the Riverside Studios. A number of people from that cast have gone on to do incredible stuff... There are loads and loads and loads of people, just a fantastic cast. I played two parts. There’s basically one guy who comes on and reads the warning to Caesar - he tries to meet Caesar in procession and warn him about the Ides of March - and then also I played Octavius. Octavius was the bigger part, but the smaller part was by far more successful. Somehow, for some reason, I hit some edge in it - something which caught people’s attention and caught their emotional whatever, and it seemed to get a lot of attention. My Octavius, even though I had very blond hair, didn’t catch anybody’s attention at all. I just stomped up and down a lot, clutching me sword.

IGNFF : Lady Windermere’s Fan.

HEAD : Great production in Bristol, before I came out to live in the west country. Bristol Old Vic is a wonderful old regency theater in Bristol, and at one point the stage crew took me up into the rafters, above the ceiling, and they have what used to be called a thunder-run - a wooden gully down which they used to roll a cannonball when they had to have the effect of thunder, and the whole building used to shake. It was early sense-surround. But fantastic cast again - Joely Richardson played Lady Windermere. Interestingly, she’s doing it again in the West End now with her mom, Vanessa Redgrave.

Really, a nice part - lovely, lovely production. Found it really difficult to get into the skin of the guy, Lord Darlington, I think. One of those deals where, in previews, somebody came around and was talking about it - liked what I was doing - but said, "And what you’re sort of kind of doing is blahty-blahty-blahty-blah," and just put the whole character in essence, and I just went, "Yes ! Thank you !" And suddenly, you know, it was one of those deals where you just know how to play it, and you suddenly realize that you’ve been missing the point. Nice to do, very nice to do. And I think it was when we kind of thought, "Ooh, it’d be nice to live out here."


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