Homepage > Joss Whedon Cast > Anthony Head > Interviews > Anthony Stewart Head - FilmForce.com Interview Part III
Anthony HeadAnthony Stewart Head - FilmForce.com Interview Part III
Thursday 9 January 2003, by 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).
HEAD: Maske was a fringe thing - what you would call equity waver, or Off-Broadway. Actually great fun, about 10 of us in a cast, struggling to get changed in a very small dressing room. I remember one of the main things about the theater was the fact that the audience had to cross the stage to go to the lavatory, so basically people tried not to drink too much before the show. On one occasion, I think somebody did go walk through the action in order to go and have a pee.
IGNFF: How does that interrupt you as an actor?
HEAD: Well, now, I would relish it. I would absolutely welcome it, and I would love to sort of make it part of the show. Then, I think one just ignored it ... Now, God, it would be a gift -you’d think, "Wow, how can I use that?" But no, then I was a little bit more nervous about things.
IGNFF: Otherwise Engaged.
HEAD: What the hell was that? ... I think Otherwise Engaged was one of the plays I did out in Cheltenham - yes, that’s right, it’s one of the plays I did on condition of doing Joseph. It was fun... it was a bit of a farce.
IGNFF: A Patriot for Me.
HEAD: Fantastic play. When I first met Alan Bates - who’s a wonderful, wonderful guy, very lovely friend, and interestingly I had had a bit of a panic - people do go through it occasionally as actors. I was doing a sort of business presentation thing previous to it, and it was all about insurance, and I had no sense about what I was talking about, but I went up three times and it completely shot my confidence. I suddenly - I was just terrified, and vowed I’d never go onstage again. You know, as life does, it gives you it little moment of "okay, you need to do this" - it gave me a play in which I was onstage for between 25 minutes to 45 minutes with about 4, 5 lines to say. But hugely important, extremely pivotal, and all I had to do was emote - just do my thing. Just be in love with Alan Bates, basically. It got me a lot of attention, got me a lot of kudos. We then took it out to L.A. ... it was a beautiful play, a John Osborne play.
IGNFF: Prince of Homburg.
HEAD: Not a good play. Well, actually, the original German was an interesting play, but we did not a very good translation. It was one of the first plays I did going to the National Theater, and it was in the same company I was in in Danton’s Death, but it was the first one that we did. It’s actually a very funny play, basically about this prince who falls in love - and he’s so besotted with this woman that he falls in love with that the briefing before the great battle they’re about to fight, he’s just completely spaced out and he misses all his instructions. So when it comes to the great battle, he just rides off in the wrong direction - completely the wrong direction - and screws everything up. And, of course, there’s a big hearing and his father really loses his patience with him, et cetera. Kept saying to the director, "This is funny! We really should be playing to some of the laughs in it." And he kept saying, "No, no, no, it’s that German thing, it’s very German." So it was very boring, basically.
IGNFF: The Rocky Horror Show.
HEAD: A fantastic piece of theater, if not the best musical ever written. Just a stunning experience, being able to silence somebody at the back of the circle with a look is an extraordinary feeling of power.
IGNFF: How would you describe the character of Frank-N-Furter? And how did you make it your own, considering that - to so many people - Tim Curry’s performance is so iconic?
HEAD: Basically I played him as a dirty little s**t who will stop at nothing to get laid, and it doesn’t really matter what the sex is of the victim. I had seen it a few times, and I’d always thought, "Oh, I can see meself doing this," and I’d seen a number of people who were afraid of the sexuality. They either played it extremely butch - as this butch guy stomping around onstage in high heels - or they played it overly camp. I thought, basically, just play him even - right down the middle - because the whole thing is that both men and women have to be attracted by him. Everybody feels very uncomfortable by the fact that they feel attracted by him, but nevertheless there is something irresistible about him. He does have charm... even as he’s about to die, he has charm. It’s this wayward kind of - he’s an imp! The way I basically saw I could do it, was to make him just extremely grubby. The whole idea was that my make-up... that he just basically puts the make-up on the next day. He doesn’t bother to take off the night before’s, and that he does wear a wig - I had a wig. I’d seen a couple of people wearing a wig and trying to make it work, because I had really short hair at the time, and I made a virtue of it by making it look as if it’d got things living in it. And again, he never dresses it, so there were dreadlocks in it and things. Also, in this great song at the end, "Going Home" - this torch song - I rip the wig off and show the sort of stockinged-head underneath, which all looks really sad and rather unpleasant. I think that was novel - no one had ever done that before. It was different from Tim, it was different from anything anybody else had done. It was great fun.
I took over from an actor in the West End - he hated it. Basically, I hadn’t been able to get in to see the producers, and the chance went, and then three months later - once I was back in London - I went past it, and something went, "Oh! I wonder what ever happened to that?" The next day, my agent rang up and said, "Do you want to take over from this guy?" I went, "You’ve got to be joking! Yes!" This has been an ambition. It was one of those classic experiences when you say to your agent, and this was on the first audition, I said to my agent, "I want this, I want to go out for this part, I don’t care how you do it, make some waves." And she said, "Yes, darling, I’ll go to the wall for you on this one." And, of course, as they say - I got cast. Whatever wall she went to, it wasn’t far enough. Just an astounding piece, and something that the Americans haven’t really experienced. I don’t know what they did in New York - I think they did do it with heckling, but they didn’t in L.A. The fact is, the heckling that people do to the movie is done to the live show, and Frank-N-Furter and the narrator are the only people who can answer back. Everyone else has to be within the four walls of the show, but Frank-N-Furter can answer these people. So I used to have a book of put downs that I could just trot out - some that were given to me, and some that I’d stole from... I got one from Carla, from Cheers, which is, "Is that your head speaking, or did your neck just blow a bubble?" But the first couple of performances, I used to answer everything, and the management came to me and begged me to stop. They said, "Please, can you be a little discerning about who you answer, because the show is overrunning by about 45 minutes." You cannot afford to respond to every heckle. Then, basically, this is why I had to develop and had to choose who I answered, and basically choose one that you could get the best laugh from, and how it would serve the show to sort of push it on. Which is great - having to think on your feet like that - and I did develop a look. I could stop someone at the back of the circle - I could just hit the guy with a look and he’d shut up.
IGNFF: Was it a relatively small theater?
HEAD: No, it was 1500 seater. It was great - fantastic. Power, man, serious power.
IGNFF: And it’s certainly a part that carries a legacy for whoever plays it.
HEAD: Yeah, absolutely. And one that you cannot shy away from and hope to enjoy. If you’re going to enjoy it, you have to go for it, and it had to be something, again, that works for you. I’ve seen people be brilliant in it, and I’ve seen people be really, really bad.
IGNFF: What would you say was the biggest difference between your portrayal and Tim Curry’s, if there’s any one thing that sticks out?
HEAD: I can’t really. I was able to look back on what I felt worked, and I was able to look back in hindsight and borrow from the best. It even went to the point where I redesigned my costume, because they said I could ... I said, "Rather than have little black pants with everything jiggling around, I’d like to have something more attractive." I designed these little patent leather ankle boots with spike heels - which looked slightly bondage, but actually meant that my ankle was supportive, so I could leg it around the stage. There’s one piece where I have to go up the stairs - we had a flight of stairs that went right from the stage floor up to the flies - and I used to take it three stairs at a time. I have to say, I got some serious exercise - my butt got really good exercise on that show. It was great... I could really, really leap around and just be more athletic than most Franks. I don’t think I can pick one bit of him and go, "Oh, yeah, I was different in that way." I think he ruled. I just know that mine was different, and I was glad to make it different, because I didn’t want to make it a pale imitation of his. I’ve seen people who’ve tried to make it an imitation of his, and it’s like, just don’t bother - because he did that. Why would you want to do that again?
IGNFF: Wasn’t there a single released from that?
HEAD: Yes, yes.
IGNFF: Why the tone of voice?
HEAD: Well, because it was one of those - this wonderful torch song from the end of the show called "Going Home," and I went to the producers and I said, "Can we do this as a single? I’d love to release it as a single - I’ve never heard this song. I remember it from seeing the show, but I’ve never heard it widely heard." And they said, "Great idea! Fantastic idea!" So we went to the record company that had done their cast album. They were having trouble selling this cast album, and they were hoping that we could use the single to lift the album back into the public’s ears. Unfortunately, the A&R man with whom I was dealing had ideas of his own. He said, "Well, I like the slow song, but could we do an up-tempo number as well? A club number?" I went, "Okay." So he puts me together with two completely different producers - neither of whom knew about each other, so I wasn’t allowed to talk about the songs. So I felt like I was doing something covert in the first place. Then when it came to - both of the songs were very good, very different versions, very interesting feels. Of course he liked the up-tempo song, which was "Sweet Transvestite" - which everybody knows. Just as the song was released, he got elbowed from the record company, so there was nobody on my side at the record company. I fell out with the publicity girl, because I did one newspaper piece which was kind of unpleasant - and I kind of had a go, and she said, "Right, I’m not doing anything more for you." And this is very unlike me - I’m usually very unconfrontational - but in this instance I was really hacked off. This person stitched me up. And actually, in retrospect, you look back on that kind of stuff and think, "Oh, who cares." I read somebody’s interview recently that they weren’t happy with, and I said, "You know, ultimately you come out of it okay, it’s fine." Anyway. But the bottom line is, nobody wanted to hear me singing "Sweet Transvestite," and ultimately it was around the time that the Gulf War ended, and speaking in a totally mercenary way, to have released "I’m Going Home" would have been incredibly profitable at that time. But I, in my infinite wisdom - when they guy said, "all right, we’ll put ’Going Home’ on the B side" - I said, "No, no, no. No, because then we can have that as stand-by, in case the first single is a great success. Let’s put something from the album, from the rest of the cast, on the B side." So they went, "Oh yeah." So consequently, "Going Home" has never been heard by anybody.
IGNFF: And where are the tapes for that?
HEAD: I don’t know - I’ve actually meant to go to try to get them. The record company has them, I suppose. But I should think they ditched them very quickly. I wanted to do it with a gospel choir, but we didn’t have the money for that. It was nice, but it wasn’t meant to happen.
IGNFF: Is it an idea that might be resurrected again in the future?
HEAD: Not really. I don’t think so. I’ve sung it at charity gigs and things, but I mean, you don’t want to drag it out.
IGNFF: The next play would be Rope.
HEAD: Rope. Absolutely staggering play, butchered by Alfred Hitchcock. Basically, it’s a wonderful play about two people. The director, a guy called Keith Baxter, worked out a few ways of making it really, really hit home. One of the things is, it’s about two people who decide to kill a young student, put his body in a chest, and then eat dinner off it. Invites the guy’s father, and then he eats dinner off it. Keith Baxter kind of made a study of all sorts of murderers, really did his ground work. One of the things that he realized was very important was that you saw the body going into this chest at the beginning of the play... so you were aware of this body being there. He had this really disturbing thing right at the beginning, where he had the two kids who were playing the guys and the kid who was the body, and they’re all naked, and they’re all lying in this - it looks as if they’re post-coital in some way - that obviously they’ve been doing something rude. It looks like they’re all asleep, and then the two guys - the two murderers - get up and lift this guy’s body into the trunk, and they go off and get their clothes on and then get panicky. I played a character who is an old friend of theirs, a poet who has come back from the first World War scarred. Keith again felt that it was very important that, at school, I’d obviously been in love with one of these guys - that I’m a bit of a latent homosexual, and it’s never really been realized. I’m neither one thing nor the other, so I trust him implicitly, because there’s no reason... as everything is unfolding, there’s very little reason why I don’t do something. Keith hit on the idea of the fact that I’m in love with this guy, or was in love with this guy. So even as the truth is staring me in the face, because the guy keeps giving me clues - keeps parading it in front of me, is very proud of himself, because I talk in terms of man’s destruction of man, and compare mass genocide to murder and say nobody has a problem with thousands of people being wiped out on the battlefield, and yet we have a problem with one man killing another. He takes this as his lead to sort of taunt me with actually having killed this guy. Consequently, it’s a very, very gripping play. Hitchcock - A) Updated it, and it works supremely well in the time that it’s written, and secondly, he just took the balls out of it. I’d love to make a movie of it one day, but unfortunately the rights are so, so tied up that - I suppose you could conceivably approach the studio ... maybe I will one day. But it’s a wonderful piece.
IGNFF: Rope would be Universal, I think.
HEAD: Yeah, yeah.
IGNFF: One of your co-stars in Rope - that was when you first worked with Alexis Denisof, am I right?
HEAD: Alexis, yeah.
IGNFF: Now, did you form a relationship at that point, or was it something that you recalled later on, that you had worked with him?
HEAD: No, no, no - we were very good friends. It was a fairly small cast, and we knew we were doing something good. It was a really excellent production. It was in a small theater - it’s basically an experimental space - and it was a really, really good production. Basically, we became friends... so much so that when he turned up in L.A. - it was while I was doing a signing for the Watcher’s Guide - and Alexis turned up with a bunch of friends, and just said that he was back in town. I went, "Oh, hello," and it was literally a week later that they asked me if I knew anybody who could play Wesley. The brief was, "It’s somebody who thinks he’s Pierce Brosnan, but actually is George Lazenby," and I just thought of Alexis’s talents, and he’s brilliant at that, as we know. Wesley’s a wonderful, wonderful character. The rest is history.
IGNFF: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.
HEAD: Yeah, I’ve always loved it as a piece. I’ve always thought it’s one of Stoppard’s better pieces. It’s one of his earlier pieces. And I didn’t actually get to play either of the boys - I was just one of the players. I did it because I’d worked at the Young Vic a few times - it was a tour to Hong Kong basically. The guys who did it had done it before, they were very accomplished at it, and it was not a bad production at all. One of the other players was Phil Daniels. It was quite a treat to play with him, and later he turned up in Julius Caesar. One of the highlights of doing it in Hong Kong was the fact that they had a running translation in Cantonese on a roller besides the stage, and every now and again they’d get lost, so you’d sort of see this thing desperately scrolling up and scrolling back, trying to find out where they were. It was excellent.
HEAD: It was Peter Shaffer’s follow-up to Amadeus.... although it was followed quite quickly by Lettice and Lovage... but basically it follows very similar lines to Amadeus - and as much as it was orchestrated by a narrator, it was basically about the narrator sort of feeling that he had been passed over in some way, and was a sort of spectator in some momentous piece of history making that he felt not in control of. It was not a huge success. It was a great play - it was very interesting - and, in fact, Peter later sent me the rewrites and it was better. He did some nice stuff with it. But it was interesting. It was just one of those deals. I remember Dominic Muldowny - who did the music and was later to work with Sting - saying, "Do you realize how successful this could be ..." You do get caught up, when you’re doing a major, new piece - you do get caught up with the excitement of the whole thing. It didn’t captivate everyone’s imagination. I’ve done a couple of productions now like this which have not garnered a great deal of critical praise until sort of later in the run, and then suddenly people have said, "Actually, this is quite cool."
IGNFF: Which ones were you most disappointed in that happening?
HEAD: Rope, principally, because Rope actually did later get some fantastic reviews - but by that time, more unfavorable ones had come out. Three came out in quick succession, right after it opened, and it kind of sounded its death knell - and it was actually a fantastic production.
IGNFF: Does that affect your performance in any way, when that kind of pall falls over a show?
HEAD: No, no, no, because you know you’re in something good, and you know you’re working toward the greater good. No, you can’t let that affect you - you just get cross when the production company doesn’t then sort of follow through and say, "Hey, look, we have got really good reviews. You should check it out." But it is what it is. It’s what it’s meant to be, and I mean, both productions I was extremely fortunate to play the roles I did, and to be given the opportunities I was.
IGNFF: Well, in Yonadab you played with Patrick Stewart, didn’t you?
HEAD: Yes, I certainly did. In fact, he came back off one of his several breaks - we had quite a few breaks, because if you were in a huge success at the National, the vibe used to be that you just never stopped... but if you weren’t, you sort of did three shows a month. But he came back after one of these long breaks, and he said - he tried to sell us on this idea of this Shakespeare tour, you know, going around universities sort of doing pieces of Shakespeare, and we all thought, "Oh, I don’t know," and it was at that that he was spotted for Star Trek.
IGNFF: If only you had listened to him!
HEAD: Ah, as I say, we each are given whatever challenge we’re given to sort of work with and to do what you will with it. That was his, and it changed his life. Equally, I would say coffee adverts and Buffy both changed mine, in different ways.
IGNFF: You know, that was a good transition - how did the coffee advertisements come about?
HEAD: Basically, I just went up for it, like any other commercial. You know, as an actor, it’s your job to go out for various things. They were looking for a couple, they cast me first, and they actually did then put me together with various leading women at the time, to see what sort of chemistry would work, and sure enough found Sharon [Maughan].
IGNFF: Were you surprised by just how big the reaction was to the ads?
HEAD: Yes, obviously.... I mean, no one in their right mind would have dreamt that it would have gone as big as it did. But they were very confident that they were on to something pretty cool.
IGNFF: If those ads had come out in the last couple of years, they probably would have made a film with those characters...
HEAD: They talked about it. They talked about making a series, about doing various things with it - but you know, it was what it was. I saw a few scripts of things, and ultimately nothing really took it on from what it was. So there was no point in just going over the same ground. Unless something came up which actually really took the series on and did something with it, then there was no point in just reiterating the same stuff.
IGNFF: Has anyone proposed a new series of the advertisements to you?
IGNFF: Usually, advertising films are loathe to let go of advertising icons like that.
HEAD: Well, the English moved on - they were very worried at the time that they wouldn’t be able to repeat the success. And indeed, I don’t think they did - but I mean, they had moved on by that time. The Americans would be loathe to do the same thing again, because it didn’t really achieve - it achieved great things for instant coffee, and sold everybody’s instant coffee, but not specifically Taster’s Choice.
IGNFF: So they were both a success and a failure at the same time.
HEAD: It is actually in the economics record books as being one of the best known ads for all time, and also for the fact that it did equally well for everybody else’s coffee. Who could’ve known, really?
IGNFF: Now, how did VR.5 come about?
HEAD: I first went out there [L.A.], and basically decided to open up the marketplace and to make whatever needed to be done, really - see if I could get an agent, and see if I could capitalize on the success of the commercial. It was, I don’t know, second or third time I’d been out there. I went out there for a couple of months, and they were looking for sort of a mid-season replacement - one character was moving on and they wanted to build this new character in and, sure enough, they took me.
IGNFF: You kept a home in England every time you went out there - was L.A. just not a place that you ever wanted to live full-time, if there wasn’t work involved?
HEAD: No, no. England’s my home, and at that point we had just moved to Bathe, which is in the West Country, and just the most beautiful place. No, L.A. was always - it’s another place of work, and in order to expand the marketplace in which I could be seen, I had to present myself there. But it was never really my consideration to put down roots there because, as I say, England is the home of my children - they go to school here, and we have a beautiful life and a beautiful home. As much as we could make it work, we’ve decided to let it run.
IGNFF: Was there ever a point where you did consider making the move?
HEAD: I don’t think so. There was a point where one did think, "My God, am I ever going to get home?" but at the same token, not really. Not that I seriously considered it. It has to be said, on a couple of occasions, the girls came out and we put them in a Montessori School in Santa Monica for a couple of months. They did that twice, and we lived down there as a family a couple of times.
IGNFF: And did they enjoy it in the least?
HEAD: They loved it, absolutely loved it. And they do indeed love coming out there, and they love visiting with the show, and everybody’s really lovely to them, so it’s like a second family - but it’s never in any doubt that they come home.
IGNFF: So it’s almost like a vacation home when going out there.
HEAD: Yes, exactly.
IGNFF: So VR.5 I believe lasted, what - a season?
HEAD: Yes, 12 or 13 episodes.
IGNFF: So that would’ve run from ’95 to ’96.
HEAD: That sounds about right.
IGNFF: Because the pilot for Buffy was shot at the end of ’96, right?
IGNFF: How were you approached for the role? Was that an audition process?
HEAD: Yeah, yeah, same again. I’d been approached for a couple of things. There was talk about Poltergeist the Legacy, but I wasn’t sure about the scripts and knew they had an order for a lot of shows, but it just didn’t really take me. Then I read Buffy, and I thought, "My God, this is incredible."
IGNFF: So you were one of the few actors that were locked in for the actual sales pilot...
IGNFF: What was it like to shoot something as truncated as that - which you knew was essentially a sales tool, and probably wouldn’t see air?
HEAD: It was very bizarre, and Joss had a hideous time. We had the most extraordinary crew in the history of filmmaking. Just bizarre. It was very much a mid-season replacement, everyone was very aware of it, and the crew were not hugely friendly to him, for some reason - I don’t know why. But you know, it is what it is. We did the end scene first, as in the wrap up scene, and thank God I actually saw - my dressing room was next to where they were airing the dailies, and I heard my voice and popped my head around the doors to see what the dailies had been like, and I sucked so badly. I went, "Oh my God!" The trouble is, you don’t know. When you get a job like that - when you get any job as an actor - you’re not quite sure what it is that they liked about what you did. Because no one’s saying, "Now, could you do a little - this is what we liked about it," or "that’s what we liked about it," and you’re sort of left in the air kind of thinking, "Well, what part of it?" When you’re sort of slightly insecure - I’ve got better at knowing what it is - but at that point, I was kind of going, "What is it that you ..." and it certainly wasn’t what I was giving - as far as I was concerned, anyway. So I watched it and went, "Oh, no, no, no," and thankfully all the big scenes with Buffy and all that stuff we had left to shoot. We did that day and I was able to reign it in and do some new stuff with it.