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Anthony Stewart Head - FilmForce.com Interview Part IV

dimanche 12 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 : What exactly was the conception of the character that Joss presented to you - as a groundwork for basing it on ?

HEAD : Well, he didn’t really. I went to them with having read it, I said at the time - this has been quoted many times, but it’s true - that I’d just seen Four Weddings and a Funeral on the plane coming over, and I was very aware that Hugh Grant sort of cut a sexy figure at the time as this slightly bumbling, bookish man. And at the same time, there was a little bit of Alan Rickman in it - and quite a lot of Prince Charles, really - so I sort of said, "Look, this is where I see it. Am I on the right lines ?" and they said, "Yes." I said, "Which would you prefer ? Would you prefer the sort of Alan Rickman, or the Hugh Grant ?" And they said, "Well, give it a bit of both."

IGNFF : Well, that’s the specificity you wanted, right ?

HEAD : Well in the end, I said, "Yes," to be honest. Having played it for five years, now it’s perfectly clear what was meant. At the time, it’s very much a gamble and a kind of crapshoot to know exactly what they’re looking for. The bottom line is if you are right for a part, you’re right for a part. And if you’re not right for a part and you’ve got to try and persuade somebody that you are - and it has been done in the past, where somebody has just said, "No, I am right for this, you’re just not seeing it" - it’s just a different thing.

IGNFF : Have you ever been in the position where you felt that you were completely wrong for the part, but no one else saw that ?

HEAD : Yes. Actually, not when they’ve hired me, to be honest. There’ve been things that I’ve read and thought, "No, this just is not me, but I’ll do it anyway," - but no, they’ve agreed.

IGNFF : Now the one thing I’ve heard - I don’t know if this is apocryphal - is that your one regret in playing Giles was your decision to do the stammer.

HEAD : No, not at all. Only in as much as when you’re doing looping, and the second scene you loop is just all stammering, it’s very difficult to loop a stammer convincingly. Because in the moment you’re doing it and it’s part of the organic character, and then when you’re doing it after the fact - and doing it to time, and trying to get the lips synched and all that stuff - a stammer is the scariest thing in the world to try and repeat. But, no, in terms of the character, not at all. It’s actually quite fun to do, because you turn all your own kind of unsureness into the character. It’s great fun.

IGNFF : Were there any decisions that you made at the very beginning that you quickly moved away from ?

HEAD : Not really. I mean, there was one costume - I very much liked the first costumer we had. She was very disorganized, which drove the production company up the wall, but I found her extremely interesting, creatively. If Giles had to appear in a sort of sports outfit, because of my brief, she’d go and get books on 1940’s sports - you know, cricket jumpers and things... sweaters.... And would find something, because I’d always kind of said that Giles is out of time - he’s come from another age. There was one thing, this great - she found a number of examples to support this, layering different layers of sort of stripes and stuff and the tweed and things. In fact, my first jacket which I wore, which was a Dolce & Gabbana tweed jacket, I had all through the first season - I didn’t have a change. Everybody else was changing all over the place, I just wore the same outfit. We’d change the trousers every now and again.

IGNFF : And nobody batted an eye.

HEAD : No, not at all. But I tried this thing with turning the sleeves of the jacket back, because it was lined with a sort of striped material, and Joss hated it. It didn’t last very long.

IGNFF : What were the difficulties during that first season ? If my understanding of the timeline is correct, the show really didn’t hit until the middle of the second season...

HEAD : Oh, pretty well. It was just, when I said to Joss, "Is this going to be a success ?" and he said, "Oh yeah. But," he said, "It’s going to be a slow burn. The network won’t get it, and the production company won’t get it, but eventually, slowly, the public will have caught on, and it’ll go by word-of-mouth."

IGNFF : What were the difficulties of that first half-season ?

HEAD : Just getting into the rhythm, really. Basically, directors coming in and finding themselves faced with - I think the longest on the earlier episodes was a 22-hour day.

IGNFF : How is that even possible ?

HEAD : It just meant that he went on and on and on. People were dropping like flies. It was a Friday, and I think it was a sort of - they went into a night shoot, and because it was in the studio, it went on into the daytime. But that only happened once. But there were a lot of very long days, initially. I usually got off very luckily, actually, but one heard some pretty horrific stories. That was it, really... it was just getting in to a rhythm of how you shoot this thing, because it was always, pretty consistently, about nine and a half pages a day - which is a lot to shoot.

IGNFF : An amazing burn.

HEAD : Yeah. I mean, the show I’m working on now is about four or five pages a day - and they find that difficult to make.

IGNFF : Is that just production differences ?

HEAD : Well, for one thing, it’s not on a sound stage, what I’m doing at the moment. It’s on location, so therefore it’s...

IGNFF : Slower setups...

HEAD : Yeah. Although having said that, the setups are actually the lighting setups, and not nearly as lengthy as ours - but I don’t know... it’s just a difference in technique.

IGNFF : How would you describe the eventual rhythm that you got into, with Buffy ?

HEAD : Swingin’.

IGNFF : I think that’s a pretty good summation.

HEAD : With an apostrophe on the end. I think it just basically got - people just know what they’re doing. They just get into a routine, you know where the lights work best - I can’t say, because I’m not on the technical team. You know where not to try and film, because last time that took five hours to shoot a two-page scene, so you don’t go there - you shoot in a different part of the library or whatever. The library was a famous problem, because it looked gorgeous, but it presented a lot of problems. If you tried to shoot anywhere other than around the bloody table, it was tricky. If you tried to go up into the stacks, it was very difficult to get the dolly up there. To shoot at the front of the library, you found yourself going up and down a line. It was very difficult to actually get anything other than us sitting around the table.

IGNFF : See, I always thought that was a stylistic choice...

HEAD : Yeah - wrong. But ultimately, we shot ourselves in the foot, because they developed Giles’ pad, and it was never meant to end up as it did - in the fourth season or whatever, it was as the main place of discussion. In which case, we found ourselves without a place to shoot. That’s just the way it goes, and the magic shop was a long time coming. And even now, in the magic shop, we end up - around the table !

IGNFF : Now it has become the stylistic thing - they’re supposed to be around a table.

HEAD : Well, yes. But having said that, there are actually a lot of other little nooks and crannies that were specifically designed in the magic shop to be easily filmable - but ultimately, when you end up with about eight people in a scene, there are so many ways to group it. And ultimately you end up sitting them all around a table.

IGNFF : Of course, the irony is that the magic shop didn’t come in until four seasons into the show...

HEAD : Yeah.

IGNFF : Once the groundswell hit - if I remember correctly, when it really hit big was the third season... when the show really took off in mainstream eyes -

HEAD : And it has to be said, the critics were always with it. I remember the first tour that we did, the first sort of media tour, we all camped out at a hotel and you sort of field questions from various newspaper critics and TV critics, and right across the board it was unanimous that we had a hit. When I went back for the second season, the critics were actually really excited to see us, and ask us what was going to go on, and I remember vividly one critic saying, "I knew the line was crossed when Principal Flutie was eaten..."

IGNFF : That’s always a clear demarcation in a show...

HEAD : Absolutely ... and I knew exactly what he meant, because, yes, you knew that anything can happen and that no one was safe and that there was clearly - everybody loves danger. Everybody loves that thing of not knowing who’s going to go. You don’t know, with Joss. And what’s going to happen next... and that has lasted the show very well. Joss has served the show very well - he’s constantly refreshed it and constantly renewed its vigor and reinvented it. I think that’s one of his secrets - the fact that six seasons in, the show shows absolutely no sign of tiring.

IGNFF : Well, I know that’s what keeps it fresh for an audience - but how does that keep it fresh for the actors ?

HEAD : Oh, it’s fantastic. I mean, the knowledge that your character is not going to be churning out the same old ground in the coming season, that the character has an arc, has got stuff to do, has got places to go, and has got a way of reacting to what’s gone before - that’s hugely exciting to play as an actor. The fact that, as I say, six seasons on, you know that your character’s not just treading water. And he’s not become a nun or something, you know, like some of the soaps go to ludicrous reaches to try and shake things up. But the thing about Buffy is this is all possible, and the changes that the characters go through are perfectly plausible within the realm of the reality of the show. And they react accordingly. That’s why you feel for them. When someone dies - Jesus, when Buffy’s mother died, for me, it was really strong stuff.

IGNFF : It was an amazing episode.

HEAD : Yeah, and also as a punter. I like the show, I liked Buffy’s mother - well, my character sort of had a kind of relationship with her, but you know, it was really strong. And we knew she going, and when she recovered from the brain tumor, I went to ask Joss, "I thought she was going - what’s going on ?" He said, "Don’t worry, she will ... It’s an aneurism." I went, "What ?" He said, "Don’t worry, it happens quite often - people will be totally cured and then off they go." It’s like, wow, that’s cool - and sure enough. He said, "It will happen at the end of a really frivolous episode." "What ? Okay." And so it did. It comes at a place where you just go, "I’m sorry ? What was that ?"

IGNFF : The amazing thing about the show is that, when talking about that episode - with the nature of the Internet being the way it is and even critics - is that there are so many spoilers that come out so early about these episodes...

HEAD : I don’t know what that’s all about, to be honest. That’s just trying to get a piece of the action - and to be honest, there are other ways of getting a piece of the action.

IGNFF : The thing I was thinking that was so great about that, even though spoilers were around - so you knew Buffy’s mom was going to die - is that the show was so powerful and so well-crafted that it was still shocking when the thing that you knew was going to happen, finally happened. And how it was pulled off.

HEAD : Yeah, yeah. But even so, we could all do without spoilers - we really could. I mean, half the fun of the show is the fact that you don’t what’s going to happen. If some prat says, "I know what’s going happen - I’m going to spoil it for everybody," then it shows, like, "I know !" And it’s like, really - who cares if you know or not ? Get a life, basically, and move on. Write something yourself or do something creative...

IGNFF : Yeah, I don’t understand the whole spoiler mentality, either. Especially when it’s something that’s eventually going to air.

HEAD : Well, yes - no big surprise. So, somehow you got hold of a rumor first, or I don’t know how they see it when they do...

IGNFF : Unfortunately, because of the spoilers and how unavoidable they are, I think I have to derive my satisfaction now from seeing how the twist is pulled off, as opposed to the twist itself.

HEAD : Yeah, well, that’s sad.

IGNFF : Yup, I agree with you. I remember when there was no Internet...

HEAD : Well, the Internet is a great thing. The Internet can be used wonderfully, and I don’t think it’s necessarily for people being silly. One of the joys of Joss’s mind is the fact that you don’t know where it is going to go, and if some idiot is jumping up and saying, "I know, I know, because I’ve seen it !"...

IGNFF : Especially when they’re saying it the day before it airs...

HEAD : Yeah, yeah.

IGNFF : Is there any direction you were hoping your character would go, but didn’t ? Is there anything that caught you by surprise ?

HEAD : No. In terms of where it could go, I think I’ve pitched a couple of ideas to Joss which - who knows - may present themselves in Ripper, so I’m not going to spoil them. As I say, I came up with some ideas, but he legitimately didn’t want to do it at the time because they just happened to sort of cross over into other story lines, and would have either been diluted by those storylines or would have diluted the storyline itself. So he’s a great listener. He will always listen to an idea, but he’s equally - he doesn’t take long to say, "Nope," or "Well, let’s develop that and see what we can do with it."

IGNFF : And it doesn’t mean something won’t show up two or three seasons after it was talked about.

HEAD : No.

IGNFF : Like the musical episode, for example.

HEAD : Absolutely. The musical episode was talked about, in fact, on that very half hour presentation that we did. Me and Joss and Sarah Michelle were standing in this courtroom set - there was this place that we were in downtown that was used for courtrooms, and it was on the back of the library set. We were waiting for a setup, and we were chatting about it, and he said, "The thing I’d like to do one day is do a musical episode." And of course I went, "Yeah." He said, "Well, one day." And every season I’d say, "Is it coming ?" He’d say, "Nope, not ready for it yet." When it did come, it was just beyond all my expectations. It was just staggering.

IGNFF : How difficult was the filming of that episode ?

HEAD : Lengthy, but not difficult. All the difficulty was for Joss - he was the one that spent all his summer writing the songs and the lyrics and then a lot of second unit stuff after the event got shot.

IGNFF : Was there any trepidation amongst the other cast members about doing the vocals ?

HEAD : Yeah, I mean, people who hadn’t done it before were just a little bit cautious about it and kind of going, "Oh my God, I don’t know if I can do this." But of course, once we got into the studio and you go in to listen to the track back, it’s fun ... I watched people just blossom in front of the microphone, and just go, "Oh my God, this is fantastic !"

IGNFF : Were there any vocal turns that you were surprised by how good they were ?

HEAD : Oh God yeah. I’d heard a number of people - I heard Marti [Noxon] at Joss’s, I’d heard Amber at Joss’s - suddenly we all went, "Oh my God !" But, actually, I think Emma was a big surprise. When she suddenly let those pipes go, it was like, "Holy ! Oh my God !" Yeah, there’s some fantastic talent on the show.

IGNFF : I know at one point Sarah Michelle mentioned that she was considering asking for a vocal double, until she saw how good the songs were that she would be singing. She said the only difficulty was spending 11 hours in the recording studio getting them down.

HEAD : Well, you know, it is what it is, and personally I would do my vocals and hang around and want to be with other people when they’d do their vocals. I love being in the studio. It’s just... it’s what you’re used to. Ultimately, I think there was all sorts of talk before the event, but yes, when Joss released the CD with him and Kai, his wife, singing all the songs - everybody kind of went, "Oh my God, this is wonderful !" Kai has got a fantastic voice, and Joss has got a lovely voice, and he was playing the piano ... It was gorgeous, and it was really lovely. It was so un-Hollywood, and unglitzy - which I think the whole musical was like. The whole musical had a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

IGNFF : It’s a very earthy feel.

HEAD : Very earthy, and some critics said - and I don’t understand them - basically said, "Well, not all the vocal performances were up to it." Ultimately that, for me, was one of the joys about it. Because you could tell that the characters were singing... it was everyone.

IGNFF : Oh yeah, if you had some session singer come in...

HEAD : And do the Hollywood glitz on it, it would have been horrible ! But the fact that it was real, and earthy, and had a bit of grit, and was a bit of a rock & roll - I loved it. I think that’s one of its great points.

IGNFF : I’ve used it as an introduction to other people, to watch the show.

HEAD : Yeah, absolutely.

IGNFF : You look at a show that can actually do this, and pull it off this well. That’s a show that you should watch.

HEAD : Yeah, absolutely.

IGNFF : There are people that sat down with extreme reservations, saying, "A musical episode ?" - and after the show they went, "You know what ? That was even better than I thought it could be, in my best estimation."

HEAD : Yes, absolutely.

IGNFF : I wanted to run down the cast as a way of expediting your thoughts on the other cast members - if you could just give your quick, first impressions when I name them off. Sarah Michelle...

HEAD : Lovely. Very generous to me and remarkably generous to my children, is my first thing. She’s always been lovely when the kids have been on set, and they always welcome each other wholeheartedly. There’s always been a great deal of respect between us, and I’ve always, always enjoyed the scenes that we’ve had together.

IGNFF : Nick Brendon.

HEAD : Love him dearly, good friend. I’ve known him for a long time, since the beginning of the show - we used to go out for a drink together and put the world to rights and decide what was going to happen in the show, and be completely wrong the next week.

IGNFF : Alyson Hannigan.

HEAD : Love her, love her dearly - a good friend. Go out a lot with her and Alexis. Hugely talented girl and will go far. Just a great soul.

IGNFF : Someone you’d had some very good scenes with in recent years - Emma Caulfield.

HEAD : An extraordinary talent, great girl, just really a staggering talent. Fights with Alyson over who gets the back massage next.

IGNFF : Going back a little ways - Charisma Carpenter.

HEAD : Charisma... again, a remarkable talent - don’t think it’s been fully utilized, don’t think she’s fully utilized. Beautiful woman, just used to make me laugh out loud on set. Some of her line readings were just extraordinary and so right on, and you’d never ever think that anybody could say it like that.

IGNFF : James Marsters.

HEAD : Again, very talented, lovely guy - I share a love of music with him, and we’ve talked about a lot of stuff. I think again, if someone can find a good niche for him, I think he’s going to do really well, too.

IGNFF : Is it true that over the years you gave him a couple of pointers, early on, about the accent ?

HEAD : No. Basically, they all said, when he first came onto the set, "Hey, you can give him some pointers," and I went, "Um, well, if he wants them." He’s very sweet. He came to me at the beginning, and I said, "Do you want some pointers ?" "Yeah ! How’s this ?" And they had been originally talking about Sid Vicious, but I said he actually sounded more North of England, he had a Yorkshire thing going on - which won’t mean anything to an American. But I said it sounded very interesting, and he shouldn’t try and do anything with it, because it sounded like this Northerner who’d been around Europe for 200 years. It has its own authenticity, and instead of hanging himself up about it, just to enjoy it - and he does... so much so that - after the first season - he couldn’t get a job. Everybody thought he was English.

IGNFF : His normal, American accent is so completely unlike it...

HEAD : Yeah, totally.

IGNFF : Which I guess is the mark of an excellent actor.

HEAD : Yes.

IGNFF : David Boreanaz.

HEAD : Lovely, lovely guy - basically don’t see so much of him as I used to, because he’s extremely busy. But a really nice guy and I think his show is great and I think it was inevitable that he should get the show, because the character was wonderful and he was really good in it. And we always enjoy it when he comes back.

IGNFF : Marc Blucas.

HEAD : Sweet guy... lovely, lovely, lovely guy. Very generous, seems to be doing extremely well on the film circuit, and I think he had an onerous task in as much as I don’t think that whole story line, the soldier boy thing, quite worked. I think it was a wee bit ambitious after that year’s storyline. But, nevertheless, full marks to everybody for trying, but just a hard one to pull off, and I think he did remarkably well with it.

IGNFF : Seth Green.

HEAD : Oh, the golden man. Lovely, lovely man. Horrifically talented - well, who can forget that incredible thing he pulled in Enemy of the State, as this sort of tiny little character in the background who just ... brilliant. He needs someone to write him a film - or he needs to write a film. Somebody needs to - there’s a vehicle out there that will just shoot him to stardom, because he is extremely talented.

IGNFF : Michelle Trachtenberg.

HEAD : Extraordinary talent. The problem is, you’ll go right through this list, and I will not have a bad thing to say about anybody, because I really do think they are all enormously talented, and I think one of Joss’s huge strength lies in the fact that he’s built this extraordinarily talented cast. There is not a weak link in Buffy - the show is really strong, because of its cast. And, yes, Buffy is the main character and, yes, it’s called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it’s an extremely strong ensemble. Extremely strong ensemble show, and Michelle is - I don’t know, she’s got some strength for certain, and she’s only been on the show for a year, year and a half, and showed remarkable versatility. And has been given stuff to do - you know, this is Joss... when he sees people rise to the occasion, he gives them more to do, and she’s been given more, and more, and more stuff on the show.

IGNFF : Which I guess could also be said about Amber Benson.

HEAD : Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I had Amber singing on my album before anybody else did.

IGNFF : Which, after listening to the samples, definitely is an enticement to get the full album.

HEAD : Good, good - it’s different. I love it, I’m very proud of it, and we shall see what other people think of it, but so far I’ve had some extremely good responses.

IGNFF : I did want to mention someone who said something very glowing about you - Danny Strong.

HEAD : Oh, bless him.

IGNFF : He mentioned that when he started working on the show, you were the first one to actually come up and hold a conversation with him, and how appreciative he was of that.

HEAD : Well, that was very sweet of him. I’m sure lots of people have done it, subsequently. He’s a very talented guy, very funny guy. Again, I think Joss has discovered him and turned what was originally a day player into a recurring character. That can only be a testimony to what Danny does, and brings to the show. As I say, Joss knows how to pick them.

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