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Anthony Head

Anthony Stewart Head - FilmForce.com Interview Part V

Sunday 12 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).

IGNFF: Well, a lot of the actors have also voiced their surprise and admiration that, even at the height of Buffy, you were still taking acting classes.

HEAD: Well, I still do when I go out there, yeah. I don’t know if it requires admiration - it has been extremely fruitful for me... it’s the only reason I go back. I think my teacher is an extraordinarily talented and gifted man, and very wise. The difference that he’s made to my work is palpable, so I’d be an idiot not to go back.

IGNFF: I think that the admiration is that there’s a tendency in Hollywood that, once a steady job is attained, a lot of actors shut off and think, "Well, I’ve made it."

HEAD: I have to admit that when I was first out in L.A. and I was sitting there twiddling my thumbs for a couple of months and VR.5 was a possibility, but they were - I can’t remember why, but they were farting around a lot, there were a couple of recalls, and they weren’t sure, because it was replacing another character - I called home. I was saying, "I don’t know what to do," and Sarah, my partner, said, "Go and get some classes. Go and learn how the Americans do it." And I said, "Come on, I went to drama school when I was 19. I don’t need to. Yes, I learn - I learn by experience with each job I do." And she said, "Well you can’t afford to do that. You need to keep learning your craft, and put energy in and see ... you can’t expect stuff to come back to you, if you don’t put it in."

IGNFF: It’s the chicken or the egg thing, isn’t it?

HEAD: Not really, not in... well, not to get esoteric on it, but in terms of trying at medicine, you have to put energy in there in order to get something back. And it happens that the day that I actually signed on at Milton’s class, I got my contract with VR.5. But beyond that, it’s more about just improving your craft. You can never, never afford to sit back and go, "Oh, okay, I’ve got it now." Because it’s so much about change and accepting working on stuff, and changing stuff - and even today, I had some extremely difficult stuff to do today, and was hugely grateful to Milton - and so was the young actress that I was working with. At the end of the day, she said, "Wow, you put some very interesting stuff in there, and I’m very grateful to it, because it helped what was difficult stuff to do." I said, "Thank you - and yes, that’s my teacher." Because you don’t focus on a scene, you don’t focus on what’s on the page, you focus on the life outside of it and around the scene. Basically, what makes life go around - and I’m sort of paraphrasing here - there’s a lot to his philosophy in terms of acting, but it makes it exciting, basically. You don’t know what to expect when you go on the set, and you’re constantly looking for stuff to surprise yourself, and therefore surprise the audience.

IGNFF: Do you think that actors, if they don’t remain flexible, have a tendency to calcify?

HEAD: I think we all do. I think we have a tendency to accept what we are in life, generally, and it’s difficult to accept change and to embrace change and say, "Okay, that much is good, but this needs to change in me and in what I do, and in the way I react to things," and to change the way people perceive you. You have to keep things in a constant movement. Life is about lessons, and about learning lessons and then moving on, not just sitting and going, "Okay, got that one. What should I do now?" That’s what makes it interesting. That’s what keeps it exciting and a challenge. If life isn’t a challenge, and if work isn’t a challenge - what the hell are we doing then?

IGNFF: I guess it also goes back to the idea that you have to put a little energy in to get some movement.

HEAD: Exactly.

IGNFF: Which actually is one of the laws of physics, when one thinks about it.

HEAD: Well, exactly!

IGNFF: Now, in talking about movement and change, and what a great ensemble Buffy is - how difficult was it to make the decision to leave?

HEAD: Interestingly, I approached Joss at the beginning of the fifth season, and it was a difficult decision. It was something that we made as a family. The girls were still reluctant, but they understood that if I didn’t, I was going to be away more. It was time to come home. Basically, Sarah and I have always called it at the end. When something felt right to move on, you don’t just sit and go, "Oh, but what if?" You go, "Okay," because it feels right. When Joss said, "I understand. Okay, let me think about it." and then halfway through season five, or two-thirds through season five, said, "Okay, so we’re talking about season six, and will you come back as a recurring rather than as a series regular? I don’t want to write you out." "Yes! Of course I will." I mean, I’m very fortunate to work for somebody who is totally understanding, and when you say, "I need to be with my children," says, "I understand. Okay, we’ll make it work." It’s very, very rare in Hollywood.

IGNFF: Most actors in a similar situation would have producers shoving their contracts in their face.

HEAD: Absolutely, absolutely. And I have no doubt that somebody, somewhere might have thought of that, but for Joss saying, "No, absolutely." And he knew also, in terms of good drama, it’s about conflict, and Buffy without her watcher is thrown into a completely new arena. It gave him a few problems in terms of how on earth, just when she needs him most, is he going to turn around and say, "All right - bye!" But at the same time, it gave him some interesting challenges, and towards the end of season five, when ... there was the tendency to sort of think, at times, "Am I doing the right thing?" ... and for one reason or another, the immigration service kind of got locked up at one point, and Visas took a while to come through, and there was a time when I had a number of days of - a succession of possibilities of going home - and I couldn’t move because my Visa hadn’t come through. At the same time, there were a number of things like that, where you just kind of went, "This is what it’s like, not being able to go back home." Finally, on the 100th episode, we had a big party, fabulous party, and we all watched - it wasn’t a gag reel, but it was a retrospective - and it was a tearful thing. It was very emotional. There was sort of lots of people going, "Oh you’re going, we’ll miss you ..." and on the way home in the cab, quite apropos of nothing, Daisy, my youngest daughter, said, "Do you know you’ve been away more than half my life?" At which point you go - "Okay, I’m coming home!" There is no doubt.

IGNFF: Talk about sealing the envelope on that...

HEAD: Well, exactly. It’s just things like that, where you just kind of go, "Okay." So no, it hasn’t been a hard decision - and yes, of course it’s not something that one’s taken lightly. But by the same token, it’s been absolutely a riot.

IGNFF: When you talk about other doors opening, even though one might close - when did talks about Ripper start happening?

HEAD: At the same time. Joss, in answer to a question about something - I can’t remember what it was - said, "Would you like your own show?" And at the time, I was kind of going, "Umm, yeah!" But oh my God, just as I’m about to go back to England. And he said, "Of course, it’s set in England." I went, "Yeah!" It just so happens that it’s one of his last ambitions to make a BBC show, and that’s it. Everything started to fall into place, and when it’s ready to happen, it will.

IGNFF: Is there any indication when that might be?

HEAD: No. The BBC are extremely interested, very interested, in pursuing things. He’s got a pilot written, but I think there’s an order for six now, so he’s got to clear the deck of some of the stuff that he’s doing at the moment, and then he can get down to it. But all in good time. It will be when it will be, and it’ll be when it’s ready. I’m in no hurry to rush it through, and push for it, because in the meantime, there’s a lot to be occupying me. As I say, I’m a great believer in things will happen when they’re meant to happen.

IGNFF: Thankfully, I guess, as far as the series goes, Giles is such a well-developed character that he can carry a series...

HEAD: I think, also, it basically fills in yet another gap. It’s an area that Joss would like to pursue - a more adult show. Angel was and is a more adult show than Buffy, but by the same token, it’s still forced into a certain corner. Whereas Ripper, or Watcher - whatever it will be called - by its very nature can be more serious, more ghost stories, kind of just more adult. Scarier stuff.

IGNFF: By the nature of being a BBC program, and not an American program?

HEAD: No, by the nature of the character, and what the character attracts. What kind of areas he can go into - we can go into the psychologically scarred, rather than the pathetically scarred. We can go into people with serious, serious hang-ups ... The pitch he gave me was "Cracker with ghosts". If you’ve ever seen Robbie Coltrane’s Cracker, it’s a wonderful, wonderful series - and that’s basically what he’s after.

IGNFF: Definitely a change from the age skew in Buffy, just by the nature of the character...

HEAD: Well, to be honest, there is no age skew in Buffy. One of the things that I’ve always, always loved about Buffy - and the WB never recognized it, and it can be overlooked at times - is that the audience of Buffy is enormously broad. It really doesn’t have any one age. It goes from about 6 or something ridiculous to sixty, or beyond. My parents, having initially pooh-poohed it when I first showed it to them - my father didn’t raise a smile! - and they love it, absolutely love it. Bottom line is, there actually is no age. It’s beautifully executed, and there is something in it for everybody. But having said that, I think there is an area of the supernatural that is genuinely scary, and generally it’s the unknown. It’s basically the psychological areas of the paranormal where people kind of go, "Whoa, what the hell was that?" that sort of touch us more personally. I have no idea to be honest... we’ll see what comes up.

IGNFF: Maybe the way I should have phrased it was, by the nature of it being centered around a character in his 40’s - as opposed to characters in their teens and then in early 20’s - the metaphors would skew differently, within the series... not outside demographics.

HEAD: Yeah.

IGNFF: I know Joss is also developing an animated series.

HEAD: Yup.

IGNFF: Which would take place during the high school years.

HEAD: Yup.

IGNFF: Of which you would be a character.

HEAD: Yup.

IGNFF: And I’m assuming that you’d be reprising your voice?

HEAD: Certainly. I mean, we’ve talked about it. If all things are equal, I’ll certainly be reprising. It’s something that I’ve managed to do - I’ve done a few things for Disney animation from England. It’s something that I can do from here - or even if it’s something that I save up and go over there for a couple of weeks and get a bunch of tape and then come back, anything is possible. I’ve seen the drawing for my character, and we’ll see where it goes. I think it’s somewhere down the line in development.

IGNFF: I’ve also heard that you’re doing some Doctor Who audio dramas.

HEAD: Yeah.

IGNFF: And you’re a bit of a Doctor Who fan, am I correct in that?

HEAD: Oh yeah. Most English people are. Doctor Who touched most of our childhoods, in one way or another. Not that it has with Americans at all, but there are elements of watching the space ships that look like plastic liquid bottles, flying through black velvet space - that has deep, psychological, scarring issues on your childhood! No, they did actually come up with some extremely good villains, a few, and it was always kind of laudable for its imagination. It was pretty way out there. When I first started watching it, it was way out there. They sort of managed not to screw it up.

IGNFF: And remarkable for its ability to work within its constraints.

HEAD: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I’ve done a couple of audio.

IGNFF: Any plans to do any more of those? How was the experience?

HEAD: It was fine, I had a great time. It was very funny - God knows what anybody will make of it. Yeah, and I’ve done a couple of Star Trek books. Make of that what you will.

IGNFF: How different is the acting experience, doing those types of audio dramas?

HEAD: I guess the bottom line is once again taking from Milton’s teaching. I’ve just let it rip, and seen what kind of stuck to the wall, really, and didn’t hold back, and didn’t sensor myself. There actually is some fun stuff in there, and in terms of challenge, I guess it’s a challenge. It was fun.

IGNFF: Essentially with the audio books, like the Star Trek books, you’re doing a one-man show, right?

HEAD: No, no. The audio books, yes. The Star Trek books - yes, it is a one-man show. It’s me doing lots of characters, dredging up every accent I can possibly. But with the Doctor Who things, no - they are dramatized pieces, and there are a lot of actors involved. And in fact, there were a couple of extremely talented actors sort of providing many parts, because they came out to do it close to where I live rather than dragging me down to London. We had a lot of laughs, basically.

IGNFF: Who’s playing the Doctor in your series?

HEAD: There were two - I think one was Peter Davison, and one was Sylvester McCoy - but I didn’t work with them. They were then going to take what I did, go back to London, and bring the Doctors in.

IGNFF: What other projects are you working on right now?

HEAD: I’ve got a series called Manchild, which is very funny. It’s about men in their late 40’s who are all independently wealthy. There are four guys. So, basically, it’s different from most shows about men in their 40’s, because we’ve all got the toys, we’ve all got all the things that we seem to feel that we want. But of course, it all has its repercussions. It’s very funny stuff, very funny.

IGNFF: I’ve heard it called the British male version of Sex and the City...

HEAD: Kind of, yeah - although it is extremely different. But I would’ve thought somebody should pick it up and put it on in the States, because it would work very well in the States. It looks fantastic.

IGNFF: Is this a BBC series?

HEAD: Yes, BBC2.

IGNFF: As for reprising your role as Giles, are you committed right now for a certain number of the remaining episodes?

HEAD: No - whatever it is, really. There is no definite, specific number.

IGNFF: What would be your preference? How often do you want to appear?

HEAD: I really kind of want to appear when Joss wants me to. I’m not feeling the strain of not being in the show. It’s fantastic being here ... But at the same time, I miss everybody. As I say, I’ve got plenty to be doing at the moment here. It’s fantastic... wonderful.

IGNFF: It doesn’t sound like you have any free time - it’s not like you’re a non-working actor at this point.

HEAD: No, I’m very glad to say that...

IGNFF: Looking back on your career, would you say that you’re happy with where you are right now?

HEAD: Yeah, very. It’s a constant voyage of discovery, and long may it be so. I wouldn’t change it for anything... any of it. It’s because everything has informed everything else - it’s all interrelated, and all a challenge and all a lesson, and it’s been fantastic. And if the next 25 years could be as varied, I’d be very happy.