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Anthony HeadAnthony Stewart Head - FilmForce.com Interview Part I
Wednesday 8 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).
He’s also currently starring in the BBC series Manchild (think of it as a British male version of Sex and the City), which you can view here in the States on BBC America.
Fox Home Video has also just released the complete third season of Buffy on DVD.
Without further ado, our interview with Anthony Stewart Head...
IGN FILMFORCE: So you were born in London?
ANTHONY STEWART HEAD: Camden Town, East London.
IGNFF: In 1954, I believe?
HEAD: Yes, it was.
IGNFF: You were born into, essentially, a showbiz family, right?
HEAD: Well, sort of. Not hugely - it wasn’t like a Hollywood showbiz family, but my mum was an actress and my dad was a documentary film director, and then later he became a documentary film producer. He used to work for an independent company - he used to make training films for the Ministry of Defense for various sort of chemical giants. Later, my brother went into - I think he did do a few things as a kid, actually. I think he did some radio plays and things like that. But I don’t really think it’s what you’d call a showbiz family. It wasn’t like the Arnazes or the Fishers.
IGNFF: Or the Osmond Family.
HEAD: Or the Osmonds - yeah, God help us.
IGNFF: Well how would you describe the environment in the house - was it creative?
HEAD: It was fairly creative... we were surrounded by fairly creative people. My uncle and aunt were artistic as well. My aunt started as an actress and then she became interested in stage management, and then she and her husband - who was a painter - basically got into all sorts of strange things... making puppets and doing puppet shows and whatnot.
We lived in Camden Town for about my first six years, and it was a very artistic community. When we came to Hampton, which was where I spent most of my formative years, it just so happened that there was - I loved drama from the outset, and at school there was one teacher and he was trying to get a play together about Robin Hood, and I was supposed to play Guy of Gisbourne. I was just so excited about it, and we only rehearsed once. I think his brother, who was the headmaster, put the kibosh on that - put the markers on that - and we never did it again. I kept saying, "When are we going to rehearse the play?" "Be quiet, Head!" He was very upset.
But there was, thankfully, a mother of one of my closest friends who used to organize a bash every year, when all of the kids would be involved. They had this huge playroom, vast as a ballroom, and they used to rent a stage, and they used all the mumsies to make costumes. I was only involved twice - once we did the Jack of Dreams and I was a page - herald - and then the next year we did The Emperor’s New Clothes and I played the Emperor. I got the bug, big.
IGNFF: From playing the Emperor?
HEAD: Well, just walking down, because there was a procession when the emperor shows off his new clothes, and me in me long johns - a combination, walking down through the audience, and watching all the heads turn, as I sort of walked through there. I just thought this is fantastic - this is the business. I want to do this.
IGNFF: Around what age was that?
HEAD: About six or seven, maybe. I’ve always been quoted as saying six, but when I think about it, it might even be eight.
IGNFF: Would you say that your parents were encouraging of your pursuing that bug?
HEAD: They didn’t discourage. They made all the noises, and they did sort of - my father always insisted on me having an all around education that I could fall back on. When I went to secondary school, there was much more drama there, and I did get involved in drama groups. They used to coach me, and that horrible thing of standing up and doing scenes in front of your parents. Now, when my oldest daughter says, "Please, please don’t watch," I go, "Fine, okay, whatever."
IGNFF: Because you know exactly what it’s like.
HEAD: Yeah, I do. It’s embarrassing when you’re in front of close friends or relatives, it’s very difficult - especially at that age. But I guess they weren’t discouraging... they did sort of paint a relatively bleak picture of the business, which it is. It’s not a success story for everybody.
IGNFF: Did they have a different direction that they pictured you going in - like a lawyer, or doctor, or certified accountant?
HEAD: Not really... my father did encourage me to write. He liked my poetry. He was always banging on the back - "You’re such a good poet, why don’t you do it anymore?" It’s like, "Well, I write films. I write lyrics." "Well, it’s not the same." "Well, it is for me."
IGNFF: Songwriting is essentially poetry.
HEAD: Oh, I know, but it doesn’t matter - he wants me to do alliterative. I used to sort of copy ... lots and lots of alliterative phrases, onomatopoeia and all that stuff - we don’t really do that in songwriting. Songwriting, as far as I’m concerned, the simpler the statement of emotion, the better. The more direct you can be, the more direct it is as a lyric. It strikes home at the heart. If you sort of try to airy-fairy it up, it comes out sounding...
IGNFF: Like you airy-fairied it up.
HEAD: Yeah, exactly.
IGNFF: You essentially grew up in the ’60s...
HEAD: Yeah, I guess so.
IGNFF: What was England like at that time in the early ’60s, and transitioning to the late ’60s?
HEAD: I guess my brother was more operative to it now. I mean, at the end of the ’60s, I was - well, I guess I did grow up through the ’60s... I was thinking, 16, but yeah - certainly my formative years, from the age of 6 onwards. I remember bubble cars, I remember an extremely unfortunate haircut. I remember collecting bubble gum cards of the Beatles, and having huge fights with friends, because it was always a bit of a rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. You either liked the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, and I liked the clean-cut Beatles.
What else do I remember? ... We used to have pounds instead of pence - that was money then. I remember doing a debate at secondary school about decimalization, because my father was making a movie about that - the pros and cons of what was going to happen to us when we went decimal. Basically, what no one realized was we were going to get shafted, because they kept going on about the overall value of money wouldn’t change, and of course it did. As soon as they went decimal, everything cost twice as much.
IGNFF: Who won the debate?
HEAD: I seem to remember it was more of a presentation than a debate, so I had to give the pros and the cons. And I seem to remember coming down quite hard on the cons. I wasn’t that impressed with decimalization - although, when it came out, it was new and it was exciting getting new coins. But we’re going to go through the whole thing here with the Euro, which is a nonsense anyway. The whole thing is going to be repeated with the Euro.
IGNFF: So you’ve already started writing the next paper, right?
HEAD: Yes, and no one’s listening.
IGNFF: Well now you have a bigger outlet than ever, to rally against it.
HEAD: Yeah, but do you really think the Americans care about the Euro?
IGNFF: Oh, the Americans are a star culture - if you care, then everyone will care.
HEAD: Well, I do understand about the global implications of countries joining and becoming a united Europe. I understand what that’s about, economically and emotionally. But at the same time, there is a part of this, it’s like - I don’t know what it would be like for Americans, because it’s such a huge country anyway. It’s very difficult for you to conceive what it’s like, to be this extremely small island, stuck at the tip of Europe. We are a bit grand for our size, to be honest.
IGNFF: It would essentially be if all of our states had different currencies and identities...
HEAD: Yes, which in some ways, they do. Not necessarily currencies, but you’ve each got a different picture on the quarter...
IGNFF: And they’re all worth different prices, because really, who wants to collect Rhode Island? It depends which has the best picture on the back ... I think we have to see your new campaign to rally against the Euro, for undefined reasons...
HEAD: Yeah. I am really... I am of two minds, as most Englishmen are. But it doesn’t really jive with me, when I hear the Finnish saying, "Oh yeah, it’s very good to have... new currency," and I’m thinking, "Why? What’s wrong with the old one?"
IGNFF: Probably because a lot of the currency values in other parts of Europe are significantly lower in trade, and once it’s all equalized...
HEAD: Yeah, but the idea ultimately is that it’s all going to balance out, and it will ultimately be relative to your currency - but I’m not convinced. I’m really not convinced. Actually, I care more about - I campaigned more a while back, basically when all the trade barriers came down. We have a thing here, it does exist to a certain extent in the States, but my partner works with animals, with horses, and I got involved with a campaign to prevent horses being transported live for slaughter, because for some extraordinary reason people seem to think an animal is worth more alive - when they sell it for meat - than it is if it’s frozen. It doesn’t matter what state the animal is in, as long as it’s alive. They drag these poor animals up the ramp into the market - with broken legs, with eyes that have been kicked and gouged, and they have no respect for the animals. We campaigned quite hard for that, and to a certain extent they have re-regulated it, but people are still doing it, and until they actually realize that it tastes just the same frozen - I mean, we are living in a modern world, where you can freeze meat. I don’t have anything against people eating horsemeat - I just have something against people mistreating animals.
IGNFF: It always seems like the most illogical conventions are always the most entrenched in people’s minds.
HEAD: I have absolutely no time for people who say, "Oh, it’s tradition," or "It’s always existed, so therefore it should go on existing." I don’t hold that with foxhunting, I don’t hold that with bullfighting, I don’t hold that with any abuse of an animal that can be stopped.
IGNFF: They’re confusing tradition with what’s right.
HEAD: Well, yeah. But what they’re confusing is tradition or it’s part of culture, and therefore it should remain because it is part of the culture, and if you erode the culture, you erode the very fabric of that nation’s heritage. Yes, you look at the Native Americans on the reservations and how hard they fought to keep their heritage, but in stark contrast, the Native American culture had a great, great respect for animals, and so I’ve got no problem with them. I do have a problem with cultures... the fact that we’re still whaling is ridiculous...
IGNFF: I’m waiting for a group to start saying that stoning was traditional, so that should be reintroduced.
IGNFF: How much of an influence would you say that your older siblings were, during the ’60s?
HEAD: I only had one... I did look up to him enormously - he was eight years older than me, and you know, I sort of put him on a pedestal. We used to fight, mercilessly. And, of course, he always won.
IGNFF: But there were no hard feelings.
HEAD: I don’t know - probably there were! But, you know, he had a band, and I remember trying to hang around, sort of listening. He actually had a skiffle group, which I thought was very impressive. Do you know what a skiffle group is?
IGNFF: Yes, that was kind of like the precursor to the British rock movement, wasn’t it?
HEAD: Pretty well - it was jazz roots, but kind of hinging around the... it was a big soap box, with a broom handle tied to it with a string, that was the bass. You moved the broom handle, and changed the length of the string. And a washboard, and guitar - it was a very homespun.
IGNFF: So it was the British equivalent of a jug band?
HEAD: Pretty well, yeah. He had one of those at one point, and he basically early on did the singing thing. I remember when we used to go camping with my parents, we always used to go to France, and come time to put the tent up, Murray was never, ever around, and I used to be sent off to get him. He knew all the local villages and the girls and all that, because he had a guitar and he played very well and he sang very well. So I used to, as I said, hang around - the young brother looking in on the action. I guess in terms of the ’60s influencing me, he was a hippie, and he was in Hair and all that stuff... but that was the ’70s then, that wasn’t ’60s. I don’t know what else to say. I have sort of fleeting images of the ’60s - Bubble cars, and things like that, which were hugely important. Bubble cars... you never had bubble cars in America...
HEAD: You’re very, very lucky.
IGNFF: Why would you say that?
HEAD: Have you ever been in a bubble car?
IGNFF: No, I haven’t - what was the experience like?
HEAD: It was really one of the most terrifying experiences you’ll ever have in your life - to be bore down on, by a double-decker London bus, when you’re sitting in a bubble car - an extremely small, three wheeler. There was just room for two people, sat side by side, and it was on very small wheels, and it was tiny. You were seriously, seriously overwhelmed by anything else on the road.
IGNFF: Or people walking beside the road.
HEAD: Yes, indeed - easily overwhelming in a bubble car. But looking backward, they were cool.
IGNFF: So now you have to go find yourself one.
HEAD: I think not. If I treasure my life at all, I think I should stay away from the bubble car.
IGNFF: Somewhere the Bubble Car Appreciation Society’s going to read this interview and be very disappointed that they can’t have you as a spokesperson.
HEAD: Or if Joss [Whedon] reads it, he’ll probably give Giles one.
IGNFF: Now that you’ve said that, you’ve actually laid the seed for it - "Giles has to have his own bubble car, and he has to drive it in every episode."
HEAD: Yes, I know. I did actually pitch for a motorcycle and sidecar at one point, and he wouldn’t have that, so maybe I’m safe.
IGNFF: He gave you a Citroen, so the bubble car is just one step down from that...
HEAD: No, the Citroen was cool - I just couldn’t drive it.
IGNFF: They never did show - maybe twice, you actually driving it?
HEAD: That’s because every job I’ve ever had, I’ve always said when I have to drive, "Please give me automatic shift, please don’t give me manual shift." And every time, they’ve given me stick shift. The Citroen has this bizarre sort of semi-automatic thing, where you have a gearshift, but you don’t have a clutch. It’s bizarre. The first year, the one we had was fine - it was a big station wagon. I wasn’t brilliant at driving it, but I was okay. Then for some reason they let it go, I don’t know why, so when we came back, they had this ... old thing, which was constantly going wrong - brakes failing and all sorts of things. It was a death trap. I’ve never been so pleased to see anything die, as that car driven into the wall by Spike.
IGNFF: Was the next year an automatic, or was that another stick shift?
HEAD: Yes, that is an automatic. It was automatic - they finally listened to my plea.
IGNFF: But they still didn’t give you the motorcycle and sidecar.
HEAD: No. Probably just as wise.
IGNFF: In your school years, was there anything else that you ever thought of pursuing, besides acting or performing?
HEAD: I did turn on to making jewelry; I did that for a while. I guess if it came to it, I suppose I could probably get a market store and hang out the old silver cross. And writing... I loved writing. I really, really liked writing. I loved writing essays - imaginative essays, stories - and I still do write. I sort of write scripts now.
IGNFF: Anything that will eventually be published?
HEAD: I doubt it.
IGNFF: Because of a personal desire not to see it published?
HEAD: Nah, it’s just the way it is. I mean, ultimately, you always have aspirations. You always say, "Yeah, this is the best thing that’s ever been written." But until you actually see it somewhere, you just keep writing, keep doing it, keep putting out. I have no doubt that something will be made eventually, but I’ve grown out of thinking, "Yeah, this is the best thing that’s ever been written and it has to be made - tomorrow!" It doesn’t work like that somehow. Everything takes much longer than you expect ... I strongly feel now that the tighter you hold on to something, and the more desperately you think, "Oh, I’ve got to make it" - I’ve traipsed the same old thing around with me in one form or another for a few years now, and I finally let it go. Finally just said, "You know, whatever happens to it - fine by me." And if something does happen to it, that’s fine. But the more you hold on to something, and the more you say, "I’m going to make it work, I’m going to make it work," it just becomes about that. It becomes about the fight, rather than the creativity itself. I like the creativity, I like the process - I enjoy that. I find it’s challenging and exciting and trying to bash out a storyline and get it right. There’s a film I’m writing with a friend of mine, and it’s based on a couple of ideas of mine that we put together, and we wrote what’s called a beat sheet - which is basically all the major beats in the movie, all sort of strung together - and gave it to a friend, who is a bona fide screenplay writer, who said, "Hmm, who’s the protagonist - who’s the main character?" I went, "Oh, he is." And he said, "No, she is. She is the one that has all the life-changing events." And I went, "Oh!" We had to go back to the drawing board, which completely turned it on its head. Just completely scrapped everything. There were a couple of things that we kept, but for the main part - and you have to be prepared to do that, and it’s wonderful. The more you do that, the more you open yourself up to change, and allowing change to happen - rather than holding dearly to something, saying, "Nope, nope, nope, it’s mine! I created it!" - the more adventure you have in life, and the more of a learning experience it is. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to hold onto things and say, "No, no, no, that’s me! That’s the way I am." And it doesn’t do us any good at all.
IGNFF: So it’s similar to what Twain said - "You have to be willing to kill your babies."
HEAD: Sure, absolutely. Not in the literal sense, I have to say - I would not. I don’t think he had a great relationship with his family, did he?
IGNFF: No, I think he was cantankerous right up until the end - and his writing showed it.
HEAD: Well, what did he know, then?
IGNFF: You’ve also developed a musical over the years, haven’t you?
HEAD: Yeah, that’s the thing that’s followed me around for several, several years, in one form or another. It’s found one form of interest or another. Basically, the people I’ve worked with or written with, I’m happy to let them take it, and I’ll certainly chip in, but I don’t want to resolutely say, "No, it has to work, it has to work." As they say, "It’s in development," but what does that mean? Having worked on some music with somebody else for a while, I’ve enjoyed the process anew, finding a new musical style. It’s a question of opening your vision and horizons, rather than closing them down and saying, "It has to be this way, this is what I want." I mean, it may find its way into another genre before it is a musical film, but we’ll see.
IGNFF: I’m actually surprised that you haven’t put out more albums.
HEAD: I’m not keen... I mean, I love singing and I enjoy writing music enormously, but unfortunately, we have an attitude here - and I actually find myself falling into the same trap - that when I see an album on the shelf which is by somebody who is from a show, of thinking - "Why does he have to do that?"
IGNFF: Thinking it’s a vanity release?
HEAD: Well, kind of. You wonder how much they really needed to express themselves that way. Now, sometimes one is pleasantly surprised, and you go, "Whoa! Man, I didn’t know you had that in you - that’s cool!" There’s a performer here called Jimmy Nail who’s got a great voice. He ended up... I mean, I actually competed with him for the nightclub singer in Evita - the movie of Evita - and he got it.
IGNFF: And yet you’re still praising his talent!
HEAD: No, he’s good! He’s released two albums, I think the second of which is a bit limited. But he’s got a great voice, and he did a fantastic cover of "Love Don’t Live Here Anymore." But he’s got a very R&B sound - it’s a little bit limited, but it’s good. It’s very good. I’m just, you know, it’s taken all this time for somebody to actually offer me money to make an album - albeit a small amount.
IGNFF: Is this the one that you’re working on with George Sarah?
HEAD: All that is just a collection of songs that we sort of put together, and it was very interesting to work in that medium - to work in the electronic medium - because it turned my set perception of how you write a song, how you put a song together... put it out to grass. It’s very different - you’re writing sound pictures instead of writing verse, verse, chorus, bridge, middle A and all that stuff. At one point, I did say near the end of the process to George, "We need to write a middle A now," and he said, "No, we don’t," quite emphatically. And so we didn’t. I had a great time writing it, and it just became this bunch of songs, and I insisted on just working with friends. A couple of times George said, "Perhaps we should bring some session musicians in." I said, "No, I’ve got so many people that we know who are talented - I just want this to be a collection of friends kind of just putting music together." And that’s the way it is, really. As I said, there was a really small budget, and we went into a bunch of very small studios that are tucked into the backs of houses all over the place - we went to about four or five different studios to record different tracks, and it was a really, really pleasant experience. It became a little bit tricky towards the end. At one point I came back to England and we had to finish stuff off while I was here, and that became an interesting challenge. But as far as I’m concerned, very rewarding at the end of it.
IGNFF: And the album is completed now?
IGNFF: Any set release date for it yet, or is it still in the pipelines?
HEAD: I believe it’s February 5th. There’s a website that people can listen to. There’s little samples of music. I am reluctant to do a big selling, because I don’t want it to be about that - "Tony Head sings!" It really isn’t about that. It’s literally the fact that somebody gave me the opportunity to have a bash, and just put some stuff down. When I met George and we talked about our various influences and we realized that we had some in common. He would constantly throughout the process play me various different electronic bands, and I’ve come very into Massive Attack - and I never really got into Massive Attack before - and Bjork, and Portishead, and a few others. But Massive Attack is his real love. From the moment we said, "All right, let’s meet once and have a jam and see how we get on," and as I said on the website, basically, it’s we sat down and came up with three or four basis for the songs, just one after another - just really, really solid grooves. At that point, he said, "It would be foolish not to do this." While there’s that much creativity and there’s that much opportunity and possibility, why not do it? I had all the stuff of... well... I don’t want people to listen to it just because they’ve seen me on the show, because that’s not what it’s about. If you like somebody’s songs and their voice, then you listen to it because you like their songs - not because you’ve seen them in a TV show. But if that’s what it takes for people to go, "Oh, I wonder what it’s like"... but as I say, if I see a record on a shelf, that I know - although I have to say, I’m very, very pleasantly surprised that Nicole Kidman’s released a single with Robbie Williams in England - I don’t know whether it’s in the States, and she’s got a lovely, really sweet voice.
IGNFF: The bottom line with those kind of releases is that they all live and die by the talent evident on the disc.
HEAD: Well, the bottom line is you know there’s nothing really behind that but money...
IGNFF: The same can be said for just about all the artists that are put out by major corporations, nowadays...
HEAD: I guess. And I know the record company gave us the whole amount of money that they did to make this album - I know that they want to recoup, and they’d like to make a stack... and good luck to them. To be honest, I’d like it to sell, and I’d like George to make some money, because I think he’s extremely talented, and I’d like him to get some more kudos. As I say, ultimately for me, the whole experience is about being able to play and sing with friends, people that I work with in the show, and also people that I’ve worked with in my acting class - people that I’ve met through them - and ultimately, I just came out very proud of something that’s a groove. It’s nice.
IGNFF: Who were some of the musicians who play on the record?
HEAD: I do a duet with a wonderful singer called Holly Palmer - she’s in my class. She’s from David Bowie’s backing band. I watched her playing live a few times, and her percussionist, a guy called Jay Bellerose, is just phenomenal... stunning. It was one of those where - "Any chance you can play anything? Any old track will do." There was a point where he was out of town, and George was saying, "Look, we’re going to have to go with - I can open the book ..." "No, I really want him!" In fact, Jay was out of town, and when he came back, he just had a window to do the time on the album. Some great discoveries... a girl from my class called Justina Muchado, who’s got a wonderful, sensuous soul kind of Latina vocal - fantastic. She’s on a couple of tracks. Amber Benson sings on a couple of tracks. James [Marsters] does one of them. A dear friend of mine from class... and the list goes on ... There’s a sample of a really, really sweet lady that I met - it’s just full of bits and pieces. Friends.