Dreamwatch, British TV and movie magazine.
A New Man, December 2000 (#75), by John Mosby.
From the terrors of Sunnydale to the realistic horror in a new BBC Silent Witness film... Anthony Stewart Head takes high tea with John Mosby.
Meeting Tony Head for the first time is an unusual experience. On one hand you expect him to be like an old friend. Giles, the inoffensive, dry-humoured librarian that we've all come to know and love. On the other, he's...well...not. He's friendly, yes. But the personality is more akin to his younger Ripper persona. Tony Head has that sparkle in his eyes that says "Watch out... under this calm exterior is a librarian who can kick ass and plays a mean guitar." He does too, as anyone who heard his rendition of "Every Breath You Take" at the UK's Nocturnal 2K convention would agree. No extra points for guessing why he picked that song...
The actor, once known for being a much more heavenly neighbor with a penchant for coffee, has been with Buffy the Vampire Slayer since the very beginning of its television incarnation. "My first reaction to getting an audition was, 'Hmmm, that was a film...didn't do that well.' Then, I just suggested that they bung me some scripts. They sent me the first two and I thought it was brilliant. Anything that could make me laugh out loud and make me want to turn the page and find out what happens next has to be good," Head concedes. "I'd seen nothing like this on television and I really wanted to be involved with it."
When Head and the rest of the cast filmed the pilot show, he was still not sure if Buffy would succeed. It was all a matter of balance and his first reaction was one of extreme caution. "The pilot was an odd thing. I saw some of the dailies and I saw what I'd done. 'Oh, Jesus,' I thought. It wasn't good. I thought I was too over the top. When you read for something and you get it, you're not quite sure what it was they liked. It's frightening. Now I know. I discovered it somewhere down the line. I remember asking Joss if he truly thought it was going to be a success. He said, 'No-one will get it. The studio won't get it. The network won't get it. But the punters will and it will spread by word of mouth,' and that's exactly what happened."
Giles may have been a bit of a stickler for the rules to begin with, but Head admits that he has reveled in the chance to push the boundaries of his character and what the audience expects from him. After all, who knew he was such a rebel in his teenage years and that he would be so good at singing the blues?
"You can see, thankfully--from the way it has been written and the way we work together--that there has been progression. If you saw the last season before the first, you'd see that immediately. The first season was about establishing the relationship with Buffy. Giles had to be a little up his own bottom, just so i would highlight Buffy's rebellion and the fact that she didn't want any part of it. We had that contrast," he smiles. "Joss is really good at spotlighting conflict in our own lives and shoving it in there unexpectedly! It's been a really rewarding job for no other reason than you would have to search very far for a job that gives you so much room for breadth. It's real growth. It's not like a soap where they send you to a monastery or turn you into a rocket-scientist. These are real growing pains. It's amazing!"
Thought Sarah Michelle Gellar is invariably the figurehead of the show, each character clearly contributes to its success. "There is no doubt in Joss's mind that this is an ensemble show," Head agrees. "Ultimately, down the line, that is what matters. He's always known that and he writes it for an ensemble. It's about interaction of characters. It's not like a dark crusader, it's not one man. Angel is a little out on his own with some good support, but Buffy has always been this very odd connection between characters. You take one of them away and you don't know what will happen. It certainly wouldn't be the same.
"It wasn't exactly the same thing with Angel because he wasn't there in the beginning. Taking Cordelia away... well, she was so good as a foil. It always annoys us slightly that...well, they have to market the show in some way, and they chose to market it was Sarah and Buffy. Dawson's Creek is marketed as an ensemble. It's all about how you sell the show. The first poster actually showed Sarah Michelle and Nicky [Nicholas Brendon]. When Angel came onboard, [the marketing people] went, 'Oh, right, it's a romance thing. Now we get it!' So it was all that for a while. But there is so much more to it than that."
Season four had some ups and downs, but there were some excellent standout episodes. One of these was "A New Man," in which Head got to wear heavy make-up for the first time since Rocky Horror. "Oh, we had a whale of a time with that!" he laughs. "We did have a problem last year, for one reason or another, with scripts coming late. The week before we were supposed to shoot it, I was told I had a great episode coming up. They said, 'Hey, you get to be a demon!' I thought that was great. I'd get to kick some ass. I'd be tough and mean. Then they said, 'Yeah, it's really funny!' I thought, 'Arggh! Not fair!' But then I read it. I love Jane Espenson's writing. Some people write best for certain people and she writes so well for me. I've loved every episode she's done, and she did a bang-up job there. It was great fun to do that and to talk through Joss's ideas. He was very specific about what he wanted [from the demon] and what he didn't. There were drawings and everything to see. They've still got the costume. I hope 'he' comes back at some point."
Another episode Head holds in high regard is "Hush," which ran for almost thirty minutes without a single word being spoken. "'Hush!' What a blinding episode! I do so hope it gets the recognition it deserves. Joss is a really good writer and one of the tragedies is that it's fallen into the whole classic 'sci-fi show don't get awards' mind-set. Why shouldn't they?" Head argues. "Joss does such interesting things. I've yet to see the final episode of season four with all its dream sequences. What I love is that he plays around with things in that way. There's nothing obvious. American television and British television both have their drawbacks. English television tends to do a little bit more innovative stuff, but American television gets an amazing amount of product out there which then becomes mainstream. One American critic told me, just after the second season of Buffy, that they knew the line had been crossed and that they could expect anything from Buffy. It was nice to know we had people with us on that."
Though Giles isn't the most physical of roles, Head does get to do some of the rough and tumble scenes, but is more than happy to leave some of the more spectacular sequences to the experts. "I try to do as much of my own stuff as I can because I hate when it's set up so they can't see your face and it's obviously not you. I was trained to fight at drama school, so I might as well pitch in there. They won't let me jump over walls which is a shame [laughs]! I've done some sequences when we're pushed for time and they need to get fights finished."
Each season of Buffy steers the action in a slightly different direction, and Head admits that the lessons learned in season four will be felt through the next run. "I don't think it's giving a large amount away to say that last season was about the getting of freedom and its repercussions (finding out what it does and how you deal with it), the next is more about finding yourself. That's part of the journey we all make and keep making," he explains. "I hadn't realised, until I was talking to a journalist about it, just how far the 'freedom' thing went across the range of characters. Even the character of Maggie Walsh got some of that. I don't think Joss could resist what he did there. 'The baddie you're going to be dealing with all season is...oh no, she's dead!' I love that he does that!"
So we can expect some surprises from the fifth season, which started in the States with a visit from Count Dracula. Can even a continuation of the Spike/Giles double act top that? "Well, as soon as you get used to something, Joss will turn the tables, somehow. As far as I know there are plans for me to team up with somebody and it will be very funny, but I don't know for sure what will happen," Head reveals. "But a Giles and Spike spin-off show? Nooooooo. Again, I like that Giles has an agenda all of his own, but I can't see Joss doing that sort of thing at all.
"We are actually contracted for seven years. As to whether or not the show will run that, I don't know. For how long can it keep topping itself [laughs]? For as long as Joss is involved it will always be quality material. He won't let that go out of it. But where it goes... I don't know. People always ask me whether I want to know what's coming next. I don't. You don't know in real life. It's day to day. It's nice to get intimations, but that's about it. I do know [Joss] wants to make the movie that he never got to make."
As for projects away from Buffy, time is limited, but Head recently had some unexpected opportunities. "I was supposed to be doing a film with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston, but when the last rewrite came in they had put my character and Tim Spall's character together. My part was down to a line. Someone, somewhere, hadn't given my line to him. That turned out to be typo too!" he sighs.
"The BBC are doing a series of Silent Witness dramas and I'm playing a man whose life falls apart because he has a relationship with a 13-year-old. Basically, he's thrown out. There's a later scene where he tries to 'pull' a couple of 17-year-old girls. I want to try and get a line in somewhere where he, like many men, wonders when he became a dirty old man. Where was the point when it was no longer acceptable to think of a 17-year-old that way? Thankfully, I have a strong relationship in real life, but it's interesting to explore that darker side on screen.
"It's the first time I've done anything major during a hiatus. If I get six days in a row free, I try to fly back to England to be with my family. But one little hiccup or pick-up shot and it can ruin plans. However, Buffy is such a nice gig in a very sunny place. I can't complain at all!"
Neither can the viewers. With Giles set to run the local Sunnydale Magic Shop in the coming months, there's little doubt that Ripper still has a few tricks up his sleeve...
Heads or Tails, May 2000 (#69), by Paul Simpson and Ruth Thomas. (See also companion piece, "Demonising Giles.")
Rupert Giles' life has been turned upside down during the fourth season of Buffy, but, as Paul Simpson and Ruth Thomas learn, Anthony Head is thoroughly enjoying the changes...
When Dreamwatch spoke to Tony Head at the very start of 1999, Buffy was really an unknown quantity in the UK. BBC2 had just begun its transmission of the first season, after Sky had pulled the show from its schedules the preceding summer when it didn't seem to be attracting the audience that it had in America. But Tony was quietly confident that British audiences would relate to the adventures of the High School Vampire Slayer--and he turned out to be absolutely correct.
Turn the clock forward fourteen months, and BBC2 is just beginning transmission of the third year; Sky is running the fourth season and the spin-off show Angel back-to-back, mirroring the pattern in the U.S. and ending up only a few days behind the American transmission. Videos, books and magazines have sprung up, chronicling the Slayer's life. And, in a trailer on the Buffy sound stage in Los Angeles, Tony Head is loving every minute of it. Perched on a sofa beneath assorted Hallowe'en decorations, and watched over by colourful action figures, he looks totally at ease.
Buffy has changed completely this year.
All our roles have changed. [Creator] Joss Whedon's ethos has always been to mirror life, because Buffy is a metaphor for growing pains, and the pains of life and experience. When you go to college, you start to gain your independence, and you start to have a different relationship with the adults in your life--and that's what's being mirrored. It's been great fun being Giles out of work, and wrestling with mid-life crisis--hence my earring.
You're enjoying yourself...
Yeah! You go through very real transition, as they say, "moment to moment" but at the same time it's heightened by whatever is affecting the story. You do get to do some fun things on this show that I don't think anyone else gets to do anywhere else. It's not like a soap, where everything is really heightened. It's all so based in reality that you can retain your belief that you can survive this and still call yourself an actor, and still have a lot of fun.
Did you know where this season was going?
No I didn't. You never know what Joss has in mind. When we were talking originally about this season, now that the library has blown up, perhaps Giles could get a job or something. A bookshop or maybe a record shop of old vinyl albums. Then Joss aid, "It's much more fun, more interesting that he's out of work. Let's see where it takes him; let's see what happens." He's not only out of a job as a Watcher, but it gives him that edge of "What do I do now?" Which is much more interesting to play. I don't know where it's going either, and I certainly don't know where it's going next season.
There are times when Giles feels very spare. There are other times when everybody does turn to him. It's not felt bad what's happened to him, it's been interesting to play him. I did a play called Rope, and I adopted this sort of James Mason way of speaking. About halfway through rehearsals, I got to this huge speech, about two third of the way through the play, and I was doing it with this vocal thing. The director wanted me to do it differently, wanted to do it much lower. The character had this lightness about it, but he told me not worry. He said, "The character's now part of you; you don't have to do anything... Just let it go." So I did it, and it was. What I did up to that point informed what I did then. And in the same way Giles is kind of in me, so anything that they throw at me, I don't have to think about. I still work through the scenes, I still do preparatory work and still think about it, but he's as much part of me, as I am of him. Anything they throw at me, I haven't had to think that Giles is changing. I've just taken whatever they give me and run with it.
Are you still having to ensure his Englishness?
Occasionally. They'll still put "I guess," rather than "I suppose." Little bits and pieces I change. Occasionally a writer will write what they think is complicated Giles-speak and it's just unintelligible--but it's very rare. Joss has a remarkable feeling for the English dialect and writes very well for it. This season, because Joss has been spread more thinly--he is still watching over Angel, he can't let go. He says he will but he can't--sometimes scripts have been stuck in the loop because Joss hasn't had time to work on them. Occasionally scripts may come through and he may have missed something, so consequently, I have to say, "Excuse me, I can't say this..." but generally because Giles has mellowed so much, and has become this libidinous, more sort of down and funky, there's less Giles-speak and more general talk. I don't know--somebody watching it might say, "No, no, Giles sounds exactly the same!" It's difficult for me to see.
Has Giles' relationship with Buffy changed dramatically?
The thing that has altered is when you go to college, you rely less on the adults that have been in your life. You may find new mentors--as Buffy was about to find with Maggie Walsh until she got gutted. She has relied less on me, so therefore we have had a few exchanges, a few emotional moments talking about Willow being completely bereft when Oz left. I love doing scenes with Sarah, it's always great fun. We have a huge respect for each other. It gives us both a moment to draw it down to a sensitive little level. I have a different relationship with Buffy than anyone else on the show, so consequently, because there's less of it, you notice it more... It's more concentrated--just like orange juice!
Have you missed having scenes with Joyce?
It was interesting. Joss never had any intention of us being an item. It would have been far too painful for Buffy, and for all of us, but Joss' characters have always thrived on the difficulties of the situation. Just turn up the heat... Giles knocks Buffy's mum off on the hood of a police car [in "Band Candy"], and that is obviously going to put a lot of tension in our relationship.
And make you walk into trees...
I was amazed Joss let me do that! It was like, "oh get on," and he liked it in the end. Then it didn't get shown for weeks because it was the end of "Earshot"--the episode that got booted. I did enjoy being allowed to do something stupid.
Are you still squeezing little unscripted moments in?
Yes. Occasionally I make a mistake, and the other night I did something that Joss didn't like. There was a scene in an alley, and I always look for life outside a scene. It's something my teacher has taught me--look for something arbitrary that is completely outside the scene. You play the arbitrary and it informs the scene by the mere fact that you're not concentrating on it. I came up with this idea that Giles has something on his shoe...
Normally Joss is all for it. The props guys come up to me and ask if I want a cup. I just like to find something that means the scene isn't just what's on the page. It's about life. The one I still haven't got in...oh yes I did. I wanted to blow my nose in one scene, and everybody got very uppity about it--not Joss, but everyone else was. I did do it in a scene with Alexis. I like stuff like that. It's realism. It's life. And it doesn't necessarily detract from the energy of the scene--it shows you're just seeing a part of what's going on.
Giles' apartment has grown this year, since it's now a point where the gang congregate..
Yes! It's got a bathroom. In one of the episodes when Spike initially came to us, he's chained up in the bath. You didn't see it, but underneath the bathmat, they'd spelt out "GILES" in the tiles. And they put all sorts of things in my bathroom cabinet. Which I am not going to talk about... We still don't go up to my bedroom very much because it's difficult to get up there. We've built into the courtyard, which we don't shoot in quite as much as intended, because it's extremely hot out there. They need to light it for day, so they need these huge arc lights, and it's like an oven.
Did you have much input in the additional decoration?
No. A fair amount of stuff came from my office in the library. Suddenly I had a television, which had obviously been hidden away. In one episode I had a wind up gramophone, and now I've got a proper system--still vinyl, though, and quite right too! A man of taste! Digital is alright but you miss a lot of the ambient sound. I'd love Giles to open a record shop. If he ever has a shop it'll probably be a bookshop, but I'd love him to have a corner with all those old James Brown albums. I've lost me car, so somebody said I'd have a pushbike. I actually drove the Council's truck the other day, and I said, "So this is Giles' new wagon is it?"
I'm hoping I'm gong to get a little spot in Angel, because I'd love to do some more work with Alexis [Denisof, who plays former Watcher Wesley Wyndham-Price]. I had one scene with David at the beginning of the season which was really nice. I miss the tension between us. It was a good tension between the characters. It's nice to keep it alive, because you never know when he's going to come back into the show. We've talked about it, but it's probably to be next season.
You've worked with Alexis before...
Yes, on Rope in Chichester. For Wesley, they were looking for somebody "who thinks he's Pierce Brosnan, but is actually George Lazenby," and I said, "You ought to see my friend Alexis." He's just fantastic. He played one of the two guys who did the murder in Rope and he was fantastic, as indeed they've found on Angel.
Have you done much other work recently?
I'm in the [American] E! [cable] Channel's first movie, a spoof on a famous awards ceremony called Best Actress. It's a very black, tongue-in-cheek dark comedy about the five candidates for Best Actress. I'm playing an English actor/director who's know for directing Shakespeare, married to one of the candidates, who leave her and has an affair with one of the other candidates. So I married to Rachel Hunter and then I had an affair with Jamie Presley, which was very nice too! Then when we finish this season, I'm doing a movie which I'm very excited about, starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston, produced by George Clooney and Wahlberg, called Metal God. It's about this guy who his taken on by an established British rock band. I play the manager. That's April through May, and then hopefully I'll get some holiday with my family. Then back here and see what Joss has got up his sleeve this year!
You've said before that "Passion? was one your favourite episodes; which others have you found fulfilling?
I still love "Passion." I think it had just fantastic performance. There have been a number of things. I thought Alyson in "Pangs" was just extraordinary--a beautiful performance. You don't see such an emotional performance on television. I thought "Hush" was fantastic, it's the one episode we can't show the kids cos it's just so scary. I was so blown away by it. Joss has just some wonderful ideas. "Let's do two thirds of the show in silence...! Just to see if we can..." then gives himself the task of writing it. I love that Joss plays with the medium. He's not content to say "We've got something good, let's milk it dry." He wants to see where we can go with it. The Buffy/Faith two parter was a great idea. "Let's see them play each other" and they did, brilliantly! You've got "Doppelgangerland" in which Alyson was brilliant as her alter ego.
I respect Joss hugely for taking risks, not sitting back and turning out the same old stuff. And it's still building an audience. He always said it would be a slow build. It's built v