Dreamwatch, British TV and movie magazine.
Demonising Giles, May 2000 (#69). (Companion piece to "Heads or Tails."
For "A New Man," Tony Head learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of key make-up artist Todd McIntosh's work, as Giles was turned by one of Ethan Rayne's spells in to a Fioral Demon...
The demon was a metaphor, an allegory; at the time Giles was feeling very left out and alienated. It wasn't so much that he became a demon, but a demon that nobody can understand. He thinks that he's communicating with them, but all they can hear is this garbled thing, so it's total alienation. It's also the mother of a hangover because he goes out on the binge with his arch-enemy who slips him a Mickey Finn so he wakes up with these horns. So yes, it is based in reality. So what's the extreme of being alienated? It's being turned into a demon, which is the last thing in the world Giles would want to be, and it was so embarrassing for him. It was great!
What was your reaction when you saw the script for that one?
I was told beforehand. The week before everyone was going, "Phwaor!! Demon!!" and I was thinking, "Great, I'll get to be really mean and do some horrible things," then someone said it was really funny, and I thought, "What? A demon, and it's really funny? That doesn't work." Then when I read it, it was wonderful. I love Jane Espenson's writing, she has some great ideas. It was so left of field, and it was extremely funny. I was still looking for little moments where I could be dark. There are a couple that creep in there. How long did it take? It started off at around four hours, and then we got it down to three. Todd is good. I did about half a show--three or four days--and the rest of it was Giles getting to the stage where he was really depressed. Everyone else know about the Initiative, and about Maggie and about everything else..."
Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, March 1999 (#54), by Paul Simpson.
"If the BBC felt like moving Buffy the Vampire Slayer to early evening Saturdays... I think they might have a bit of a ratings hits on their hands."
I read Peter Bradshaw's Evening Standard review of 7 January to Tony Head, as we open a transatlantic call with a discussion of the reception to Buffy's arrival on British terrestrial television, and its placement in a 6.45 pm slot after reruns of The Next Generation.
"But we don't want it early Saturdays," Tony says quickly. "I don't want it there. What they're doing with the midweek thing is, there is a spill over of adults. Adults who are watching Star Trek are going to get off on Buffy. [Creator] Joss [Whedon] always said from the beginning: 'It's going to be a huge hit, but it's going to be a slow burn. It's going to be spread on word of mouth.' And that's exactly what's happened. I think it's quite interesting programming. This stands more chance of getting the full breadth of their audience, and I think if it was relegated to a Saturday evening, it would be limiting."
Tony is highly enthusiastic about his role as Rupert Giles, the librarian and Watcher, whose job it is to assist Buffy in her fight against the forces gathered around the Hellmouth. Acting is in his blood--as a child, he watched his mother recording Maigret for television opposite Rupert Davies, and realised that acting was "accessible." Encouragement at school, followed by coaching from a director at a youth theatre, led to LAMDA and assorted stage, film and television roles, including the parts for which he has gained much recognition: Frank N Furter in Rocky Horror on stage, and "the man" in the Gold/Taster's Blend coffee commercials. About six years ago he moved to Los Angeles following the vision he had had for years of "being here at some point, doing American TV and film."
A regular role as Oliver Sampson in the SF series VR.5 ended when the show was cancelled ("all they needed to do was make it more accessible," Tony claims), and another potential regular role as magician Adam Klaus on the British series Jonathan Creek was curtailed when Buffy was picked up for a second season, some time after the first had been recorded.
Tony was taken with Buffy from the start. "I was sitting in the Border Grill in Santa Monica, on my own. I was reading the script and laughed out loud, and sort of suddenly found myself having to stop because people were looking at me! As I was reading it, I couldn't wait to turn the page and find out what happened next. I thought, 'This is an extraordinary combination. I'm no judge of what is going to be a success on TV but this has to be a success. It's so different. There's nothing like it on TV."
To sell the series to the network, a half hour presentation was prepared. It wasn't as polished as the pilot became, Tony recalls. "The effects were great, but we were all very strange. The end scene that I did was horrible. I was walking past when they were watching dailies, and I went, 'Oh my God, that's not what I intended to do,' and thankfully, I was able to go back and redress it. It was directed by Joss, and he's now an incredible director, but he had a fairly unhelpful crew. It was one of those things."
"How did Tony see the character of Giles at the start of the series? "The way I always envisaged it was that all he knows is what he has been trained to do. He knows books, but he's had little or no practical experience. When I was researching it, I went to an American High School for a while. I got a vibe for the library, then I went upstairs and sat in their lunch area. It was such a culture shock that it was the best part of the whole experience, because I felt so ill at ease and so alien in this little world. It was like nothing I'd ever known.
"That was it basically. Giles was completely out of place. That was what I played initially--someone, also, who is socially inept, because his whole life is spent wrapped up in his little world. I loosely based it on a friend of mine, who was an archeologist who ended up being a librarian. Giles is loosely based on various characters. When I went to the producers, I said, 'I'd like to sort of stammer a bit--what about Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and A Funeral? But at the same time I see elements of Alan Rickman. Where do you see it going?' And they said, 'Yeah!'
"In fact that's what he is: he's somewhere between the two. When he's on a wicket that he understands, and is firing on all cylinders, he is a man of action and is extremely potent and very powerful. As we go on we find out about his past. We find out that he was a rebel, and all sorts of stuff. He wasn't always into this bookish stuff, and he's actually fallen back into this to make up for some of his past. Initially there was this strange dichotomy: if someone caught him suddenly in a social moment, he would just dissolve into a stammering confused mess--which is fun to play!"
Does he think that Giles initially liked Buffy? He pauses. "Interesting question. I think he likes her, but she annoys him. He mere fact that she doesn't want the job that he's offering her; she frustrates him. She represents everything that he doesn't understand can't comprehend.
"I don't think 'like' initially comes into it. Ultimately he likes her very much and becomes extremely fond of her. People have said, 'What is it? A father/daughter relationship?' And it's not quite. There's nothing like it on TV. It's difficult to pigeonhole. He becomes extremely fond of her, and gets into all sorts of terrible trouble because of it..."
What about the other teenagers? "Xander is a complete anathema to him. A great annoyance because he never seems to take anything seriously. Cordelia is...who knows where she's coming from? Willow he respects greatly, but it's all a confusion to him. He's never really sure of anybody or anything. The only thing he is sure about is what he's supposed to do. That's what makes it fun. Going back to that original day when I sat in that lunch area, he's an alien--a fish out of water. And thankfully the writing is extremely well observed. Very rarely have they put in a 'English' gag that doesn't feel right. Occasionally they've put something in and I've let it pass. The humour has become less from the fact that he's English, more that he's confused and dazed by the situation he finds himself in. It's become more about people and less about nationalities."
How much input does Tony get into Giles' character? "Joss is extremely open to discussion. There have been a couple of occasions when I've looked at the script following a fairly important moment in the storyline, and said, 'I should have some input here with Buffy,' and he'll say, 'You're absolutely right,' and gone away and written it. Even if it's just a line, it'll just serve that beat.
"I'm terrible--I can find a gag in most moments, and I've learned when to suggest it and when not, because Joss will give it to you if he feels it's relevant, but if he feels it's the wrong moment he'll say no. He's very adamant, very specific about where he puts it and not put it. We talk about story arcs and how things affect the character, and he's always open to suggestion, and has gone away and come back with something. It's a wonderful show to be involved in, because there is input, there is latitude; people genuinely listen, and it's not a question of being ruled over."
All the actors say what a fun set it is. "It's an extremely close bunch. It's all the way through. It's not just the actors. It's the crew, and up in the production office. It's genuinely very nice to go back to work. And everybody has a very different role to play in it.
"One of the successes of Buffy is that it is such an ensemble piece. It's not really sold as that, but when you watch the show, there is not one weak link in it, and I think that makes a difference. There's not one character who you wish wasn't in it! We do work very well together. We do bounce stuff off each other. We genuinely do have a good time."
Tony agrees that the production values have continued to improve, despite the tight shooting schedule. "Eight days [filming per episode] has proved painful at times, but thankfully we now get to shoot with a second unit occasionally, so things that get dropped can be picked up. As we've gone on, the scripts have not go any less ambitious. They've become more and more ambitious. When you read some scripts, you think 'It's not a TV show any more, we're into movieland.' There was one episode we did recently where the special effects were just phenomenal, and I don't know where they get the money from, because it all costs a fortune.
"I think it's intelligent use of special effects. You see some shows and you know if they stood up without their special effects they wouldn't stand up, but because Buffy has so much to offer, on so many levels, the special effects just augment."
Are there any areas he'd like to see Giles go? "There's an area that I may go now which I hadn't envisaged, which suddenly came up from something that was going down. I have yet to talk to Joss and see whether that concurs with his vision. He thinks remarkably far in the future. He's probably already well into next season in terms of the character arc. It just amazes me. He has a phenomenal capacity for ideas.
"Several people have said Buffy is one of the few instances where the TV spin-off actually improves on the original. It's basically what Joss originally envisaged. He was 21 and a writer. He had no real say in the way the movie was made, in the way that writers do have very little say in the way movies are made. I'm just very glad to be part of what he eventually got made."
More Dreamwatch articles: p. 1 / p. 2 / p. 3
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