Evening Standard London, England.
Buffy's favourite Brit; He made the nation's women swoon in that coffee ad and in America he's been called 'the sexiest man in sci-fi'. Now Anthony Head is back. December 19, 2001, by Andrew Billen.
ANTHONY Head used to be the Gold Blend bloke, whom women just wanted for his granules. Now he's known everywhere as Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Watcher - a technical rather than voyeuristic term meaning Sarah Michelle Gellar's guide and mentor. After five years on the cult show, he is back in Britain and soon to be seen in a BBC2 comedy called Manchild, a sort of Sex and the City for fiftysomething Englishmen.
He has done too much vampireslaying, however, to easily shake off the Gothic. Posing for pictures this morning, he is drawn with childish glee to a conveniently spooky grotto in the grounds of the Bath Spa Hotel. On a whim, I ask if his character in Buffy has his own action figure toy. "Oh yes," he boasts, "I articulate in 14 positions and I'm a choking hazard."
When it comes to Buffy, the pride he exhibits in his die-cast manikin is the least of it. Based on a pretty bad film and shunted on to America's small-fry WB network as a midseason replacement in 1997, Buffy is far better than it should be. One episode, made without any incidental music, dealt analytically yet movingly with the fatal brain haemorrhage of Buffy's mother.
Another, not yet seen here, has been shot as a musical. Sheer snobbery, we agree, has deprived the show of the shelf of Emmys it deserves.
"People use the word 'genius' far too lightly, but Joss really is one," he says of its creator, Joss Whedon.
So why doesn't Joss use his genius for good, I joke. "But he does! We bow down and worship him. The thing that attracts so many people to the show is that it talks about all our early years. If Joss had had a good time at school, there'd be no Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
It's about the hell of adolescence, isn't it? (Buffy's high school, Sunnydale, is built on a portal to hell.) "It is, and how it then informs the rest of our lives. Because how we behave and react to the things that happen to us in adolescence basically sets us up for the rest of our life - until you get to a point around 40 when you look at what you've done and you go, 'Mmm, perhaps I could change a few things.'"
As the school librarian Rupert Giles, Head has managed to make books a turn-on for functionally illiterate America and been declared not only "the sexiest man in sci-fi" but a hero of the Library Association of America. Much in the way that Harry Potter suggests school can be liberating, Giles demonstrates that reading can be an adventure. When he auditioned for the part, he suggested playing Giles either as a version of Hugh Grant in Four Weddings, as Prince Charles or as Alan Rickman "in his more decisive moments". Whedon liked all three ideas, so Giles became a tweedy amalgam.
Over coffee in the hotel today, he disappointingly lacks so much as a tweed tie. A blue shirt flaps outside his trousers. A stud twinkles in his left ear. His sticky-up hair carries a distinct suspicion of gel. He not only looks like an actor, he looks like a trendy luvvy aged 47, albeit one with a decent sense of humour.
"Manchild", in fact, may just be the term for him and, he says, he loves the forthcoming BBC series' take on the cliche of second adolescence.
Personally, I like the sound of Giles's male menopause even more.
"One of my favourite Buffy episodes was called "A New Man," when I basically become a demon. It is my midlife crisis. I feel out of the loop. No one's talking to me. The kids are cutting me out. So I become a demon. Somebody slips me a mickey in the pub and I become a demon who thinks he's talking totally normally to people, but in fact it is all a grotesque noise."
Sounds like every man with a midlife crisis I've ever met. "Well, yeah, it's all about communication and feeling totally at a loss. Buffy's clever stuff.
It's not just about childhood stuff."
I think Head places such trust in the show's subliminal seriousness because making it demanded a huge emotional investment from him. He joined a year or so after he and his partner, Sarah Fisher, had decided his professional future lay in America. Rather than drag their young family out, they agreed that he should spend eight-and-a-half months a year alone in LA, coming back only for the summer and whenever he got six days clear, in practice once every five or six weeks. Then he'd leap back into family life in Bath, where they own a large Regency house, and Daisy and Emily, would briefly get used to daddy doing the school run. Then they'd get unused to it again.
"We took them out for two months twice and put them in a Montessori school and they had a fantastic time, but this is their home. We'd moved to Bath about the same time I made the decision - in fact I didn't make the decision.
Sarah made the decision. She said, 'We've got to go to Bath; you've got to go to America.'"
Head has a deep, almost exaggerated, respect for Sarah's judgment.
Although a decade her senior, he defers to her much in the way Giles acknowledges Buffy's superior powers. They met when she was working front of house at the National Theatre where he was playing in Büchner's Danton's Death. She is an animal behaviourist with a decidedly alternative bent to her thinking. I wouldn't take every bit of advice she offered but one cannot deny the success of her recommendation re America.
Looking at Head's theatre CV and the list of directors he worked with - Peter Gill, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn - you wonder, however, why for six years in the Eighties he chose to obscure his talent behind a coffee commercial, the one in which he spent six years wooing Sharon Maughan over spoonfuls of Nescafe. Since the ads bought their pile, perhaps it's faux naif of me to ask.
"Because it was an interesting project. It was. It was. It was. It was very well done and, ultimately, it was no different from doing a soap. It was just the fact we recorded only two a year."
While his stage career blossomed, he admits the ad did not exactly help him to get TV parts. "I don't think I was tainted by it but my agent did say someone had said, 'This is a serious drama. We don't want people reaching for their coffee jars'." But America is less snobbish about commercials.
Even Olivier felt it was safe to make ads for Kodak so long as they were never shown in Britain. Once in LA, Head quickly landed a part in a short-lived sci-fi series called VR5 and thence Buffy. He phoned home every day, around homework time, and sent the girls advance tapes of Buffy, but it was desperately hard returning to the US after their brief reunions.
Did Emily, the elder daughter, now 11, never ask him not to go?
"Yeah. More Daisy, actually. No, both of them said it, and it was very, very hard."
And didn't Sarah sometimes ask what he was really up to, suspect he was out partying? "She knows me pretty well and knows I'm not really into networking."
Or into girls? "Girls?" he repeats and skilfully changes the subject while promising to return to it, which he does, sort of. "No, I find women attractive, but women in LA are odd. We've got a very close friend and he just can't get a relationship. People in LA can't. There's something weird in the air."
FOR a while, he says, his caffeine co-star Sharon and her husband Trevor Eve, who were living there, became surrogate family.
Otherwise, LA, he discovered, was a lonely and centre-less place. "I'd call Sarah and all she was getting on the other end of the line was moaning. What she said was, 'Go and do classes. While you're there, you might as well use what they have and find out what it is that makes American actors different.
Go and put something in and you'll get something back.' And the day I signed on (for acting classes) I got VR5."
His tutor taught him to unlearn the techniques that had served him in the theatre but were obstructive on the small screen. "His teaching is that you should embrace change and allow yourself to face up to the things that are blocks. One of them was this intense thing I had about not wanting to overact. It was based on something that my parents said years ago, watching television, about being over the top. I always wanted to be a subtle actor.
Consequently, it robs you of that unpredictability."
His mother, Helen Shingler, played Madame Maigret in the old BBC detective series. His father, Seafield, was a documentary maker. His brother is Murray Head, the bisexual apex of the love triangle in Sunday, Bloody Sunday. You can, perhaps, discern another reason why Tony wanted to make a distinct career for himself abroad.
Had he changed more than his acting while away? "Yeah. I learned to be in a room alone without immediately blocking myself out with music or television.
I spent time working out some things from childhood. I wanted to examine what makes me the person I am. I used to have a very short temper, a very short flashpoint, which meant when I was under stress, like getting the kids ready for school, I would go, 'Come on, come on - COME ON!' What you need to give children is boundaries. There's a point in your voice that they can hear that says 'OK, this is serious', and it should be before it scares the hell out of them." I expect to hear about some heavy-duty therapy. Instead, he tells me his temper was cured by a homeopathic remedy suggested by Sarah. His clumsiness (despite his suave image, he always bumped noses in clinch scenes) was successfully treated by Chinese medicine: "My gall bladder meridian needed a tweak for several years. I crashed my car once a year before I sorted out my gall bladder meridian."
He doesn't, does he, think he's a little bit nuts? "Oh yeah! But healthily.
Of course, I'm nuts. Hopefully most of us are. If we take ourselves too seriously then we'll disappear up our own orifices."
I'm glad he sees the risk. Myself, I'd choose their younger daughter rather than him or Sarah as my Watcher. It was, after all, Daisy, aged nine, who clinched his return to Britain.
His family had gone to LA at Easter to celebrate the 100th episode of Buffy with the cast. "It was all very emotional. People said, 'How can you turn that money down? You've got a guaranteed salary for a year, 22 episodes a year, a good whack.' You go, 'God, am I really doing the right thing?' And then, in the car on the way back, Daisy said, 'Think about it: you've been away for more than half my life.' So I went, 'Jesus! OK, I'm coming home.'"
And what's it like now, back on the school run permanently? "It's fantastic.
It's real life and it's just wonderful."
While Giles was initially so shocked by Buffy's "death" last season that he vowed to return to England for ever, he will appear in eight episodes this season and Head may star in a British Buffy spin-off, although the BBC has yet finally to commit. His ambition, however, is to play Richard III.
The Gold Blend smoothie as Crookback? The point about Richard, he explains, is that "the hump is in his head".
Judging the consistency of Head's head is harder. One moment he is talking sense enough, for example that he's learned in the last six years that everything he'd been taught as a boy about never crying was "crap". The next he is claiming the chemical composition of tears changes depending whether they are tears of joy or sorrow - and you think he's spent too long scrutinising Buffy's Book of Spells. At least, we agree, he is maturer than James, his Manchild character, who, having treated himself to penis enhancement, plans to try it out on his ex-wife.
"Sarah got rid of my Tintin watch. I now wear a very nice Oakley watch.
That's all part of my growing up," Head says triumphantly. Fine, but I suspect Hell will freeze over before this manchild throws out his Rupert Giles action figure.
Manchild is on BBC 2 in February.
Photo captions: Look, no tweeds: after five years as Buffy's little helper, Anthony Head quit the show for the joys of the school run perky: Head with Sharon Maughan during his commercial break; Head as Giles and Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy
The coffee lover helps himself to a second cup of horror. July 25, 1995, by Robin Stringer.
DONNING fishnets and high heels in the West End again is Anthony Head, who for years provided the male interest in the Gold Blend advertisements on television.
He dramatically changed that image five years ago when he took on the role of the alien transvestite Frank N' Furter in Richard O'Brien's resilient Rocky Horror Show.
Now he is back at the Duke of York's Theatre for a brief six-week stint while Robin Cousins takes six weeks off to fulfil promised skating engagements in the United States. With Nicholas Parsons holding the show together as The Narrator, Head joins Joanne Farrell as the deliciously corruptible Janet and Rebecca Vere as one of several Phantoms.
Having recently completed filming The Ghostbusters of East Finchleyfor the BBC, he is only just back from America where he has been co-starring with David McCallum in the sci-fi thriller series VR.5, which is due to be seen here on Sky One in October.
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Page created May 1999; last updated January 12, 2002. Original material © Betsy Vera (firstname.lastname@example.org). This website is for information and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by others.