SFX - British science fiction magazine.
Ripping Yarns, July 2001, article by Paul Simpson and Ruth Thomas. Includes a sidebar: "Head to Talk," about the spin-off.
Anthony Head talks exclusively to "SFX" about the plans for Buffy's second spin-off series.
What do you do when one of your lead actors decides that he wants to spend more time with his family? If your name's Joss Whedon, and you're in charge of one of the most successful franchises on contemporary television, the answer is very easy--spin off a new series of adventures. And so what if his family happens to live in England? That's fine: set the series there. After all, it's what you've wanted to do for a long time.
After the success of Angel, there has been a lot of speculation about the next series to spin off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A few months ago, Whedon confirmed that an animated series would be hitting the world's screens next year, revisiting Buffy and her friends at Sunnydale High School. But the second new idea is rather more radical--The Unlikely Adventures of Rupert Giles. Or, as it's more likely to be known--Ripper!
News of the possible series was revealed by Buffy producer Marti Noxon at the start of May, just before Tony Head was due to appear at the Odyssey Convention at Heathrow's Radisson Edwardian Hotel. Seated in the hotel's business centre, Head was ready to deflect questions about the 100th episode, but wasn't expecting to be asked about the new project. "Saucy little thing," he laughs, when we tell him of Noxon's comments.
So what's the story? "The story is that I basically want to be based here, and commute to the States," Head explains. "I think it was kind of put in perspective for me when at the end of the 100th episode party, which was very emotional, my youngest daughter said to me, 'Do you know you've been away for more than half my life?' I thought, 'Okay, right you are.' It just confirmed that I was doing the right thing. Being based here, and commuting back and forth to the States, was the way I originally started. Buffy's given me a really nice profile over here, and I want to capitalise on that while I can."
Head's plans were helped to an extent by the threatened (now cancelled) American Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild strikes which could have shut down production in Hollywood from the end of June. When Head returned to Britain at the end of shooting Buffy's fifth season, there was no sign of a potential deal, so there were no guarantees as to when Buffy would pick up shooting for its sixth year. He accordingly signed up for a series for the BBC, Man Child (of which more later), which films at the end of summer, and then heads back to America. "I'm doing four episodes--numbers one, four, five and six--and then we'll see how it goes. It just feels right to do more of a recurring character than to be a series regular," he adds.
Head's decision to return to his West Country roots wasn't a spur of the moment thing. "I asked Joss about leaving the show a while back," he reveals, "and he went, 'Oh well, I won't kill you off.' 'Alright, fair enough,' I said." Whedon persuaded Head to return for the fifth series. "At one point I was talking to him about something and he said, 'Tony, I've got two things to say: one, this show is called Buffy, it's not called Giles. The second thing is, how would you feel if there was a show called Ripper?" Head's grin of pleasure as he recounts the story echoes his enjoyment at the time. "He said he'd been thinking about it for some time."
Whedon's plans are for the show to be called either Ripper or The Watcher. "The BBC are not sure about Ripper," Head points out, which isn't surprising from the company that emasculated the Buffy episodes for their early evening showing. "It would be an adult show," he adds, "kind of a dark little thing about ghost stories and things like that. It'll be more about inner demons and very cool. We've talked about some storylines."
Head is surprised that Marti Noxon has revealed as much as she has about the show. "Nothing is definite," he's at pains to make clear. "I know the BBC is very keen. Joss wants it, and basically he's cleared it with Fox and he cleared it with the WB, which of course may not be relevant now! But I very much hope it happens. The writers are all very excited about it. In terms of putting it together, Joss has always wanted to do a BBC series, since he was a kid and watched BBC series on TV. He's always wanted to be part of that and work with English actors. If it works out, I think it's going to be fantastic."
As to the series' setting, unsurprisingly Head is pushing for the show to be based in the West Country. "I've asked Joss to talk to the BBC about it because a) the West Country is where I live and b) it's got an incredible amount of history and mythology. There's a huge amount to draw on--Glastonbury, Tor, Wells. Bath has got a wealth of history. There's a huge amount of stuff relating to the English Civil War. I don't know if they're going to buy it, but I think the idea is very cool. And that's it, really."
Ask Head what he thinks of the British reaction to Giles--the key reason, after all, why the BBC would contemplate being involved in a series based around the character--and he demurs when told that Giles has a huge following. "Really? This is good. This is all good!" he laughs. "I guess I'm very pleased that it's positive, and the show will go on and on and on. One of the things that Joss is really good at is adapting to something. When Seth Green went to make a couple of movies, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to make it back in a regular way, Joss turned that round. We were faced with this situation and were wondering what we were going to do. And Joss turned it round into the whole Willow/Tara relationship."
Sure, Buffy will continue without Giles, but can Giles survive without Buffy? "I'm very fond of Giles, and he's such a mixed and varied character," Head says. "There are certainly elements of Ripper that come out at the end of Season Five that leave us in no doubt basically what's he's capable of. I guess I don't know why the English particularly like Giles, but I'm very flattered. Why do they like Hugh Grant? Giles was loosely based on Hugh Grant at the beginning--him and Alan Rickman, as has been quoted. I guess that there is something about the sensitive guy but if you get him riled he'll beat you to a pulp."
One area that the series might be able to rectify is the lack of love life for Giles. After Jenny Calendar's murder by Angel it took the Watcher some time to allow someone else into his life, but we've not seen much onscreen of his English lover, Olivia, played by Phina Oruche. "I understand the writers' plight," Head says sympathetically, "and their plight was that Olivia was normal. All dramatic writing is about conflict, and within the confines of the series, they had dealt with her as a normal girl in terms of the scenario of "What do you make of this? Can you cope with this?' 'I don't know.' That's about as far as it could go. They could have possibly played her becoming rather annoying, and Giles getting rid of her, because she really didn't understand what was at stake, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't really an important throughline. There's so much gone on this season that it wasn't about that. What Joss wanted was the Slayer/Watcher thing re-established. He wanted us to go into the deeper spiritual connection between us, and the whole thing with families and everything he's investigated. There wasn't room for it really. You couldn't kill Olivia off, because that would have been too cruel. I am constantly asked when Giles is going to get a girlfriend. But at the same time, part of Giles' plight is that he's a bit of a tortured one. He's doomed to be alone as the Watcher--Watchers are lonely men. His whole focus has always been Buffy--training her and getting her up to scratch. He's severely tested this season..."
If the fifth year is indeed Head's last season working full time on the parent series, he could hardly have asked for a more dramatic one, with the sudden death of Joyce Summer bringing reality deep into the heart of the fantasy series. Head revels that Joss Whedon had talked about Joyce's death quite early on in the season, but hadn't told anyone when it was going to happen. "We started with her brain tumour and when that healed, we were thinking, 'Okay, he's decided not to do that then,'" he recalls, "Then a couple of episodes later, I asked him, 'what was all that about? Is she not going?' And he said, 'Oh yes, it's an aneurysm, when you least expect it. At the end of one episode she'll just die.' I thought that was cool. So unlike TV, and so like Joss. He builds you up, makes you think something's going to happen, and then does it just when you're least expecting it. Which is why he's in the position he is and I'm not!"
Head is very conscious of the power of the viewing audience, and that his new series in Britain is in part attributable to the way in which the show's fans have lobbied the BBC regarding the series all the way along the line. "Now that the internet is so powerful, the fans have been so vociferous," he says. "They have changed the course of the way this show has gone in Britain. First of all, they got Buffy on the BBC, which got it back in the public eye. That got it back on Sky. Then they managed to get the uncut version. All that is extraordinary stuff. Ten years ago, that wouldn't have happened, because ten years ago, not enough people would have bothered to write in. I'm amazed."
Head thinks that the WB, who has just lost the rights to air Buffy in America following a higher bid by UPN for the show, could have learned a valuable lesson from the way the BBC handled the show. "The BBC has quite rightly patted itself on the back for their decisions," he says, "and I wish the WB had learned from them. If they had put on a late night version of Buffy, they could have built up a second audience. They couldn't have done an edited and an unedited version like the BBC, but they never got that it as an adult show as well. They never quite got the show. I was always at pains to point out that it's an adult show. People in their 40's come up to me and says that they're really embarrassed to admit that they're a Buffy fan, and say, 'It's alright, you can be, because I am!' Maybe I'm just said--I don't know!" Head become serious for a moment. "That's Joss's secret. He's very clever at spanning the age groups and the generations. He's writing for everyone. Everyone gets a piece. It's not using enough of his talent to relegate him to a 'teen show.'"
Head is understandably interested to see where the extra budget that UPN is providing for the show will appear. "It's certainly going to put more money up there for production values," he points out. "It's going to put another million and a half dollars up there! But how much is going to make it down to the actors? We'll see. I don't know: they are really keen to have it, and as Joss has said on the record, it's nice to be on a network that really wants it to work."
Rather than a network whose reaction to the end of their involvement is to pull advertising relating to the show's 100th episode, as the WB have done. "They're weird," Head says in amazement. "That's bizarre. Well, to be honest, I never had one advert in "TV Guide." I did when I was doing my coffee commercial, but even when Giles is featured, they used to put pictures of Sarah or David in . But the WB just didn't get it--they just didn't understanding the show...but why should they indeed?"
For the immediate future, Head is concentrating on a new series, Man Child. "It's about four men in their middle age," he explains. "It's a male equivalent of Sex in the City, with Nigel Havers, myself, Don Warrington and Nigel Sturgess. It's fun, and very funny. I've always been motivated by good scripts. They've always turned me on. Occasionally, I've picked one that doesn't go--I was surprised when VR.5 didn't go because they were very clever scripts. This is very funny and very different. I think the BBC have commissioned seven or eight episodes.
"We had a read through at the end of April, which was very good, and we start filming on 25 June. It's very exciting--it's going to be on BBC2." Which means that there aren't the same restriction as Head has been used to working with on American television. "It's got lots of swear words in it, and in fact I asked if that was alright--could they get away with that? And they said, in fact, they had a note saying that there weren't enough! Which is marvellous. One of the great excitements about playing Giles is that I've been able to use words like pillock because Americans don't know what it means!"
And then, strikes permitting, it's back to California to pick up what may be Giles' final adventures on American soil...
Buffy can be seen on BBC2 on Thursdays at 6:45.
Sidebar: Head to Talk, by Tom Mayo.
So, what does Anthony Head think the spin-off should be like? When he came down to our Bath photo studio, Tom Mayo took some time to ask him.
How would you like to see the show made?
"Joss' brief, the way he pitched it to me, was 'Kind of like Cracker with ghosts.' He's always wanted to make a BBC TV show."
What kind of timeslot? Post-watershed, to allow lots of steamy sex scenes?
"The BBC have come back to us and said they have a slot--9:25, but it would have to be adult. And Joss keeps saying it IS adult. I don't know about steamy sex scenes, though."
How do you picture the opening titles?
[Laughs] "I see Giles running... Or watching. Or maybe running and watching. Um, I dunno. I don't know what it's going to be called, either. Maybe Giles! He's talked about it being called Ripper."
What kind of music would you choose for the theme tune?
"He has an idea of a character, and I won't elaborate... It's not Olivia. If it wasn't for the obvious coffee connotations I'd love to work with Sharon [Maughan] again. There are so many fantastic actresses here, and that's been part of Joss' excitement. He said: 'I can make a series with real English actors!'"
What would Giles' house look like?
"There are loads and loads of very cool houses around the West Country. Stuff that goes back to the Civil War and beyond. The Civil War gave rise to a lot of priest holes, people hiding, and people dying and haunting and whatever. The show's not just about ghosts, it's about inner demons and more inner torment than prosthetics sprouting out on people's heads. I think probably I'd end up in a cottage or something."
Would Giles have a day job?
"I think he'd be a cycle repair man. Either that or a TV repair man. Or maybe he'd follow his dream and become a grocer."
Would you want Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers to do it, or new, English writers?
"Joss would have to find a key person here, who he could liaise with. The writing staff there are very excited about doing an adult show--not that Buffy isn't adult."
Would you explore the Ripper history more?
"Yeah! I'd be interested to find out if my parents are alive, and how I get on with them. It's not something that's really come up in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It'd be very interesting to explore."
How would being back in England full time affect Giles?
"He'll get to cycle more. I've been trying to get Giles on a bike for ages... At one point I was trying to get a motorbike and sidecar, for Buffy. The idea of the gang all piling on it--one of those double sidecars, an old BMW. Flying goggles. Like Wallace and Gromit."
Which British actors would you love to have in cameo, or even recurring roles?
"Bloody hell, the list is endless. Interestingly,, one of the names that he raised--Joss is very knowledgeable about British theatre--was Michael Bryant. That'd be cool. Wonderful actor. Phil Daniels' name popped up the other day--it would be great to see him somewhere. Ray Winstone's really really good. Sexy Beast is just stunning. Michael Kitchen..."
It might be strange to see the Buffy gang interact with some of those names.
"No--then they'd be the fish out of water. Ultimately, it depends if there's a school trip."
More SFX articles: p. 2 / p. 3
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