Starlog, science fiction movies and TV magazine, US.
Watching the Watcher, November 2000 (#280), by Joe Nazzaro.
Life has certainly changed for former librarian and Watcher Rupert Giles. As Buffy the Vampire Slayer viewers saw in the fourth season, Giles found himself a loose end after Slayer Buffy Summers and her friends enrolled in college. In the months that followed, his misadventures would include a run-in with members of the Watcher's Council, a bout of temporary blindness, demon transformation and his ongoing gig as a coffee house crooner--although which is the most frightening still remains to be seen.
"Initially, there was the problem of what happens when someone goes to college," continues Head about Buffy's fourth season. "Part of the freedom of that experience is moving away from the adults. Therefore, as one of the adults in Buffy's life who's going to be left behind, where does that leave me?"
"As that was being set up, I thought, 'What am I going to be doing now?' Joss, however, is too clever to let something like that idle. My story arc has been great fun. The whole notion of dealing with a mid-life crisis and where it takes you; we also go through a period when we think, 'What am I doing with my life now? What the hell is my purpose?' To be able to play that and see where it leads me was a great bonus."
Head, far from being concerned, has faith in Buffy's creator and appreciates his work. "There has never been a time when I didn't see where the part was going, because Joss doesn't do that. There was a moment when the Committee turned up in my apartment, and when I read the next episode, Giles didn't have a scene with them. I said, 'This is the stand-off between Giles and the Committee. What's going on?' Joss said, 'Sorry, but that's not what the episode is about. And just to make matters worse, they go over to Angel and Wesley beats them up!' You can always talk to Joss about these things, and he is very candid and always has something extremely interesting up his sleeve. It's unlike any other show because of that.
"To be honest, I'm glad people say this is the best season yet. There are elements of each season that have been stunning--when I see repeats of stuff that were shot before, I think, 'That was a cracking episode!' Joss is moving from strength to strength playing around with the media, as he did with "Hush," which I thought was a great episode. I remember when he first wanted to do an episode where nobody talks--and it was like [laughing], 'Are you mad?' Joss said, 'No, I just want to try.' But when he started to write the script, it was the hardest thing he had ever done, but it was just cracking. How do you tell a TV story where nobody can talk?"
One of the more unexpected fourth season developments for Giles was his emergence as a folk singer. Perhaps the Buffy-verse isn't quite ready for Giles' rendition of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" or an unplugged version of "Free Bird," but it's no big deal for Head, who actually got his first show business break in a 1981 revival of Godspell.
"It's interesting that in innocence, Joss said, 'Oh by the way, you might be singing in the next episode. We're toying with the idea right now,' but when the writers first came to him and said, 'Do you think Tony would mind singing?' Joss said, 'He actually sings very well.' They didn't want it to look like, 'Oh, we found out that the actor can sing, so we're going to put that in,' but I think it works brilliantly on the show. I recorded two tracks, because Joss couldn't make up his mind which one he wanted. He bunged the other one into a later episode, then said, 'I've written you some exposition in the last episode ["Restless"], and I want you to sing it.'
"When the writers first started talking about what Giles could sing, I was pitching Little Feat, trying to be cool, but Joss said, 'No, you can't go there.' In fact, when Joss first saw me sing, I did a version of 'Every Breath You Take." Somebody pointed out that it was very apt, since it says, 'I'll be watching you.' Joss realized, however, that is was really too close to the mark. It's fun to do stuff like that--where it literally comes out of the writing--and see where it takes you. I just love singing, too; it was fun."
The Buffy staff may have enjoyed debating which songs would ultimately get the Giles treatment, but Head insists--and most audience members know--that his character has always been a rocker. "In 'The Dark Age,' Willow looks at an early picture of Giles in his teens as a bass player. It's actually my head stuff on Sid Vicious' body. It's a young me, much thinner that I really was as a teenager!"
Viewers first glimpsed young "Ripper," as Giles was once called, in the third season episode, "Band Candy." Written by Jane Espenson, the story saw Sunnydale's adult population mentally regressed into teens after eating cursed confections. It isn't long before Buffy's Mom finds herself attracted to bad boy Giles, a punk rebel, and a brief-but-torrid affair ensues, consummated on the hood of a police car. "Jane's 'Band Candy' thing was slightly confusing," notes Head. "Somebody asked me why I had that accent. When I was in my teens--this is me, not Giles--it was the only way I could be accepted as hip. I went to a grammar school and my father would correct me, because he was private school-educated. As soon as I was out of the house, I used to talk like [Giles from that episode]. That was the only way I could get by.
"When I read Jane's script, I thought, 'Well, that 's one way to go with it.' She had written Giles in the T-shirt with cigarettes rolled up [in the sleeves], and that's more like '50s and early '60s. That wasn't my teens, so how the hell do we cross that? At the same time, the clothes I wore had to be from Giles' wardrobe, because he doesn't go out and buy cool looking outfits. His jeans have paint all over them, because he drags out his painting trousers. It was a bit of a conglomeration of teen images, so whether or not it works, I don't know. I don't think Giles had an identity at that point. All he knew was that he didn't want to be part of the establishment that he has been raised to be. Jane writes really well for me, and I like her stuff. She has a wonderfully sick sense of humor, which fits right in there."
Espenson also wrote "A New Man" this past season, which turned out to be one of the major Giles episodes to date. After a night of drinking with his school chum and old nemesis Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs), Giles wakes up the next morning transformed into a grotesque horned demon. The script was reportedly written in response to Head's desire to wear prosthetic makeup--in this case, he certainly got his wish. "Actually, I would love to do more!" he admits. "I hadn't been sitting there saying, 'I want to have a go!' but it is something that was created for me, and it was great fun to be involved.
"When they first told me that I was going to do it, I thought I was going to get to kick some butt. I thought it would be, 'Giles goes ape!' When they told me it was going to be funny, I was still looking for moments when I could be a bit scary. It's such a wonderful allegory for being out of the loop. It's brilliant, a great piece of writing and the whole idea is just great: What does it feel like when nobody is listening to you anymore and doesn't understand you anyway?"
But people are certainly listening to Head at this stage in his career. Born in London to a show business family (his mother is an actress, his father a documentary producer and his brother is the singer Murray Head), he seemed destined for a future in entertainment. He won three consecutive drama competitions in junior high, and soon began writing his own plays, which were performed at the school.
After graduating, Head worked for a year as an assistant editor at his father's production company before being accepted at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After graduating in 1976, he eventually landed a role as an understudy in a tour of Godspell. When the production was brought to the West End for a limited run, Head starred as Jesus.
The actor's first TV break was a starring role in the World War II drama Enemy at the Door. That was followed by another lead in Love in a Cold Climate, and appearances in such BBC productions as Secret Army, Bergerac, Howard's Way and Pulaski.
It was Head's recurring role in a series of Taster's Choice coffee commercials, however, that made him a household face. His chemistry with actress Sharon Maughan turned out to be so compelling that the ad campaign became on ongoing soap opera of sorts, with a dozen commercials shot for UK TV and another dozen for the American market.
For the past several years, Head has successfully managed to divide his time between stage, TV and film, both in the US and UK. His theater credits include A Patriot for Me, Yonadab (working opposite Patrick Stewart), Chess, The Heiress, Rope and two different stints in the The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which he caused a stir as Frank-N-Furter.
Among Head's feature credits are Lady Chatterley's Lover, Devil's Hill, A Prayer for the Dying and Royce. His television appearances include Highlander, The Ghostbusters of East Finchley, Jonathan Creek (extra points to Buffy watchers who recognize the theme music being played during Giles' presentation in "Hush"), NYPD Blue and Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.
Head's other major genre credit is the short-lived VR.5, a series the actor co-starred in with Lori Singer. Though it only lasted a season, it wasn't long before Head was contacted about a quirky new project called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Five seasons later, the series is an international success, and the straight-laced Giles has continued to evolve as a character. He's no longer the uptight librarian of the early episodes, but the jury is still out on just how cool he actually is. "How cool is anyone?" responds Head. "How cool do we think we are, and in fact, in reality, how do other people perceive us?
"There's a little bit of Giles in all of us, in one way or another. He did have his rebellion in the late '60s-early '70s, and broke away from everything that was Establishment, and then came back and embraced it because he had to. There are many people out there like that. I think he's hipper than he actually realizes he is, because there is an edge to him. It was put into a kind of relief when Wesley turned up, because Wesley represented everything that Giles detested. Suddenly, audiences also started thinking, 'Well, actually Giles isn't that bad, if the alternative is Wesley!' He's quite rounded, but that's one of the great things about the writing.
"I just read something that somebody wrote the other day which was very sweet. They basically said, it's wonderful to see a character who can laugh and cry and is allowed emotional development, who isn't a cardboard cutout. He's not a two-dimensional character, there are so many facets to the characters, and I think that's why Buffy is such a success, because it does explore so many facets. Buffy is not a two-dimensional character. She has her anguish and confusions--it's interesting, and at the same time, Joss can make you laugh and make you cry. As I've said before, if Joss had had a good time in school, we wouldn't have Buffy. I don't know how hip Giles is. Some of the edge has gone while he has been with Buffy, because Buffy has helped him realize that life isn't necessarily about that sterile belief in the Establishment. I think that's good for people to see."
Although the series does occupy a large part of Head's time, he still tries to keep working on both sides of the Atlantic. On this trip, for example, he's appearing in an episode the BBC crime drama Silent Witness, playing a less-than-sterling character. "He just doesn't have any boundaries, therefore he becomes a suspect wherever he goes, because these women keep dying."
As far as maintaining a presence in England, "I have to say, it has been fantastic. There was a period when I was doing a lot of theater here--I couldn't do TV or film because I had done a commercial which was so successful that it pigeonholed me a bit. My agent said, 'Sorry, love, but we're getting things back from casting directors saying this is serious drama, we don't want people reaching for their coffee jars,' so I thought, 'Oh great, thanks for the imagination!'
"It was at that point when the commercials went to the States and I thought, 'Well, it's now or never, I have to see if I have a career over there.' It has been quite remarkable going [to the U.S.] and pretty much being able to go from one job to another. I'm fortunate to be doing Buffy, because it is truly universal. I'm sure that a lot of the industry here doesn't know what the hell it's about, but the industry in the States loves it, and it's nice to be seen doing good work. Where do you get the opportunity to do some serious drama and some really nice comedy, and at the same time, run around in prosthetics? I've had such as a great time, so I wasn't thinking, 'I had better keep my oar in over here, because otherwise, they'll think that's all I do.'
"I want very much for [England] to still be my home, which is why I travel back and forth. I want my kids to be brought up here. We've put them in school over there a couple of times and it was fantastic, but this is their home. My girl friend works with animals here, and we have horses and stuff that ties us here. So America's just where I work, and I have an extremely long commute!"
As Buffy begins its fifth season, one might think that Anthony Stewart Head may have an idea regarding the future of his character. For now, though, he's just happy to see what the show's creator comes up with. "Joss has given me a general idea of where he's going this season, and I'm fascinated by it. I did pitch one idea to him, which actually clashes with a few things already going on, but it's such an open book with Joss and it's so much fun, I would rather see where he takes it. I do like the dark side of Giles, just because everybody goes, 'Whoa!' whenever we see a bit of it, but I have no doubt that if it's needed, Joss will put it in there. I will kindly defer to what he feels he wants to do to me.
"This is a dream gig. You can say that until you're blue in the face, and no one really knows how you mean it, but not only am I in a high profile show, it's also very hip to be in it, and it's really well-written. It's very funny, very scary at times and very tongue-in-cheek. At the same time, I have a really good relationship with the writer, who has a complete concept about what' he's doing and it doesn't stay static, ever!"
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