Xposé - British science fiction TV and movies magazine.
Heading Back Home, Fall 2001 (Special #17), by Kate Anderson
Kate Anderson tracks down the world's best Watcher, Anthony Stewart Head, for a heart to heart about his new life since leaving the vampire-slaying series Buffy.
You never know what to expect from Anthony Stewart Head. "Which Winnie the Pooh character do you most identify with?" he asks, eyeing a batch of cuddle Tiggers awaiting his signature for auction during this appearance at the recent Odyssey Convention in London. "I'm an Eeyore."
Hardly the sort of conversation one would expect to have with the man known to millions across the globe as Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's slightly stuffy, ever-reliable Watcher. But then, this wasn't Giles. For starters, Anthony was sporting an earring in one ear (something Giles wouldn't be seen dead in!) and his trademark glasses were nowhere in sight.
Sometimes it's hard to believe that Anthony had a life before Buffy. But he did. There was a time when his extensive stage, film and TV career was eclipsed by a commercial, and a coffee commercial at that. For a decade, we followed his fictional romance with a glamorous neighbor in a will-they-won't-they soap opera style series of ads. Their onscreen flirtations over caffeine gripped TV audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.
Undoubtedly, coffee ads just haven't been the same ever since Anthony hung up his coffee cup for a cross and stake, but these days it's a certain Buffy the Vampire Slayer that's gripping our imaginations, and Head's portrayal of Giles has played a huge part in Buffy's success. After five years, however, all that could soon be about to change. After all, what do you do when you're homesick and your job requires you to live on the opposite side of the world to your nearest and dearest?
That was the conundrum facing Anthony as Buffy was coming to the end of its fifth season. What's more, with the show preparing to switch from The WB to UPN in a lucrative two-year deal which should see more money being channeled into the show, the Buffy phenomenon shows no signs of wavering.
So, after playing the part of Giles for five season, Head has made the somewhat surprising decision to take a recurring role when the sixth series airs in the States in the fall. But it was a decision derived more from personal reasons than professional.
"I want to be based in England and commute back there [to the States] rather than it being the way around it has been," explains Anthony. "So I'm going to do more of a recurring thing." At the moment, though, Head is unsure as to how many episodes he will be involved with. "I don't know, to be honest. I know I'm doing one, four, five and six. And we'll see from there."
The catalyst for Head was when his daughter, Daisy May, nine, commented on his absence. "As my youngest daughter pointed out, I've been away for more than half her life," says Anthony wistfully. "It just reinforced, if one was in any doubt, whether I was doing the right thing or not."
Obviously aware of his star's desire to spend more time at home with his family, Joss Whedon (the show's creator) approached Anthony with the idea of a Giles spin-off series. Initially, Head was reluctant because the last thing he wanted to do was commit himself to another five years in America. But Whedon had always had an ambition to do a BBC TV series, and Head was thrilled when Whedon told him he wanted to film it in England. "The fact is, I work for someone who completely understands and is also not only willing to make that possible but doesn't want to kill me off."
So Giles fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Or can they? "Well, with Joss you never know," says Anthony, laughing. "But I don't think that's in his scheme of things." Provisionally titled Watcher or Ripper, the Giles show is being touted as "Cracker with ghosts." And although nothing is set in stone, Head is keeping his fingers crossed that plans to reprise his role as Giles this side of the Atlantic come to fruition. "It would be an adult show, more about ghost stories and inner demons," Head explains. "The BBC is keen and have said they want it. They have a slot for it but nothing is signed."
Clearly eager for a chance to try out new projects, Anthony is adamant that Buffy will not be affected by his departure. What's more, he firmly believes that there's plenty of life left in the show yet; that Buffy has the capacity to go from strength to strength. "The show's the thing. It's a very strong cast. And I think any show that can reinvent itself as Buffy has and keep itself going is remarkable." He adds, "Joss will know when to pull the plug. He will never get to a point where the show just drags on interminably."
But Head's limited involvement with the show isn't the only change on the horizon. Speaking about the show's much publicized network move, Anthony says he understands the fears that some fans have, believing that they may lose out. Considering that UPN has some 176 affiliates compared the The WB's 221, their fears are seemingly justified, although Head is cautious about what affect the move may have.
"There will be greater video sales," he chuckles. "I think it's a bummer that the fans will lose out. t may be that UPN will get more territories. But I think that in terms of enthusiasm, it's quite good for the show. And UPN really wants it."
Only time will tell, of course. As for Anthony, he looks back on the past five years with much fondness. Although he says he doesn't have a particular favorite season because "there's been some standout shows in pretty well every season," he admits to having a penchant to both making and watching Whedon's contributions.
He cites season two's "Passion" as a "really great, great" episode and has happy memories of Giles's piece de resistance, season four's "A New Man." "I had such fun with that," recalls Anthony. "When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be my chance to be moody. And then someone said, 'It's really funny.' But actually it was great fun. James [Marsters] and I had always to do some stuff together. I think "A New Man" was the first time we really got to."
Not surprisingly, Anthony's affection for the show also stretches to his alter ego, who we've seen progress from a fuddy-duddy, stuff shirt of a school librarian to a hipper, much cooler type of guy. Although even Head can't quite put his finger on why Giles has suddenly become so cool. "He's got a little bit more me in him than before. But I don't know what makes him cooler. I think people find the dark side attractive. People find it a strange turn on. But I don't know really."
Head certainly finds the whole idea of Giles being a sex symbol really quite bizarre.
"It's confusing when the character you play is a bumbling fool with glasses," he says, laughing. "But it's very flattering that someone finds me sexy. There's life in the old soul yet!"
Indeed. After all, this is the man who dressed up in makeup and fishnet tights to play Frank N Furter on stage in The Rocky Horror Show, an experience that Head still holds dear to this day. "The first time I went out as Frank N Furter, the surge of power coming back off the audience was... I mean, it was nerve-racking stuff. The reaction from people was staggering."
With or without Buffy, the future continues to look bright for Anthony Stewart Head. He has a number of projects in the pipeline, including contributing his vocals to a Buffy animated series, which should air sometime next year.
And following his recent appearance on British TV in the BBC's Silent Witness, he'll be back on our screens at the end of the year playing a character as far removed from Giles as possible. Man Child is a risqué comedy that Head is currently filming for the BBC, alongside Nigel Havers, Ray Burdis and Don Warrington. Touted as a male version of Sex and the City, the story centers around four middle-aged men who have forgotten how to act their age.
For all his stage, film and TV credits, there is still one role Head harbors a desire to play... "I'd still one day like to play Dracula because he's very cool. There's something very sexy about vampires."
But it's not just acting that's going to be keeping Anthony busy for the foreseeable future. Besides being a talented actor, he can sing the odd tune too! So much so, in fact, that he's been working on an album, together with several other members of the Buffy cast and crew. "I don't know if it's ever coming to England. It's not even finished yet," he says, laughing. "If people want to get hold of it, they'll probably have to find it. It's probably something you'll have to buy off a friend!"
Anthony continues, "It was a laugh. It was a chance to muck around with some of the friends I've made since I've been on the show; just to record something with a lot of very talented people. The one thing you can be assured, it's not an aging rocker trying to get back to his roots. Which kind of reads like I am!" laughs Head.
One thing's for certain though, we won't be seeing Tony strutting his stuff in leather trousers on MTV. Rupert Giles would never approve!
Head Music, December 2000 (#51), by Grant Kempster.
First he was a librarian, now he's singing sensation! Buffy's Anthony Stewart Head tries to convince Grant Kempster to join him in a spot of karaoke.
Many know him as Giles, the mild-mannered librarian full of stuffy English reserve and a nervous disposition that would put Hugh Grant to shame. In real life, though, the man behind the dusty tweed jacket is as laid-back and normal as any other English broke you might meet down the pub, in fact incredibly so. As we begin our conversation, Head, dressed in black leather jacket and sporting an earring, continues to chew on his gum, and, as he begins to speak, it's obvious that he's keen to drop some of his T's and H's.
It's probably no surprise that a man who has been seen dressed to the nines in Rocky Horror garb is adamant to prove that the real Tony Head (the way he prefers to be known) is far from his on-screen persona of Giles, Buffy's Watcher in the hit series which has just begun its fifth season. But isn't that image already changing? Gone is the library, the Watcher's job and even the tweed jacket as Giles continues his transformation, aided wholly by genius creator Joss Whedon. So where does the amicable actor see his character going next?
"This last season was about freedom and its repercussions," Head remarks. "Think about it, one character went through one form or other of getting their freedom for one reason or another and then had to deal with the consequences. In Giles' case it was that he was no longer tied by either the job or by the Watchers committee. But, I mean, it's brilliant, you look at all the characters and think, 'Bloody hell, that's really good!' So I think the next season will be about finding the self."
Leaving Giles to his own devices in season four created a number of moments which would surprise both the characters of the show, and the audience itself. Finding himself with nothing to do, Giles would turn to drink, suffer depression and even become a monster.
"It was great. I mean, I wouldn't want to do it every day like the guys that do that Star Trek stuff," Head says of his moment of latex glory, where Giles finds he's been turned into a demon in the episode "A New Man." "There are certain key smells like the smell of the latex glue. It's not particularly noxious, but by the third time it went on I really, really got to not like that after a while. It's just like Copydex, but there's something about it being all over your face."
It was something entirely different, though, that formed one of the year's most shocking moments, and one that really brought about a huge change in the way the other characters perceived him. He didn't turnout to be a huge snake and he didn't change his gender preference. He started singing.
It was nothing new for the actor, who has sung with a band for many years and has paraded around a London stage as the infamous Frank N Furter, but many of his adoring public had no idea that he was handy with guitars as well as crossbows.
"joss saw me singing at a gig a while back, they all came along," Head explains of how Giles began a career as a lounge singer in two of the episodes last year. "When the writers pitched this idea, they kind of thought, 'Do you think Giles might go and sing in a coffee bar?' and [Joss] said 'Yeah, he does, he sings.' So he asked me if I fancied singing and I said yeah."
The decision to utilize Head's vocal talents could well turn our understanding of Giles, but does it mean that, like fellow genre actor Cleavant Derricks from Sliders, he'll be releasing an album?
"I've been approached by a record company," Head smirks. "I want to do an album, but I don't want to be one of those sad, sad performers who churns out something which becomes easy listening. I love singing and if it was the right gig I'd do it, but if it has even a whiff of being a bit dodgy then it's not going to happen."
With so many foundations laid down in the fourth season for Giles' development, any number of roads seem to have been opened up for him, perhaps with the exception of becoming a rock star. "I don't think Giles is going to become the local teen idol singer," Head laughs. "He's kind of had his midlife crisis and has fallen back on the whole 'Oh my God, I'm losing my youth!' and all that stuff. It could go any number of ways. Joss has given us all little tasters and lots of 'I'm very excited about it' noises, and you hear little bits and pieces about other people and you think 'Ohhh' and try and piece it together. I don't know if I'm going to get a car. I think I should have a Lambretta; I've decided I want a scooter. Giles on a scooter!"
That scooter wouldn't happen to be finding its way to Los Angeles, now would it? "We've talked about it and people have said, 'Yeah it's a really good idea, you should do that,'" Anthony says on the subject of appearing in Angel, the successful Buffy spin-off. "Because David and I work very well together and we've got an interesting relationship, and I've got a thing going with Alexis [Denisof]. We talked about it, but there just wasn't room last season for a crossover. But I think with what's coming up there might be one this season, but the point is it has to work in terms of story line on their side as well as our side, you can't just do it for the sake of it."
That thing going with Alexis, before Alyson Hannigan writes in, is in fact a working relationship which goes back a number of years prior to meeting in Buffy. "We were in a play called Rope, which we did at Chichester, and then later I worked with him in the West End, and Alexis was fantastic," Head explains.
So when the role of Wesley appeared, did he have anything to do with the casting? "I just put his name up. I remember the producer coming across the car park saying that they were looking for a James Bond type who thinks he's Pierce Brosnan but is actually George Lazenby, and I said, 'I think I know the man for you.' I went up to the casting office afterwards and said, 'By the way, I just suggested to Gareth Alexis Denisof.' And they said, 'Oh, we already got a call from his agent and he's coming in tomorrow.' So he came in and there was absolutely no doubt, and again like so many other characters on the show he was only meant to come in for a short period and it grew because he's just fantastic. We had such a wonderful time, lots of laughs."
As Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes from strength to strength, it takes with it one of its brightest stars in Anthony Stewart Head. It's a reward which has been a long time coming for the man who spent a large part of his acting youth in an array of TV shows and commercials, but despite his new star status, Head remains resolutely grounded.
"Joss is very excited about where he's taking it," Head remarks, "and it amazes me that he's got a very definite picture of where the series is going, whereas usually it comes as a terribly shock to everyone that they've got to do another season and it's kind of more of the same. But Buffy has changed much each season, and it's grown and adapted.
More Xposé articles: p. 2 / p. 3
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