Here’s another blast from the past interview that I did with Anthony Stewart Head back in 1998. It was originally printed in an online magazine called Mania.
They say that behind every good man is a woman. In the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s the other way around. While Buffy may do all the slaying, it’s Giles the Watcher that has the plan.
In the original Buffy movie, the Watcher, a slayer’s assigned trainer, protector and confidant, is played as a weary old man in the form of Donald Sutherland. When it came to the TV series, creator Joss Whedon went for a different look. He chose an actor who was young enough to still be finding his way in life. He chose an actor who could talk about werewolves and vampires without sounding camp, and at the same time express a warm charm and sweetness that is a large part of the character’s appeal. The man he chose was Anthony Stewart Head, previously of VR5 and widely known as The Taster’s Choice Guy.
Much to Tony’s chagrin, he is still recognized as the guy from the soap opera style commercials for instant coffee. The role, which gave him a face here in America, also gave him the financial stability to take only parts he really loved. Rupert Giles, was one of those parts.
“When I read the script I just laughed out loud and I thought, this has to be something. I loved the concept. English people are often always cast as either the bad guy or the stupid stiff upper lip guy. This was just so different.”
In Tony’s view, Giles has spent his life learning to be a watcher, but all that book learning hasn’t properly prepared him for the real thing. “He bumbles through life. He knows what he knows,” says Tony “but when things start to get a bit nasty it’s like, ‘Oh, no, what do I do now?’ There’s no watcher to help the watcher.”
With more than 30 episodes in the can, Tony is still as happy as he was on day one, if not more so. “It’s great as an actor you dream of getting stuff like this to do, Joss is a genius and words I get to say are really cool.”
Tony is also very pleased with the way his character has evolved over the course of the run. In “The Dark Age,” we saw evidence of Giles’ rebellious past, and the fatal consequences of his attempts at witchcraft. We also saw the softer side of Giles when romance blossomed between him and Jenny Calendar, the computer teacher. Unfortunately, happiness isn’t allowed in Sunnydale, and Tony recently gave his best performance to date in the episode entitled “Passion.” Giles arrives home expecting a romantic tryst with Jenny only to find her murdered in his bed. Tony’s ability to go from nervous anticipation, to overwhelming shock and grief is a talent rarely seen in television.
Tony attributes much of his abilities to British theater training. “People say I’m a method actor. I’m not exactly method, but if I’m suppose to have been in a fight, I’d rather roll around on the floor and get myself dusted down then to have someone come over and dust me with a bucket. Alyson (Willow) still won’t let me live down the time she tried to pick a bit of fluff off my jacket and I snapped at her, ‘don’t touch that! I spent an hour getting that just right!’.
Viewers of the series also note that Tony has the knack of saying more with one look than most actors can with a whole page of dialogue. Tony thinks this comes from his stint as Frank N’ Furter, the sweet transvestite in the Rocky Horror show.
“In the stage show, people yell things at the actors, and it’s Frank’s job to put them down. When I first got the gig, I memorized a whole encyclopedia of put downs. The show ran for hours because I answered everything! After that, they said to me, Tony you have to let some of them go. So I developed ‘the look’. With it I could put down a heckler at the back of a balcony. It was so empowering.”
Rocky aficionados will tell you that Tony is the sexiest stage Frank to date. In high heels, ripped fishnets, and a satin teddy, he arrives on stage to wild cheering and keeps the audience captive till the last song is sung. “I knew that the trick to playing Frank,” says Tony “was not be afraid of your feminine side. A really good Frank is sexually attractive to both men and women. And the way I play him, he’s fairly wicked.”
Anyone who knows Tony only as Giles, doesn’t know Tony at all. Even his co-star Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) commented, “When I first saw him he was dressed in baggy pants, Converse high tops, and he was wearing an earring! I thought, this is Giles! He’s nothing like his character. He’s hip and very cool.”
In real life, Tony is comfortable, charming and a bit of a tease. His normal speaking tone is a tad more street British then the accent he uses as Giles. In the course of a conversation, you’ll hear Tony change accents from Upper Brit, to Texan, to a funky feminine voice, all mixed up with a conglomeration of American and British slang. An hour with Tony is like a trip to the circus, fun, fast paced, entertaining; three rings full of wild fun.
Originally published at Mania.com