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TONY THE AUDIENCE SLAYER

Anthony Stewart Head
at Toronto Trek,
July 12, 2003


In North America, Anthony Stewart Head is best-known for playing Rupert Giles on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), and before that for appearing in the series VR-5 and in Taster's Choice coffee commercials, in which he played a sexy neighbour [see "I'm going to have to bring a mop," below]. At his Toronto Trek convention appearance on Saturday, July 12, transcribed and annotated by Karen Bennett, he often used the voice and mannerisms of The Rocky Horror Picture Show's Dr. Frank N. Furter, whom he played in British stage productions in 1990 and 1995. Photos of ASH at Toronto Trek courtesy of Fiona MacDonald.


Anthony Stewart Head: They said the left-hand aisle was where questions were being asked. So why don't we just get on with it? You don't want me to say anything.

Come on up to the mike if you'd like to ask a question. We will only be taking questions from the mike, so that the hearing-impaired can actually hear the questions.

And anybody else, for that matter.

Hello. Look, we've got one already.

Hi. The young lady had such a sexy voice, I'm not sure if I can follow up on that.

Oh, I'm sure you can.

I promised you last night that I would ask this question.

Was it good for you? It was wonderful for me.

Because you seem to spend a fair amount of time and your energy and you give publicity to the TTeam, I thought it might be nice to ask you about why your wife's work is so important and what exactly it is.

Wow. We're right in there, aren't we? We didn't get to talk about Buffy or anything at all; just right into it. Very quickly, because no one's going to know what you're talking about—well, maybe they will. It has been on the Internet and there is a link to Tilley Farm, which is basically where Sarah, my partner, centres her work. It's a thing called Tellington Touch, and it is the work of woman called Linda Tellington-Jones. It's a way of working with animals that may or may not have behavioural problems. You work—

Horse whispering—does that help?

It's called horse whispering, but it's not really. That's just a way of saying that you work with an animal differently from giving it a hard time. By working non-habitually, you can change habitual patterns. It works at a cellular level and changes the central nervous system. There's been a team from Tigress Productions who have been following Sarah around, and I've been in the background. I do the commentary. ["Talking to Animals"] is airing on British TV at the moment on Sunday afternoons. Hopefully, since they've been talking about worldwide rights, it'll make its way to the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or something, because it's really cool. She's extremely personable. She's very good with the camera, and she somehow makes you understand exactly what she's doing. I think it's going to have a long life. But the thing that's best about the stuff is that anybody could do it. It's not what of those things where, "Bring it to Sarah Fisher 'cause she knows how to work with your animal, and no one else can." She's not like that. She doesn't attach to her results. If the animal working at it works out—and basically, 98% of the time it does work—it's worth checking out. Look for the Internet site; look for Tilley Farm. If you do go to my website, there's a link to it, and check it out, 'cause it's cool.

On the season two DVDs, Joss [Whedon] goes on and on in one of his commentaries about you not wearing pants. Is Joss just goofing off? He's very deadpan, so I assume he's not telling the truth most of the time. "There's Tony Head, and once again he's not wearing pants."

Does he mean trousers or does he mean underpants? Either way, I was.

I do know there was a scene where Alexis got—Alexis Denisof, who [now] plays Wesley Wyndham-Pryce on Angel—he got pissed off with a scene, and he did play it with his trousers off. I think he was sitting behind a desk. He decided it would somehow enrich the scene. But no, I had my trousers on at all times.

I volunteer for a campus community radio station, and I've recently come across the album that you did with—I forget the other gentleman—Music for Elevators.

George Sarah.

I wondered if that is being sold here at the convention, and what that was like putting that together.

I don't believe it is being sold at the convention. My manager was supposed to get hold of a bunch, and I don't think he did.

CMH, the record label, is a little—dumb, I think is the word. They don't seem to recognize the opportunity to sell the CD, so basically it's never at any of the conventions. It is available at HMV in Toronto, apparently. They may only have a couple of copies, but it's available in rock and pop—of course—and they'll order it, if you want.

It was a gas. The record label, a small, independent label, had made most of their money doing tribute albums and things. They'd worked with George Sarah. A couple of girls from the label came to me and asked if I would fancy a demo. "Here's a couple of George's CDs; see what you think. If you like him, let's give it a go." So I met up with George and we found that we had a lot of similar musical references. We decided to hang out one afternoon and jam a bit, see where it led. Normally, in a session like that you're lucky if you come out with one usable tune that you can somewhere down the line say, "Yeah, that's where that song came from." But out of an afternoon we actually got something like the basis of three of the songs. For the next six months or so, we went to little garage studios and put the thing together on a little budget—just enough to make a good album.

I've always resisted the idea of becoming a David Hasselhoff, and I hope I'm still resisting it. Music has always been a huge part of me. Somebody was asking me, "What are your musical roots?" I sang with a band and all that stuff, but I did make a choice at one point to favour acting as a career just because that seemed to be the way to go. But I love singing, so it was a nice opportunity. I didn't think I had the songs in me, but there were 14 of them. The idea was that it would just be a bunch of friends that I would get to help. So there are people from the acting class that I go to in L.A. and people off the show. It's fun. I'm very proud of it. I still listen to it and still go, "I like that." So that can't be bad.

One day, probably when I'm not doing conventions any more, the record company will go, "Oh; we could probably sell some of these things."

I like the fact that the music gets out there. I'm not attached to making money off it, because it doesn't really make that much money. I like the idea of people hearing it.

I really enjoyed [TV series] Manchild. I personally don't agree with this, but a lot of critics slammed it for being misogynistic. I'm just wondering how you would respond to that.

Misogynistic? No. The whole idea of Manchild—and if no one's seen it, it has been described as a male Sex and the City. It's not really, because men and women have very different agendas. It's about four guys in their late forties who—we've all seen what men apparently would like to be doing. The idea is that we're all independently wealthy, and we have the opportunity to do all the things that men would apparently like to do. We have the 24-year-old girlfriends, we have the fast cars, we have the motorbikes. We've been married, we've been independently divorced, we got away with all our money. We're actually pigs. We live the dream.

When we saw the first viewing, it was like, "All the men were laughing; how are the women going to like it?" All the women loved it, because it shows us to be what we are. The bottom line is, the dream doesn't work. It's an empty dream. That's what the show basically says. We're all people trying to work out about how to enrich our lives, because it's not working, and ultimately it's because our lives have no substance.

No, I don't think it's misogynistic. I think it makes some very, very intelligent points. It's a very funny show. There are only 15 of them. The BBC had not picked it up because it was way too expensive. Also, Nick Fisher has sold the rights to ABC in America to make a sitcom. [Groans come from the audience.] "Oh, no." It could work. Who knows? It could only work with such good production values. It's such a beautiful show. I'm very happy that we did 15 of them. I got on so well with the other guys. We had such fun. We laughed and we laughed and we laughed.

And if you want to see Manchild, BBC Canada here actually airs that. One of the digital specialty channels.

There you go. BBC Canada. Cool.

My question was originally about Music for Elevators, but it was stolen.

Stolen? Stolen right out from underneath you?

It's gone. I know you did an episode of Highlander in its first season. I was wondering if you could talk about that for a little while.

I did do an episode of Highlander ["Nowhere to Run"]. That particular season was set in France, and they'd used up all their budget, so they had to come up with a way of shooting something all in one place. We barricaded ourselves into a house. What is interesting is that I had to sign some trading cards with a particularly hideous picture of me. It was bizarre, because now I am the age that at the time I was playing. At the time, I was about 38. I was playing the father of a guy of about 18. I played it older. It's bizarre looking at a picture of me playing me now.

I do remember that I got shot with an automatic machine gun across my chest and lived to tell the tale, which I thought was remarkable. I got to do one of those exploding blood bag things. Then I had to groan a bit on the couch when my brow was mopped—as it is when you've been shot across the chest.

It's a ridiculous business we're in. "Shoot him with an Uzi. He's going to live. Yeah."

There was a mad French director called Dennis Berry. He came up with all sorts of bizarre traps that they'd set for the various people who were ambushing us. I seem to remember there was a bear trap at one point where this guy gets his leg nearly severed.

There was a very interesting movie about you being looked at for the next Harry Potter movie.

To do what? I'm too old for Harry.

I believe the rumour was that you were being looked at for Lupin, the werewolf. No one had been able to confirm or deny, so I thought that I would come to the source. Apparently you just were able to deny.

Maybe I was and maybe I wasn't. Maybe I'm playing it close to my chest. So who's playing Lupin?

I have no clue, and we weren't real interested once it wasn't you.

I wanna know. Cor. I could do that.

You probably could do a lot of things.

Get back, bad girl.

I did want to say that while I was watching the Toronto Trek website and seeing the guests [announced]—"Oh, James [Marsters] is leaving. Oh, damn. Whatever." And then you popped up, and it was like, "Oh, dear. I'm going to have to bring a mop." I just wanted to say that you managed to sell a lot of coffee in this country.

James and I seem to follow each other. I did another one of these a couple of years ago when apparently James had to blow that one out. But then he covered for me when I blew Chicago out this year or the year before.

Don't take it personally if we can't make a convention. If we say we'll come to a convention, we will if we can. It's just that it's always subject to availability. If we're working, we can't get away. I blew Chicago out when I was doing a TV show called Reversals. We say, "Can we get this time off, because we've said we'll do such and such?" If they can, they will. Production companies are actually quite accommodating. But if they just can't because there's stuff built in—so please don't take it personally. It's not because we don't want to come. We do! We can't.

Did you say you had to get a mop? That's very rude [smiling]. Sorry to take us all back to that moment, but I was just living with that image for a minute.

You have to tell me if I'm getting out of order, because I just talk on whatever comes into my head. If I swear or whatever, please don't take it personally.

Apparently, I really pissed somebody off in London. I was doing one of these with Robin Sachs [Ethan Rayne on Buffy], and when the two of us get together, it always gets steeped with innuendo. Apparently somebody was very cross: "Don't they know children watch this show?" Her 14-year-old was there."I think he kinda knows where we are with these."

If it's too much, just stand up and say, "Will you stop that?"

You've proven you have a very interesting [singing] range. Is there any chance of getting a Rupert Giles Unplugged album?

It took a lot of effort to get that one out there. My time is for my family. Several people have said, "Why don't you do an acoustic album?" Working with George was a really interesting departure for me. I'd never written music that way, and it was very cool. I'd like to do more of that at some point. Maybe what we could do is put an acoustic album together that way, but it would just be acoustic. I don't know. Who knows when? I keep promising my older daughter, who is writing, that I'll resurrect my studio, which is at the moment a really good playground for spiders.

I love music. I've just started thinking "Hmm," recently, so maybe. There's a buddy who's got a studio in Bath, so maybe we'll hook up. George is up for it. Time is everything, and I don't want it to be one of those things where I say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't take you in to school, darling; I'm going into the studio. I'm going to be making music. OK?"

What's happening with the Watcher's show? The BBC story.

Ripper, Or The Man Who Farts.

You can't say that hasn't crossed your mind. "How did he get his name, Ripper?" "His bedding used to lift of its own accord, in the dormitory."

It's an ongoing thing. Even to the last day, Joss was still talking about it. I'd seen him two weeks beforehand when I was at his place with Aly and Alexis and we went to see his new son. He said, "I've been thinking about this Ripper thing. I don't want it to be like the weekly villain, and it'll be a ghost that you find out what made it and you defeat it. I don't want to go down that road. What I want to do is something that gets into Giles's head." So he's talking about a two-hour TV-movie, and it's not [the kind of thing where,] when you don't know what to do with a series, you go to a two-hour movie. He's got such a specific idea of what he wants to do that I'm not going to say, "No, I want to do a series." It also is about whether he gets Fox's permission and the BBC can license it and all that stuff.

On the last day he went home for a cup of tea and came back and said, "I've got an idea for a story," and he told me. Apart from one or two ideas that need to be ironed out, it's beautiful. It's a really lovely story. So I have said, "Keep plugging away. Where is that Ripper idea? Where has it gone? I want to hear it now. We're waiting."

He needs to make movies. We all know that ultimately it's time for Joss Whedon to write and direct movies that we've all been waiting on.

My favourite episode was "Tabula Rasa." What did you think of it?

Was that the one where we all forget who we are? Apart from James being my son—which I had a lot of issues with—it was very good, especially for that moment when we open the door. I had great fun. Wasn't that the one where I kissed Anya? My children went, "Eeuuww. You kissed Anya." "I know, but it was gone very quickly and we didn't enjoy it." Thank God nobody ever asked me to kiss Alyson, because that would have been weird. It was weird enough with Emma. I was glad it was over with very quickly. Weird; not right.

Another music-related question: Now that you have a CD out, are there any plans in the works for you and your brother to sing together in a gig, or have you ever done that before? Because that would be really cool.

I don't know, to be honest. He lives in Paris at the moment. I did sing on pretty well every album from Say it Ain't So [1975] through Between Us [1979] to—I can't remember the one with Steve Hillage, but I sang on one song with Steve Hillage. I did do a couple of gigs with him. We did quite a lot together.

An opportunity has not presented itself so far. We went off in different directions at one point. It would be nice. I'll suggest it. You suggest it. Do you have his albums?

I have all his albums.

Whoa. What was the one with Steve Hillage called?

Sooner or Later? The one in '87?

Could be. Which is your favourite?

I think it's Between Us.

Yes, that's a cool album.

I just have to say this first: I'm being paid to ask this question. I was the only person in the room with enough gonads to come up here and ask it. About Rocky Horror: We were wondering if you would entertain us with a little demo.

The thing about Rocky Horror is, you kinda need to be there. I can—heh, uh, uh.

That was attractive, wasn't it? Did you get that on camera? Yes, you did.

Let me put it this way: Everyone wants to hear you sing. I don't think they care what you sing.

Are you all going to be here tomorrow?

No.

What I was going to do was borrow a guitar and do a couple of songs.

Do it anyway.

I'm not exactly prepared for this. I could sing something a cappella, but I was going to sing it with a guitar tomorrow. All right. I'll sing a song.

No, no, don't worry. Everyone [backstage] is going, "Oh, my God! We need microphone stands! We need a guitar! Now, now!"

I was going to try and do it with a guitar tomorrow. Who knows; maybe I will anyway.

It's a song by Stephen Allen Davis. It's a really sweet song. I sometimes have difficulty getting through it because it throws into relief the thing of being away from someone. It's called "Highway, Highway" [from Davis's The Light Pink Album, 1995; also recorded by other artists].

[Head sings the song: "Spherical turns/And the seasons change..."]

I'll sing the rest of it tomorrow. That kind of does it anyway.

That was great. I was at the movies watching Pirates of the Caribbean. But before that, there was this movie that came in the previews, and there you were. It was you, wasn't it, with Charlotte Church?

Yas'm.

I had no idea, and I'm one of those people who's online and picks up all the rumours. Can you talk about it?

I can, and I will. Shall I do it now?

Yes.

OK. It's a really, really sweet movie. It just got clobbered by the English press because for some reason they've got an extraordinary relationship going with Charlotte Church. Ever since she broke away from her mum and became like a normal teenager, they go, "She's smoking now. She's got a tattoo now."

It's called I'll Be There. It's written, directed and stars Craig Ferguson, from the Drew Carey Show. He's an old buddy of mine who played Brad to my Frank N. Furter. I went down on him every night. Wouldn't you just like to see a picture of that?

I play his manager, and I'm the reason everything goes cockamamie, if you'll excuse the expression. You see? This is why I get into trouble.

I can heartily recommend it. I saw a preview in L.A. When you do a movie, you think, "Hopefully, it's going to come out nicely." I was really chuffed with the result. It was funny and it had lots of pathos, and there are moments when she sings when you're just transported. I think it comes out in August, so go and check it out. Everybody can see it. I hate to say, "It's a family movie," because that means, "Oh, Disney." It's not one of those. It's literally just a film that everyone can enjoy and all ages can enjoy. It's kind of like the way Joss writes: There is no one generation that it's pitched to. Everybody gets off on some part of it, and you can say the same with this movie.

Were there proposed plotlines for Giles that never came to fruition, or things that you wish the character could have developed?

Huge biceps.

No. I remember, long ago, [in] season one and season two, Nicky [Brendon] and I used to go to this local Tex-Mex bar and drink margaritas and put the world to rights, most especially the Buffy world to rights, and say, "So what's going to happen next season?" "I'm going to be a villain. I want to be a villain." I pitched it every year. I said, "Joss, can I be the villain this year?" Even to the point when he talked about The First. He was actually talking about The First coming into play for the last season some time ago. I said, "Oooh. Can I be The First, please?" He said, "You have to be dead." "OK." I wouldn't take credit for the fact that I ended up, "Is he or isn't he?" They obviously did it for whatever reasons. I didn't get to be quite as bad as I could have been.

In season—when was "A New Man"?

Four.

Thank you. When somebody said I was going to be a demon, I said, "Yes! At last I get to kick ass." The first assistant director read the script and said, "It's really funny." I said, "What do you mean, it's funny? I get to be a demon and all." "Yeah." "Am I going to be a scary demon?" "No." But I had a good time.

The bottom line is, I got to do so much, what could I say? "I really miss doing that. Giles as Richard III." You couldn't want a better gig; you really couldn't. It was just so full, so rich and so varied. I had a fantastic time.

What did you think of "The Body" not being nominated for an Emmy? Because if there ever was an episode, aside from "Hush," that was worthy, it was "The Body."

It sucked. What can I say? The fact that apparently with "Once More, With Feeling," somebody screwed up with the viewing tapes and didn't get it out to the main body of the voters, and then they did a rush job at the end of it—everything happens for a reason. For whatever reason, Joss has never been recognized for his work on Buffy for an Emmy. It's beyond me, I must admit. It may be political. Maybe it's not on a major network so therefore it doesn't have major advertisers so therefore—who knows? I agree with you; "The Body" was an astonishing piece. I think it should have been nominated and should have got an award. But ours is not to reason why.

Going back to when Giles was a demon: Before that you never really wore any extended makeup and costume. How did you feel wearing all of—

It does if you call Frank N. Furter makeup [see photo, right]. Sorry.

How did you feel wearing all that makeup and the costume? Were you comfortable in that?

It was cool. It was a four-hour experience. Todd McIntosh [makeup department head, 1997–2002] and I used to get in at 3 or 4 in the morning to be ready. I didn't have to do what some of the vamps had to do every day to get in and out of it. I only was in costume maybe three or four times in the show, so it wasn't a desperate experience. And I enjoyed it. It's like mask acting. You get to do other stuff and sit in front of the mirror and see what happens.

Originally they had me in bedroom slippers. I went, "How can he be a demon in bedroom slippers? It just doesn't make it." So I went to [research] the hoof and went, "Um. Cloven foot. How do you do that?" I talked to the guys at the workshop, and they said, "Yeah, we could design a cantilever thing." I said, "No, that's going to cost too much." So I worked out—because I'm uncannily happy on heels—that if you raise the foot up, you could have a hoof around the front and you wouldn't see the heel. The property master and his wife made these things up, and they cost very little. I was really miffed to find out that Fox sold them on eBay for three grand recently, because they were my design. You only saw them once in the show in a flash of them as I kicked a little boy's toy flying, but they did change the way I walked. I didn't do the Frank walk in this. I did it once for Nick Brendon, who said, "Go on, show us Frank," so I did it.

Do it.

I haven't got heels on. What are you talking about?

What size are your feet?

What size are my feet? American 10, 10 1/2. Why? This is getting really bizarre now. So are you going to get me a pair of size 10 1/2, 3 1/2-inch heels just to see me walk in them?

I just wanted to ask, because so much of Buffy was about magical rituals and magical spell books, what your real-life opinion, your take, on magic and such is.

I have a very open mind. I believe that there's a spirit world. I believe that there's a lot of stuff out there that we don't know about, don't want to understand, and sometimes we don't want to understand it. I think you should be careful with what you're playing with. I wouldn't have a Ouija board in my house, because you can open the door but you can't necessarily close it again. I just say, "Caution," to anyone who's moving into an area that they don't really know.

The final episode: Was it set up in order to leave a possibility open for another Slayer series with maybe Eliza Dushku in it?

It wasn't. They talked about the possibility of a spinoff with Eliza. There were discussions, and for one reason or another it didn't pan out. It may pan out in the future. Eliza's in another pilot for a series—is it for Fox? [Her series is called Tru Calling.]

No. The episode was meant to do what it did, which was to let it go. I said to Joss, "When did you have this idea, just out of interest?" He said, "Oh, a year and a half ago." So everything has been moving to this point. It was never something that he just thought of on the spur of the moment; he has always worked it out. I don't think Joss can ever be accused of writing something in order to set something up. The bottom line is, he wrote a beautiful end to seven seasons which took us into a place that I certainly wouldn't have dreamt of—expanded the whole thing. Empowering girls worldwide was pretty cool. The show did that anyway. It was just like saying, "There's the ball; run with it."

I didn't mind what happened to Sunnydale.

The next one [Hellmouth] is in Cleveland.



Other Buffy the Vampire Slayer material on this site:

  • Guest speech by Amber Benson (Tara) at Toronto Trek, July 6, 2002

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