20 Questions With...Anthony Head
Date: 24 October 2005
Actor Anthony Head Ė who stars alongside Richard E Grant in Otherwise Engaged, which arrives in the West End this week Ė talks about dressing up, the mind-boggling powers of the internet & the excitement of acting drunk.
Anthony Headís recent theatre credits include Peter Pan and Gilbert and Sullivanís The Pirates of Penzance at the Savoy. His other West End credits include Rope at the Wyndhams (and Chichester), The Rocky Horror Show at the Duke of York, Chess at the Prince Edward, and Godspell at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
At the National, Head has appeared in Yonadab, Prince of Hamborg and Dantonís Death. His regional theatre credits include Around the World in 80 Days, Lady Windemereís Fan, Anatol in Love and Patriot for Me at Chichester (which also went to LA).
The actor is probably best known for his television credits, which include leading roles in Little Britain, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Monarch of the Glen, as well as MIT, Spooks and Silent Witness. He has also appeared in Reversals, Manchild, New Tricks, Love in a Cold Climate, Highlander, The Detectives, Howardís Way and Enemy at the Door.
His films include Click, Fat Slags, The Lonely Troll, Iíll be There, Best Actress, Royce, Devilís Hill, Prayer for the Dying and Lady Chatterleyís Lover. Head also appeared in a series of Nescafe Gold adverts.
He is now starring in Simon Grayís comedy Otherwise Engaged alongside Richard E Grant and David Bamber, which opens this week at the West End's Criterion Theatre following a regional tour.
Date & place of birth
I was born on the 20th of February 1954 in Camden town.
I went to Lamda and then when I was out in the US I went to Milton Katzelaf at Beverly Hills.
Just outside of Bath.
First big break
My first big break was getting the understudy in Godspell straight out of drama school. Because I had a high enough voice to cover all the parts I was on an awful lot. Enemy at the Door was my TV break I think. That was very early on and I was given a lot to do in that as well.
What do awards mean to you?
I think most people would admit that there are some among us who would poo poo awards, but the ones given to you by your peers are very nice. I was once given Most Promising Newcomer when I was at school. I was 13 or 14 and I got this medal because they didnít like the play but they liked me, so that was nice! I havenít really won anything else so I havenít really thought about it, but if I was up for a Bafta or something Iíd pay a lot more attention! Although I was so pleased when Little Britain won one.
What made you want to become an actor?
When I was about six a friend of ours used to put on plays and I did them every year and eventually got promoted from sword carrier to the Emperor in The Emperorís New Clothes - I wasnít naked though! The mothers would all drum up the costumes. I was walking through the audience and everyone was looking at me and I wanted to do it forever, I thought it was fantastic. I also used to dress up at nursery, my teacher used to say ďall your costumes are lovely but when are we going to meet the real Anthony?Ē I think I was happier in someone elseís skin from a very young age.
What would you have done if you hadnít become an actor?
No idea, but Iíve always loved writing. And I was in a band at one point, but I made a choice not to do rock Ďní roll but to do theatre instead! I donít know what Iíd have done really. Become a postman? Who knows?!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was fantastic and I enjoyed Yonadab by Peter Shaffer at the National, The Patriot at Chichester which went to LA, and Rope, I loved that, it was just the business. And a film called Click Iíve just finished in which I played Celia Imrieís husband and had the best time; and Little Britain of course. It has to be said Iíve been incredibly fortunate. Iíve enjoyed most things Iíve done I love the fact that every time itís a challenge. If it became routine then I wouldnít do it, Iíd just give up.
I have been incredibly fortunate to work with Alan Bates, I thought he was spectacular; and the Buffy crew, Nicky, Alyson and Sarah Michelle, all of them. It was partly because they were so lovely and it was a great family feel that it made it easier that I was away from home.
Josh Whedon is a phenomenal director, and Simon Curtis is really interesting and just somehow coaxes the best out of you. But I have enjoyed working with most people, really.
Peter Shaffer, Josh Whedon and Simon Gray.
Whatís the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the first?
The first thing I saw was a play called The Bicycle Thieves - I think thatís what it was called anyway - I canít remember that much about it apart from the fact I enjoyed it. The last play I saw was one by David Haig, an old mate of mine from drama school, and it was a play about Rudyard Kipling, it was really beautiful. That was in Bath.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Iím still trying to get myself right first, let alone worrying about anyone else!
Iím a crap reader and my excuse it that Iíve got to read scripts so don't have time to read books. I used to read a lot of Terry Pratchett, but after a while the formula started to show through and I got bored. My favourite book is probably The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which I really loved. Its incredibly atmospheric and is just a beautifully honest piece of writing.
Favourite holiday destinations
We havenít been on holiday for about three years; I canít remember when we last went away. For a long time we were based around LA, we used to go out there for a couple of weeks while I was working. Most of our holidays are planned around work and where I am at the time. My parents used to take us to France, and Iíd like to go back there. Iím very lucky I get to do a fair amount of travelling for the job, but I canít just go off booking holidays because I never know where Iím going to be.
I use the internet to investigate stuff if Iíve got background work to do, but I donít have any particularly favourite sites. I find the web fascinating because itís such a fund of knowledge and yet thereís no guarantee that what you read is true. Thereís no real policing of it and it could just be peopleís opinions youíre reading. I find it fascinating, useful and dangerous and worrying at the same time. It's really mindboggling!
Why did you want to accept the role of Jeff Golding in Otherwise Engaged?
For one thing I could see myself doing it. There are parts that you want to do but you canít see yourself doing it, but when I read Jeff Golding it bounced straight off me and made me laugh and also wince! It came alive off the page. The casting of Richard E Grant as well is fascinating because he has an ease about him and a very worldly wise kind of affability. My character has that as well but in Simon, (Richardís character's) instance heís a bit smug about everything too - but Richard is able to play it with this sort of ambiguity, youíre not sure whether itís all a haughty veneer or if he really cares. And itís great to be working with David Bamber, I have worked with him years ago and think heís one of our greatest stars; and Amanda Drew, I hadnít met her before but she is lovely.
How would you describe your character?
Heís a drunken bastard and he gets to shout at people a lot, and itís nice to play somebody like that sometimes! Iíve known some alcoholics over the years and you never know how they are going to be from one minute to the next; itís very exciting to play that sort of unpredictable character.
Whatís the funniest/oddest/most notable thing thatís happened during rehearsals or the tour of Otherwise Engaged?
Weíve had some very interesting moments. We rehearse above a Church and they have play groups going on so we often get bursts of ďIf youíre happy and you know itÖĒ coming through! And Richard is extremely entertaining and given to developing lines with his own quick wit. Weíve laughed a lot; an enormous amount.
Why should audiences come & see Otherwise Engaged at the Criterion? Give us your most persuasive case!
Itís beautifully written, it feels like its cyclical, it feels like one thing leads to another and youíre basically watching this manís life go down the plug hole and get wrenched from under him; and yet its very optimistic at the same time. Iím amazed itís not been performed more often. Itís very current, itís not a comment on anything happening today, but itís fascinating to see how our preconceptions about people and situations can change.
What are your future plans?
None yet, Iíll see what happens really. I may well go back to the States because I havenít been back there for a couple of years, and as a family weíd all like to go back so we might do that in February.
- Anthony Head was talking to Caroline Ansdell
Otherwise Engaged opens at the Criterion on 31 October 2005 (previews from 25 October), where it is running until 28 January 2006.