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20 Questions With...Anthony Head

Actor Anthony Head – who stars alongside Richard E Grant in Otherwise Engaged, which arrives in the West End this week – talks about dressing up, the mind-boggling powers of the internet & the excitement of acting drunk.

By • West End


Anthony Head’s recent theatre credits include Peter Pan and Gilbert and Sullivan’s 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 Danton’s Death. His regional theatre credits include Around the World in 80 Days, Lady Windemere’s 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, Howard’s Way and Enemy at the Door.

His films include Click, Fat Slags, The Lonely Troll, I’ll be There, Best Actress, Royce, Devil’s Hill, Prayer for the Dying and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Head also appeared in a series of Nescafe Gold adverts.

He is now starring in Simon Gray’s 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.

Trained
I went to Lamda and then when I was out in the US I went to Milton Katzelaf at Beverly Hills.

Lives now
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 didn’t like the play but they liked me, so that was nice! I haven’t really won anything else so I haven’t really thought about it, but if I was up for a Bafta or something I’d 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 Emperor’s New Clothes - I wasn’t 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 “all your costumes are lovely but when are we going to meet the real Anthony?” I think I was happier in someone else’s skin from a very young age.

What would you have done if you hadn’t become an actor?
No idea, but I’ve always loved writing. And I was in a band at one point, but I made a choice not to do rock ‘n’ roll but to do theatre instead! I don’t know what I’d have done really. Become a postman? Who knows?!

Favourite productions
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 I’ve just finished in which I played Celia Imrie’s husband and had the best time; and Little Britain of course. It has to be said I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve done I love the fact that every time it’s a challenge. If it became routine then I wouldn’t do it, I’d just give up.

Favourite co-stars
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.

Favourite directors
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.

Favourite playwrights
Peter Shaffer, Josh Whedon and Simon Gray.

What’s 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 that’s what it was called anyway - I can’t 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?
I’m still trying to get myself right first, let alone worrying about anyone else!

Favourite books
I’m a crap reader and my excuse it that I’ve 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 haven’t been on holiday for about three years; I can’t 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 I’d like to go back there. I’m very lucky I get to do a fair amount of travelling for the job, but I can’t just go off booking holidays because I never know where I’m going to be.

Favourite websites
I use the internet to investigate stuff if I’ve got background work to do, but I don’t have any particularly favourite sites. I find the web fascinating because it’s such a fund of knowledge and yet there’s no guarantee that what you read is true. There’s no real policing of it and it could just be people’s opinions you’re 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 can’t 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, (Richard’s character's) instance he’s a bit smug about everything too - but Richard is able to play it with this sort of ambiguity, you’re not sure whether it’s all a haughty veneer or if he really cares. And it’s great to be working with David Bamber, I have worked with him years ago and think he’s one of our greatest stars; and Amanda Drew, I hadn’t met her before but she is lovely.

How would you describe your character?
He’s a drunken bastard and he gets to shout at people a lot, and it’s nice to play somebody like that sometimes! I’ve known some alcoholics over the years and you never know how they are going to be from one minute to the next; it’s very exciting to play that sort of unpredictable character.

What’s the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that’s happened during rehearsals or the tour of Otherwise Engaged?
We’ve had some very interesting moments. We rehearse above a Church and they have play groups going on so we often get bursts of “If you’re happy and you know it…” coming through! And Richard is extremely entertaining and given to developing lines with his own quick wit. We’ve laughed a lot; an enormous amount.

Why should audiences come & see Otherwise Engaged at the Criterion? Give us your most persuasive case!
It’s beautifully written, it feels like its cyclical, it feels like one thing leads to another and you’re basically watching this man’s life go down the plug hole and get wrenched from under him; and yet its very optimistic at the same time. I’m amazed it’s not been performed more often. It’s very current, it’s not a comment on anything happening today, but it’s fascinating to see how our preconceptions about people and situations can change.

What are your future plans?
None yet, I’ll see what happens really. I may well go back to the States because I haven’t been back there for a couple of years, and as a family we’d 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.


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