Anthony Head: ‘It’s a wonderful job but it’s also insane’
The actor has always had a knack for landing roles that catch the public imagination
Anthony Head: ‘I usually get spotted for Little Britain. Or my brief appearances in Doctor Who.’ Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Dr Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Uther Pendragon in Merlin. Prime minister Michael Stevens in Little Britain. Captain Hook at Queen Elizabeth’s birthday party pantomime. Anthony Head, vocal star of the incoming foosball-themed animation The Unbeatables, certainly gets around.
Today he’s in Longford, visiting the Irish Horse Welfare Trust. Animal welfare is a big deal for the actor, and for animal therapist Sarah Fisher, his partner of some 30 years.
“They’re sentient beings,” says Head. “It’s up to us to look after them. It’s too easy for us to forget that, with everything else that’s going on.”
The Longford visit is part of a broader initiative. Since January, Head and the Cool to be Kind team have shifted some 80,000 wristbands, with proceeds going to smaller animal welfare charities.
A recent snap of the actor standing beside his former Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar can’t have hurt sales. “It went viral and it went everywhere,” says Head. “There are still a lot of people out there who love to see the Slayer and the Watcher together again.”
Catch-up with Buffy
He still keeps in touch with the old Buffy crew. Indeed, he has just returned from a catch-up at Comic-Con, the annual cult gathering in San Diego.
He rattles through an impromptu roll call with a fondness in his voice that brings Mr Chips to mind: “I didn’t see Nicky [Brendon] or Alyson [Hannigan] this time,” he says. “And Alexis [Denisof] has just started a new show [Finding Carter] for MTV. Joss [Whedon] couldn’t make it because he had done something to his leg. But I did get to stop over with Sarah Michelle in San Diego.”
Buffy will always be with us. After the movie and the seven television seasons, it continues in reruns, comic books, mostly fawning academic papers and best-of polls. Some five years after the final episode was first shown, Buffy finished second only to The Simpsons in Empire’s “50 greatest TV shows of all time”.
Does Head pine after the show as much as everyone else seems to, I wonder?
“Well, it was such a big chunk of my life,” he says. “And Giles [his character in the show] was a sweetie. The thing that was really great about Buffy was that you had Joss Whedon writing. So the characters evolved. The story arcs evolved. Buffy grew. As did Giles. There were repercussions and consequences. That made it fun to play. So being the same character wasn’t limiting in any way.”
Throughout his career, Head has demonstrated a talent for landing roles that get one recognised in the street. He is the son of actress Helen Shingler and documentarian Seafield Head, and he went straight from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to LWT’s Enemy at the Door.
“Because I was raised around acting, it was already part of my life,” he says. “I didn’t have to look far to realise what I wanted to do.”
By the late 1980s, he was the chap in the Nescafé Gold Blend commercials, a 12-part sequence opposite Sharon Maughan. A stint in ITV’s wildly popular children’s show Woof! cemented his popularity.
“It’s a generational thing,” he says. “It’s rarer and rarer that anyone remembers the coffee. Nowadays I usually get spotted for Little Britain. Or for my brief appearances in Doctor Who. Because the fans are just batty about that show and remember everything.”
A different tune
A parallel career in music would see Head take over at the West End production of Chess from his brother Murray Head. He would also appear in Godspell, supply backing vocals for the band Red Box, and star in the 1990-1991 West End revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“My first job was in a touring production of Godspell,” he says. “I was the understudy playing five different characters. I’ve been trying to keep stretching myself ever since.”
He has certainly succeeded. In tandem with a sly musical career that takes in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Saw II director Darren Lynn Bousman’s big-screen treatment of Repo! The Genetic Opera, Head has cleverly juggled populist transatlantic television credits (NYPD Blue, Monarch of the Glen) and enviable movie roles, appearing with Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen’s Scoop and with Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
He affects his grandest theatrical vowels before bursting into laughter: “I’ll have you know I’ve worked with Meryl Streep.” He was Geoffrey Howe to her Oscar-winning Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
He also signed up for the apocalyptic Dominion on the network Syfy. “I’ve been lucky enough to hitch my wagon to several iconic shows,” he says. “I’m hoping Dominion is another one of those. It has that feel.”
It is obvious that Head loves what he does. He talks excitedly about the years he spent “relearning his craft” at Beverly Hills Playhouse between Buffy shoots.
His two daughters, Emily (25) and Daisy (23), have caught the bug and followed their father into the family guild. Both Emily and Anthony featured in The Inbetweeners Movie (2011).
“It gives you commonality of language,” says Head. “With my daughters now, we’re all on the same page. It must be quite hard for kids who don’t have other actors in the family. Because it’s a crazy job. It’s a wonderful job. But it’s also insane.”
That crazy job has just landed him a role in the greatest foosball movie ever made. The Unbeatables is an animated family comedy enlivened by the presence of an Oscar-winning director (Juan José Campanella) and some excellent jokes (“You can trust me: I used to work for Fifa”).
“It doesn’t have an obvious kitschy ending and it’s exciting,” says Head. “I’m not a big football person. But I did get caught up in the World Cup. And it’s a bit like the USA team, who blew me away. It’s great fun and its heart is in exactly the right place.”
The Unbeatables is in cinemas now