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Exclusive: Anthony Head talks Merlin, Sold and his £2000 phone call


Anthony Head talks openly about his remarkable career and generous work for charity...

Anthony Head interview

As one of the most iconic actors ever to emerge from England, Anthony Head really is the definition of a true great. Comedy, drama, live theatre – Head has done it all, bringing his classic style of acting to each and every role. Best known as Rupert Giles in the Joss Whedon vampire classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Head has since diversified into other areas of acting. In recent years, he's guest starred in Doctor Who, found success as the Prime Minister in Little Britain, and at present is portraying Uther in the BBC's smash hit Merlin.

In this intimate interview with Shadowlocked – conducted at the Merlin: The Dragon Tower launch day at Warwick Castle – Anthony Head talks openly about his life, filming with Merlin and his career to date...

Well, while we are here (Merlin launch day), let’s start with this. How’s it all been going?

It’s been going great; very grateful for the production to let me potter over to the other side of the pond; they moved filming dates for me which was great. It’s looking gorgeous, they're now shooting it on a 35 million budget.

Well I think it deserves it considering its success...

Well yes, but these days everything’s shot on digital, thus cutting costs, but I think it loses so much from filming and from acting in general. But yes, I suppose it shows the BBC are 100% behind it, which they should be really. It’s in 183 territories (countries) so it deserves a budget complimentary of this achievement.

They’ve just finished season three in America and, from the viewing figures, they just can’t seem to get enough. On that note, have you been surprised by its success?

Anthony Head as Uther in MerlinErm, I’m always always hope, but you just don’t know. From the very start, it had a good vibe about it, but even when I was offered the part I was concerned that it may limit itself to a young audience only; but the fact that it’s got such a wide demographic has really saved it. In fact, it was with NBC for the first year, and they said – on a number of occasions – that they were genuinely surprised by the numbers it got, especially considering it got little to no advertising or promotion, but it didn’t attract the demographic they were actually hoping for.

Well, got an older demographic instead of a younger one due to the fact that they showed it in the middle of the summer. Thankfully, Syfy saw the potential and picked it up, and they pitched it just right. It’s – well – one of those shows that has a genuine interest across all spectrums of society; it’s a show that the whole family can watch, with all members getting an honest level of enjoyment from it. A show like that is rare these days.

So many parents sit down and watch shows with their children that they have no interest in – to keep them happy – but there are very few shows that everyone can get into.

Marcus: My twin girls are big fans of the series, and when they started watching it so did their mother and I. I totally agree with what you’re saying, it’s like Doctor Who, you can grow up and watch it, regardless of your age. I think it’s very similar to Buffy really...

Well, it’s not the same writing as Buffy, but it’s got the same vibe. It’s humorous, but at the same time it’s capable of both its dark and somewhat surreal moments...

Marcus: Yes, I know – you are very scary sometimes.

Good – *evil smirk* – I’m glad to hear it...means I’m doing things right haha.

Marcus: You play a great Uther, and it’s a tricky character isn’t it? If you looked at Thomas Mannerie’s Uther, and how he gets off on countless maidens, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot more does there?

Yes, traditionally there is not much about the character Uther, other than the fact that he was a bit of a wino and liked to party. Oh, and he may have been partial to the odd woman or two.

And I’m sure, like any good actor, you researched this in depth for the role?

Haha, oh yes, to play a role well you must experience it for yourself. In all seriousness though, there is not a whole lot to research. I went to see a couple of other actors playing kings, but other than that the research element was fairly limited. For me, assessing the character of Uther, the most important aspect of the role was to make sure I understood his mythology and where he was coming from.

Anthony Head in Sold But that’s the point – it was the middle of the dark ages, and he was forever wrestling with his kingdom, holding onto it as best he could; with berserkers on every border. Basically though, he is an old fashioned father, and he’s just holding it together as best he can; whilst in the knowledge that Arthur is going to kick against everything that Uther stood for, and I think that’s what makes it interesting. The fact that he gets it wrong almost everytime – he wasn’t wrong about Mordred though – well that’s just a shame...

I can’t believe it’s been seven years since Buffy left our screens, but I love how you have diversified since. We all know about Little Britain, both a commercial and critical success, but I remember one you did way back...Sold. Unfortunately, that never kicked off – any ideas why?

To be honest, I remember thinking, from my very first read-through and onwards – can they hinge a whole series around estate agents? Well, they did, but that whole concept of them having a fantasy world was, well, a little bit thin...but there you go. I reckon with different circumstances, it could have been great.

Finally, I have to ask. I follow you on Twitter and I couldn’t help but notice a while ago that someone paid just short of £2000 for a 20 minute phone call with yourself...

And, the person who came in second – offering to pay around £1670 – was so eager, we have agreed to do a separate 10 minute conversation with her. It now means that £3670 has been raised for the Mental Health Foundation, so I’m just glad I could help do my bit to raise awareness and support their cause.

So, not to put any pressure on you, but what are you going to talk about? £2000 for 20 mins equates to £200 a minute, and I’m sure you will want to give them their money's worth...

You know, I’ve done it a number of times before, and after the old “wow” “argh” from them, it just kind of runs through. You know me, I could talk for England! It’s actually quite nice, and it’s for a good cause – so everybody wins, right?

Special thanks to Shadowlocked writer Marcus Pullen for his help in conducting this interview.

See also:

Exclusive: Warwick Davis on Merlin, Potter, Depp and future Leprechaun

Interview: Sylvester McCoy on Hobbit, Minister of Chance, Who

Interview: Gethin Anthony talks Game of Thrones, Minister of Chance

Doctor Who complete reviews: School Reunion


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