Arguably best known for playing Giles in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER - or perhaps the Prime Minister of LITTLE BRITAIN - Anthony Stewart Head returns to the big screen this week in PERCY JACKSON SEA OF MONSTERS. We caught up with Tony - as we now call him - to find out what it's like to play a centaur, and whether there will ever be a BUFFY movie.
Lovely to talk with you Tony, first of all, what drew you to the role of Chiron?
Anthony Stewart Head: The chance of playing a half man, half horse, actually. Seriously! I thought ‘that's a challenge, that'll be fun!' I liked the concept of the first movie, I loved the idea of a bunch of urban kids who are actually half god, half human; how they have to fight for survival in this world and there are gods and monsters out to get them. I thought tat was kinda cool and the script was good. I read the script and it was direct, it was hard-hitting, it just didn't mess about. We knew the world because we had seen the first film, and it was something that I was attracted to. I was right ultimately, in doing it; playing around with how do I make it convincing that I am half horse? How do I make people believe this? And it was fun.
The Percy Jackson films are based on a series of books by Rick Riordan. Did you read them or did you deliberately steer clear?
ASH: Yes I read two of them; I read the first one and the second one, because I wanted to read how the world was set up, and then I wanted to see what this movie was based on. It tells it pretty faithfully, obviously there is a fair amount in the book that can't be seen on the screen, just because it would take too long to tell the tale, but they have been very faithful to the second book. In those terms, I actually think it's a better film than the first one, because it's just that much more direct and it doesn't waste time setting the world up; you get it pretty quickly. Camp Half-Blood seems like a real entity; I buy the world that much more, because they have been at pains to streamline it, to make it fit in our sense of reality. The armour is that much more street, the sword is that much cooler... The little village that they built, that we inhabit in Half-Blood, it just has more substance... I kind of wanted to buy it in the first one, and I did buy it, but this time it's cool, I buy it, definitely.
You took over the role from Pierce Brosnan, who played Chiron in PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF, were you anxious about taking over from another actor?
ASH: No! [laughs] They did put an enormous amount of hair on him, and I did say ‘Am I going to have to wear a wig like that?' and they said ‘No! That's one of the things we're going to change'. Also, they were on the same page as me, in that I wanted to work on my movements and what you see of me, as opposed to what is painted in, being as convincing as I could. In the first film, for a large part, they strapped him onto the front of a beach buggy and drove him around at high speeds. It's difficult to make anything work out of that, other than picking flies out of your teeth! It kind of explains why he had a slightly strange stance with his arms; he was literally stuck on the front of a car [laughs] This time they worked out that unless they got the proportions right... He looked like a Shetland pony in the first movie, and if you are going to be half horse, half man, you do need to be a little impressive. They got the proportions right and my stilts were bigger than his, and I got used to working on them quite quickly.
How did you capture and work on the movement of the character, because obviously a centaur moves very differently to a human...
ASH: I worked with an old friend, a guy called Peter Elliot, who was the creature advisor on numerous movies. Back in the day he played Silverback in TARZAN, he played the main male in GORILLAS IN THE MIST and in recent times, he's done JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, he did the dwarfs in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, and basically he advises on how to make creatures work. I asked him if he could spare a day, we went out in his garden and I pottered around on my stilts and we worked out some interesting stuff, principally about when we walk, we put our heel down first and the horse puts the front of it's hoof first and that changes the gait, that changes the way it translates up to the torso. I also worked out that if I could be tethered around the waist, I could lean forward on the stilts, so it broke up the normal conception of a man on top of stilts, a perpendicular picture. We did that a couple of times; I had a very sweet stuntman who held on to a rope. In the big wide scene where you see me in front of the house, he was hidden behind the fountain [laughs] and attached to my waist. It works; when you look at it you don't see a man on stilts, you see a horse with a man's torso attached to it.
It sounds like it was a lot of fun...
ASH: I love stuff like that; I love trying to make the physicality work. I love marrying physicality to performance. It's all part of the same thing; it's convincing someone that the world you're in is real. It was immense fun.
You and Stanley Tucci are a double act of sorts in the film, what was it like to work with him?
ASH: I had a ball because he is a very, very witty man. We laughed a lot. It helps! You need to come out of it feeling like you have achieved something other than just giggling, but giggling does help to make the day go by!
Chiron is a mentor to Percy, and arguably, you are best known for playing a mentor to Buffy in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, but giving advice can be kind of tricky. Do you give advice in real life, or do you let people figure it out?
ASH: [laughs] You should ask my children! I think I am relatively intuitive, for a man, if advice is called for... I don't jump in and offer advice when it's not required, but if someone asks me advice I will seriously give it my best shot. I wouldn't describe myself as a Giles, who was hugely out of his comfort zone... Gradually he found it, but certainly in the first two seasons he was way out of his comfort zone, and that's the humour in his scenario; he cannot understand why this girl would not want to follow her destiny. As Chiron, he's holding onto a bunch secrets, which he is drip feeding to Percy because he feels he can only let Percy know about stuff when he is ready for it, which is a dangerous game. You could alienate someone whose life depends on it, if his destiny depends on what you tell him. I think it makes it very interesting because obviously Percy trusts him enormously, and he is quite honest with Percy. It's a nice relationship and I enjoyed the scenes that we had because it's a warm relationship. I think it provides part of the warmth of the film. The film actually has a great heart.
Going back to BUFFY, there was talk of a Ripper spin off, can you give us any hope on that?
ASH: No, basically Joss [Whedon] and I have talked about it so many bloomin' times. Now, he doesn't necessarily want to have everything connected, because there are so many people who derive stuff from BUFFY, whose names are attached. It's annoying that all of those people have a say in what happens. We talked about having it as a completely independent piece, and the story that he pitched to me was a beautiful, beautiful ghost story, but every time we have ever talked about it he's got distracted by something. Now he's a megastar and it's unlikely he's ever going to feel the need to come to England and shoot a series about an ageing ghost hunter, but you never know. Now Sarah Michelle [Gellar] has piped up and said she'd be willing to make a BUFFY movie [laughs], I don't know how that's going to go down...
Would you be up for a BUFFY movie?
ASH: Yeah!!! To be honest, I would be up for anything, working with Joss Whedon; he asked me if I would do MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and of course I said yes, pending my schedule. At the time I was filming a series for NBC, FREE AGENTS, and it was a new episode and they couldn't work out the schedule. There were two days that I couldn't promise him and in the end he had to say ‘I'm sorry, I've got to move on', and then my series got cancelled!! I missed out completely, but it is such a beautiful film, if you haven't seen it, you should.
You might show up in MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D then...
ASH: [laughs] Maybeee.
PERCY JACKSON SEA OF MONSTERS is in Irish cinemas on August 7th
Words: Brogen Hayes