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Pendragon Aflight: Anthony Head Talks "Ripper," "Buffy," "Merlin"

Wonder just what ever happened to Joss Whedon's Buffy prequel Ripper?

Speaking on a press call last week to promote his new series Merlin (which launches later this month on NBC), former Buffy star Anthony Head addressed some questions about that long-stalled Ripper project, plans which Head says were "sideswiped by Dollhouse."

Head, who plays Uther Pendragon on the NBC/BBC series, was candid about the likelihood of donning Rupert Giles' specs for another go-around as the much-beloved Watcher, created by Joss Whedon.

"Ripper is a kind of a - it's a funny old thing," said Head. "Whether it ever gets made or not... if it does ever get made, I'll probably be an octogenarian by the time it does. But it is something I actually introduced Joss to [Doctor Who producer] Julie Gardner, who was a producer with the BBC. She has long wanted to do something with the project. There are obviously complications with Ripper because there are lots of tie ins. There's FOX, there's the Kazuis. There's all sorts of stuff that, basically it isn't just a simple question of Joss making a series that he wants to make as far as anything concerned with Buffy. There are a lot of people down the line that would have a say. And that's part of the equation."

"We've had conversations about working together again," said Head about future collaboration with Whedon. "It's, I don't know, something that may happen again in the future. I hope so. [...] He came up with an idea, pitched it at lunch with Eliza and from that moment on it was a done deal. I don't think, I may be wrong, but I don't think any of the Buffy crew could really, well not crew because there's a lot of Buffy crew working on Dollhouse, but actors would really fit comfortably in Dollhouse because you'd automatically be, you know, you'd be taken to Faith."

"And Eliza is not Faith in Dollhouse," he continued. "She's a fascinating character that, you know, lives a totally different life from Faith and it came out through the life of Faith that, you know, she'd like to - she'd like to play something different than what Eliza is usually asked to play. And he came up with the idea that she could play something different every week. And from there Dollhouse was born. But I would love to work with him again. I think he's a fascinating writer, fascinating director. He's a lovely, lovely guy. I'm very, very fond of him and I would - I'd, you know, I don't use the word genius lightly but I think he is one."

"I think [Joss] really is a great writer," said Head. "I would like to see him make more movies. I think, you know, I thought Serenity was a funny film and actually it was hugely well received by critics and at the same time was not possibly marketed as well as it might have been. It was a great film. He makes writing really count. It's not just writing for writing sake. He gives everything a life and a reason. With Dollhouse, I think he had problems initially with Fox because they wanted one show and he was sticking readily with his guns. And I think they've gone with it now because they realized that ultimately it's wonderfully complex and i all the characters have got all sorts of neuroses and problems. I mean it's a fascinating world that he's created with Dollhouse."

"And it's what they've done with Merlin; by creating a world in which magic is forbidden on pain of death, they've created a very, very interesting world for a young Merlin to exist or not to, you know, basically fight for his life," said Head. "A good drama is about conflict. And if like Joss Whedon you can allow comedy to come through to support your drama, it makes the thrills and spills that much more pertinent and that much more poignant when you do get it. When you get the shop horror it gives you a bed to feed it in. You know, and then ultimately that's what makes its appeal so wide."

So, given how much time has passed since Whedon first approached Head about Ripper, have their plans changed significantly?

"Originally when he pitched [Ripper] to me, he didn't have to pitch it very fast, I was like yes," remembered Head. "It was a series. And it was Giles as this sad lonely man in England without a real reason to be. And it was pretty much ghost stories. Week-by-week, some ghost story would somehow affect him."

"And then he said that he didn't [feel]--I mean he by that time I think he had been affected by Angel--the need to write a weekly story," he went on. "I think he found at that point the drive was different. And so he suggested this one film he was going to make. And he told me the story that he'd written and it's absolutely beautiful. And I hope that one day it gets made whether it's the guise of Ripper or whether we just sell it as a story, a one-off TV movie. It's a lovely, lovely story. It's kind of a ghost story. It's also about a man investigating his own soul and it's fascinating and lovely and sad and it's classic ghost reading. I hope we get to make it one day. And from there on in he was going to, you know, if it was successful maybe he could have been convinced to do a series. And as I say he's back in the seat of doing a weekly series with Dollhouse. Maybe he can be convinced otherwise. But never say never but at the same time, I think it's on the shelf for a while."

"I don't think we'll every really know [what Ripper means]," said Head. "I think Ripper just means it's the darker side of someone that suddenly see that you never every knew existed. And it's a very dark side. And we got to see some of it in Buffy. You know, he's the only guy who killed an innocent man in Buffy. Well Faith did. But Faith is bad. But he smothered somebody who ultimately was a innocent bystander. And so [had] some darkness. That's Ripper."

So is Head still surprised by all the attention he gets from Buffy fans years after its cancellation?

"It wasn't cancelled. It was never cancelled," said Head, chidingly. "Just we took a bow and decided to basically that he had said enough. Although having said that and I haven't seen it all, but Season Eight is alive and kicking in comic book form."

"No, I'm not surprised [by the continued support of Buffy fans] inasmuch as ultimately Buffy was an extraordinary piece of writing," he continued. "And because of that, the fact that it was used by universities as an example of modern writing. I'm amazed when I got to LA and I go and meet producers who came up as writers and Buffy was almost their bible and they almost genuflect. So it's always very flattering but it's nothing to do with me. It's because I worked with Joss Whedon. What does amaze me, and the fact that I love, is that I'm constantly met by young people and I think that they've seen something else I'm in, Little Britain or Merlin and Buffy goes - I don't know what it does in the States but it goes round and round. It's cyclical here and it keeps garnering young audiences. And long may that be so because it is great TV."

"But one of the things that appeals about Buffy was the fact that it was so multi generational," Head reflected. "It was - even though FOX didn't market it this way, FOX marketed it for 15-year-olds to 25-year-olds. [...] It is truly universal appeal and that is the secret of Merlin as well. It has this extraordinary general, multi-generational appeal that people come up to me in the street and say thank you. I go it's nothing to do with me. I didn't write it. But they say this is truly a show that we can sit down with our kids and everybody loves it. Everybody - it's a truly family show. And there's not that many shows that parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters, teens, 25-year-olds down to the age of six can actually enjoy a show together. There's something in it for everybody. And it's once every few years a show like it comes along... It's kind of very simple, very basic premise but it's a very clever premise. And as I say, it somehow appeals to everyone."

Has Head been typecast then since he first played Rupert Giles on Buffy?

"Actors generally, you get a recurring role in this and a recurring role in that," said Head. "I mean I've been very, very fortunate to play leads in a number of series; and very different types of things. And to a certain extent I've worked quite hard not to be typecast. You know, when initially when I came back from Buffy there were quite of offers of professors and the occasional librarian but they were largely professors. There was an episode of Doctor Who that I did. And initially I balked at it because it was headmaster and then I read that it was a headmaster who ate children and ultimately was actually a demon who flew. I kind of - I went one round and it was a great episode and it was great fun to do."

"But it's more than that," he continued. "You know, trying to find something, which will develop your career, will take you on to something new and will open people's minds up. I mean Giles for me was a huge, huge turning point because it was the first character role that I had played. And up to that point in England I was playing romantic leads. You know, that to a certain extent was not limiting but it basically it was just going in one direction. And the thing that Buffy gave me was an opportunity to show people that I did other stuff and it was the first time I'd really been - even though Giles wasn't necessarily a comic role, there was a lot of comedy in it."

"And so it gave the producers of Little Britain the idea that I could play a straight man in a comedy and he plays it absolutely straight down the line. But there has to be some comedy. Do you know what I mean? So Matt and David, I think, basically saw something in me that they thought would work in a comedy. So since then I've done quite a lot of comedy, per se. And it's great fun to be allowed to go from one genre to another. And go, you know, to do musicals the same as well. I'm very, very fortunate."

Merlin premieres Sunday, June 21st at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Hadley said…
Thanks for the great interview! I would love to see Joss' "ghost story" come to life one day. Sounds brilliant.
Robin said…
Having now seen Tony in a number of roles, I can't imagine how anyone could typecast that man. In both Buffy and Repo!, he's shown his amazing range. And Merlin sounds like it's going to be just as good. I'm really liking this new trend of airing first-run series during the summer. :)
Page48 said…
And, imagine NBC allowing Michelle Ryan to use a British accent this time around! How bold of them!

NBC, you guys are bold.

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