Expect Less Anthony Stewart Head In Merlin's Fourth Season

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Be honest, how many of you hear Anthony Stewart Head's name and still think "Buffy!"? If our Twitter feed is anything to go by the answer is "lots". When we told you we were interviewing the respected British actor the social site almost exploded. OK, we're exaggerating slightly massively, but it's definitely fair to say that Head's still very well thought-of as Giles, Buffy's trusty watcher.

Head's starred in plenty of other shows, films and stage productions since then though and his 30-odd year career is showing no sign of slowing. When we caught up with him he was at the Monte Carlo TV Festival representing the BBC fantasy show Merlin, which unfortunately came away empty handed. We dialled in for a chat about his upcoming projects, his loyalties to Merlin and buttocks (yep, buttocks)…

TV.com: We hear the next season of Merlin is going to be darker, how so?
Anthony Head: It is darker; it investigates some very interesting facets of the world that we inhabit. I like it darker, but I don’t think it’s so dark that it will turn kids off; it’s probably in response to the fact that kids like the darker side of Merlin as well. I think they’ve been given license to get in there and dig down a bit.

We've seen many different sides of Uther Pendragon now. Do you have a favourite portrayal of him?
No actually. I like the fact that they have allowed me so many facets of one character, and it’s not like the facets are layered on--they’re not--he is a multifaceted character. The results of it have been great fun to play.

How does your involvement with the US version of Free Agents affect your involvement with Merlin? Have you had to be written out of the show?
Well, as more and more characters are added--and there are quite a few characters now--each individual contribution is less. Johnny [Capps] and Julian [Jones] (Merlin's creators) have always been extremely generous to both Richard [Wilson] and myself in terms of working around stuff that we’ve got on. We’ve both had projects outside of Merlin and not everything always worked but [Johnny and Julian] have worked really hard for this to work. I’m very grateful to them.

You're the only original cast member in the US version of Free Agents. How did that come about?
I went for about four or five pilots in the UK this year, I was going to go over to the States but didn’t. Then suddenly it came up really last minute and it was a real rush to sort out Visas. Also, because it was so last minute it meant that we had to work round shooting days on Merlin. They literally built in an extra day’s schedule on Free Agents, the pilot, so that I could shoot something out in Merlin.

I flew out one day and started filming the next; it was all very "wow".

I got a call from my American agent late at night--I’d been to see my niece in an amateur dramatic thing with my sister-in-law--and was just about to go to bed when I got this call: “Oh by the way, great news, you’ve been offered a chance to reprise your role in ‘Free Agents’.”

Did it feel a bit strange doing a US version of a show you’ve already done in the UK?
It’s different. The actual [original] part I had was on Channel 4 before, and you can say and do things on Channel 4 that you can’t on mainstream network TV in America. So it’s quite fun playing with it and trying to see what one can do to suggest that someone's inappropriate on every level without causing offence. They sort of have different sensibilities than we do so it’s very interesting to see an American take on it. They haven’t changed a lot of Chris Niel’s original dialogue, they’ve added to it. John Enbom is the producer-writer and he’s got a very good feel for it. Looking at what they’ve shot, it works really well. I hope the American audience likes it.

How do Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn compare to Stephen Mangan and Sharon Horgan as the leads of the show?
They are all consummate professionals; there is no difference, professionally, between them at all. I adored Steve and Sharon and they had a very, lovely chemistry. In casting Hank and Kathryn, they’ve actually done a remarkable reworking, they haven’t chosen people who grate against the characters--it’s a very nice choice. Hank hasn’t done any network TV for a long time, so I think the crux of it is its great script. It’s what originally attracted me to the show.

Ultimately, yes, it does matter who you cast in it, but as long as you give it to somebody who cares and pays homage to the original then it's OK. Both Kathryn and Hank do that, they’re lovely.

Despite your varied career, you’re still very much remembered as Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Does that bother you?
No, I’ve worked quite hard to stay ahead of people’s preconception of me so that I don’t think I fit into any obvious pigeonhole. I've worked hard to do roles that would be a challenge, but would also keep a couple of steps ahead of everyone saying “Oh that’s what he does.”

Merlin and Buffy are two very different productions, even though they do have the same universality and the same breadth of appeal. Adults like it as much as kids; there’s something for everyone. And, they are both fantasy shows, and fans of fantasy are possibly more vociferous than others. When the BBC bought Buffy there was such support for it online that they actually thought that it was some scam by Rupert Murdoch, just because there was so much support--they’d never seen anything like it. I do know there's a great support for shows like Merlin and Buffy online, but I would have been surprised if there hadn’t.

With that said, what's the craziest thing that a fan has done to get your attention?
Oh my god. There used to be a thing, I think it was The Bronze, and it was for online fans of Buffy that was organised by the production company. We used to go to the green room and then we’d go down on to the floor and we’d see everybody. There was one point when a fan started to reveal more and more flesh because I think she wanted her buttocks signed. I said “No, no. Stop now.” She was quite offended; she told me that Nicky Brendon [who played Xander] had signed the other side. I said: "Well yes that’s fine, you know, but I don’t really need to go there." My, she was very cross with me, but Nicky Brendon didn’t have a wife and children at home. I didn’t want pictures of me signing someone’s buttock pitching up, you know.

The fourth season of Merlin is set to start on BBC One this autumn, whilst Free Agents will air on NBC in America this winter.

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