Best known as stuffy mentor Rupert Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anthony Head is returning to TV screens in Merlin, a BBC import that puts a new spin on a classic British tale.
Head takes on the role of Uther, ruthless king and father of the impetuous Prince Arthur. Between the crown and tunic and the bloodthirsty brutishness, it’s about as far from Buffy’s cultured occult expert Giles as you could get. And that’s just how Head likes it.
“I’m lucky to be in an industry that I can do anything,” he says, easing back in his chair in the dining room of a Pasadena, Calif., hotel.
“I’ve worked quite hard at not being pigeonholed, not being limited by a role that I’ve done. I’ve turned down an awful lot of Giles-similar roles. Like professors and librarians, an awful lot of that.”
In the meantime, he’s popped up in a number of British TV series, going for laughs in Little Britain and My Family, and devouring children on Doctor Who. He was even rumoured to be one of the top choices to play the new Doctor on the long-running series, something he shrugs off.
“There have always been bets that I might be the new Doctor,” he says.
Head prefers audiences get a chance to see his range. “I’ve done quite a few different things,” he explains. To that end, he’s glad that Merlin is making the jump across the pond. But he confides that the series — a kind of Smallville version of the King Arthur legend focusing on young Arthur and the wizard as teenage pals — almost didn’t make it because producers couldn’t find one key element.
“They nearly cancelled it because they couldn’t find Camelot,” he says. “They combed Europe, but they couldn’t find anything that ticked all the boxes.”
But producers discovered Chateau de Pierrefonds in northern France just in time. Restored by Napoleon III in the 1850s, the castle has held up better than its medieval predecessors.
“It’s almost new,” Head jokes. “Though it’s got a few bits chipped out of it from where the Germans shot at it in the Second World War.”
“It’s absolutely beautiful. You’ve got this incredible depth that you could not create on a set.” And Head admits that the setting does make his job a lot easier. “I walked in and went, ‘Oh my god, I’m king.’ I don’t have to do any work, because this does it,” he remembers. “This makes me king. All you have to do is turn up and be present.”
Nice work if you can get it.
– Merlin airs this Sunday on CTV.