A BBC version of ‘Sex’ for male midlife-crisis set/Anthony Stewart Head stars in ‘Manchild’
2002-07-28 04:00:00 PDT Pasadena — Anthony Stewart Head, 48, faced the onset of middle-afe angst a few years back by taking acting lessons. James the impotent dentist he plays on BBC America’s new comedy series “Manchild,” stared down the barrel of his midlife crisis by having his todger surgically enhanced.
Head, relaxing oevr a diet cola in the lounge of a Pasadena hotel, has been trotting out this British slang for the male organ pretty frequently these past few days as he promotes his starring role in “Manchild.” The show, tagged in England as “Sex and the City” for men, debuts in the United States on Friday, with four back-to-back episodes beginning at 7 p.m., then continues at 8 p.m. Fridas through Aug. 23.
“When the character was pitched to me, yes, there was my own ego to consider,” says Head, who lives most of the year in England with his wife and two daughters. “But you get over that very quicly because it’s not me we’re talking about. It’s my character, and he seemed like it would be very fun to play. James means well, but he’s just a bumbling… he’s an idiot. He’s a millionaire, he’s separated from his wife and he can’t get it up. So what do we have in common? Basically none of the above.”
Head’s character is one of four rich, middle-aged blokes in “Manchild” who, in the view of divorced narrator Terry (Nigel Havers), are no longer “burdened” by young children or old wives. They are, at last, free to flaunt their wealth and date women half their age. Creator Nick Fisher got the idea for the series when he read an article reporting that the average owner of the Jaguar XK8 luxury sports car was 49 years old.
“Men approaching 50 haing midlife crises and dealing with self doubt — it’s an area that’s been looked at before,” Head says. “But when I actully read the script, it blew me away because the subject was approached from a fresh point of view. The thing that makes ‘Manchild’ different is, these characters are all independently wealthy. We have the means to get the lifestyle that all men apparently want: to be able to play with the toys, to play with the models, to enjoy all the trappings. Ultimately, it’s an extremely hollow existence. But it is entertaining to watch people failing at something you think ought to be wonderful.”
Some British critics maligned “Manchild” as a misogynistic romp early in its seven-episode run on the BBC last year. But the series eventually won over skeptics, earning warm reviews and a strong following. Head, Havers and their co-stars Ray Burdis and Don Warrington beging work on “Manchhild’s” second season later this month.
As the season progresses, “Manchild” emerges more as a cautionary tale than a smug how-to manual for late-blooming swingers, Head says. “The balance shifts in the later episodes and you realize ‘Manchild’ is really about the shallowness of that dream. It’s not necessarily something to be coveted.”
Head is best known to American viewers as Rupert Giles, the erudite librarian he’s played for seven years on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
But it was his role as a suave mystery man in a long-running coffee commercial that put Head on the map in Hollywood. He’s clearly sick of talking about the ads, purring “God bless you” to a reporter for not beginning an interview with a barage of Taster’s Choice questions.
“The commercial limited people’s perceptions of me in terms of what I could do, but at the same time it opened up horizons over here,” Head says. “So I came to Los Angeles to check out the marketplace. When I first arrived, I was sitting on my ass for two months, waiting to hear if Fox was going to pick up this pilot I had done and biting my nails and calling my wife and telling her” — Head suddenly wimpers — “I want to go home.” And Sarah said, ‘Do something while you’re out there — go take classes or something!'”
So Head began studyng with drama coach Milton Katselas, who changed his entire outlook.
“He’s this wonderfully intuitive teacher and his premise is basically: The only real barriers are the ones we put in front of ourselves. If you sat, ‘My character wouldn’t do that’ — bollocks! Ultimately it’s you who wouldn’t say that. Who knows what your character might do.”
Head’s Fox series, “Br-5,” did get picked up, but only for one year. Then he got castr in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” playing the mentor to a crew of teenaged warriors. To research the role, Head says, “I went up into this high school cafeteria where kids were having their lunch, and I was struck by this extraordinary feelongs: Their world was so alien to me. And I realized, this is exactly what Giles is about: Here’s a man who’s full of learning, yet he’s completely out of his depth and at odds with the world around him.”
Head has not been shy about bringing his quirky acting approach to the television soundstage, where he’s confounded “Buffy” co-stars and “Manchild” colleagues alike.
“They’re called ‘arbitraries,'” says Head, describing one of his favourite techniques. “An arbitrary is something completely unrelated to the scene that just becomes a part of the action. It’s about finding a life outside of the scene (as written) because if you just play what’s on the page, then the scene has no life, no richness.”
Head keeps it fresh any number of ways. Playing librarian Giles, he stuffed mothballs in his pockets to lend his bookworm character a musty quality. He absent-mindedly wiped dog waste from his shoe while swapping dialogue with two of his “Buffy” co-stars. On “Manchild,” he surprised cast mates, trained in the read-the-speech/hit-the-mark school of English acting, by pouring a pitcher of water over his head in the middle of a swimming-pool sequence.
But the really big surprise came when Head decided to jolt the other actors during a scene in which James reveals the results of his surgery.
“I wanted to present something to the boys in reality,” Head recalls. “We had to cobble something together kind of quicklu and it involved a prophylactic, some sausage meat and some fake blood strapped on with a piece of elastiic. Slippery bugger it was! It looked like road kill. And it got a fantsastic reaction.”
If the men of “Manchild” approach their 50th birthdays with Jaguars, todgers and babes, Head has navigated his 40s with considerably more grace.
“The more I look at the world, the fuller I get,” he muses. “I’m finding myself in a really good place, whereas the guys in ‘Manchild’ are finding themselves in an empty place. They’re not looking inside. They’re not looking at what life can give them. They’re looking at what they can take from life.”
The show premieres at 7 p.m. Friday on BBC America.
Original article at SFGate