Thursday 17 January 2019

'Marriage? If I ask Sarah she runs off to throw up'

Anthony Head, star of TV's new divorce drama, tells Daphne Lockyer why he and his partner have never tied the knot

Actor Anthony Head and his partner of 30 years Sarah Fisher, who is an animal behaviour consultant
Actor Anthony Head and his partner of 30 years Sarah Fisher, who is an animal behaviour consultant

Daphne Lockyer

Although we're about to see Anthony Head in a drama that looks at the hurricane effect of divorce, he is, himself, the most devoted of partners.

"Oh my God," he says, when you mention Sarah Fisher, whom he has been with for more than 30 years. "She is a wonderful being and she made me who I am.

"She opened my eyes to so much of life and so much joy. She really makes me the best version of myself that I can be."

I am meeting the actor today at the launch of The Split - Bafta and Emmy award-winning writer Abi Morgan's much-anticipated six-part drama set in London in the high-stakes world of big-money divorce settlements. Head is friendly, smartly dressed and still instantly recognisable from any number of roles, including Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the PM in Little Britain, and, yes, the man downstairs in the Gold Blend commercial that he refers to only, and with a slight groan, as "the advert".

Now aged 64, he is handsomely rocking his "silver fox" phase. Yes, there are lines around his grey-blue eyes, but the twinkle remains. "Mind you, in this drama, I'm meant to be 70. How depressing is that?" However, despite the dig, Head is clearly enamoured with his new role and believes The Split will become one of the most talked-about dramas of the year. "It's surprising that there haven't been more dramas about divorce because it's all around us, isn't it? And, although this is set at the very high end of divorce, with lawyers dealing with massive settlements, the same truths apply to all social classes.

"It's about the repercussions when someone says, 'I need to move on.' It's about the whirlpool of destruction that can affect so many people, especially when there are children involved."

Never having been divorced, he doesn't speak from personal experience. Then again, he has never married either, despite, he says, asking his partner several times. "She just isn't interested," he jokes. "She says f*** off and then runs off to throw up."

For all that, you sense that Head considers himself 'married' in all the important ways and as a duo, too, they certainly seem more together than any of the troubled couples we're about to encounter in The Split. "I just can't imagine my life without Sarah," he says. "And I definitely wouldn't want to."

The drama will be the second project this year to fly the flag for female talent, on both sides of the camera; first came his role in Kay Mellor's Girlfriends - about a group of women of a certain age who've been friends for life. "And here I am again, surrounded by women. I certainly don't have a problem when women are in the driving seat. It's been a long time coming."

The Split has been made by producer Jane Featherstone's aptly named Sister Pictures and, while Morgan takes the writing credits, the drama is directed by Jessica Hobbs. The cast is led by Nicola Walker, as Hannah, who has learnt everything about divorce law from the all-female family firm run by her mother, Ruth (Deborah Findlay). But, in the opening episode, she leaves to join a flashy rival company and her departure represents a betrayal - which is, in itself, a divorce of sorts.

"So, wonderfully, the drama's not just dealing with the clients," adds Head. "It's also about the complicated lives of the women at the heart of the story - the rifts with their own partners, their siblings and their own parents, who are also divorced."

Head plays Oscar, Hannah's errant father, who ran off with the family nanny but has now returned to the family fold, which is like "detonating a hand grenade". A lesser writer than Morgan, he says, would have made him a pantomime bad guy. "But, as in life, the situation is complicated - his story examines the breakdown of a marriage from both perspectives."

There was a time when Head did live apart from Sarah and children Emily (now 29) and Daisy (27) when he moved to America - with Sarah's blessing - to escape the curse of "the advert". He says: "In the early days, I was unemployed and I'd sit in my room, crying on the phone, saying, 'I think I should come home'. But Sarah told me to stick it out and go to acting classes. And that's exactly what I did." The key role in Buffy followed, and so did an eight-year stint in LA.

"Of course, I flew back and forth, and Sarah and the girls came out to LA for holidays. But, effectively, during that time Sarah was a single parent at home. It wasn't easy for either of us. Dropping them at the airport, I'd be in pieces. It was really difficult. When I did finally leave the show, we were all driving to the wrap party in LA. Daisy piped up from the back, 'When I think about it, you've been away for nearly half my life!' And I thought, 'Uh-oh. It's definitely time to go home'."

He is enormously proud of his daughters, both now actresses. Emily plays cast regular Rebecca White in Emmerdale and Daisy, too, is in constant demand. On one occasion he played stepfather to Daisy's character in the TV drama Guilt. "In one scene, I visit this very difficult stepdaughter in prison and from behind the glass I sing a nursery rhyme to her. She looks at me and says, 'I love you', at which point, I genuinely lose it. There was emotion there that was totally tied up with loving my real-life daughter."

His own father, the documentary maker Seafield Head, was less emotionally available than his son has turned out to be. "He was a bit more of a disciplinarian, more of an Edwardian type of dad," he says with a smile.

Raised in Surrey, with his brother Murray, both followed in the footsteps of their mother, actress Helen Shingler. "Acting was something that felt possible to me from a very young age," says Head. His mother is now 99 and, he says, "still sharp as a pin". When he visits her at her nursing home, she is often regaling her carers with tales of the old days.

However, Head embraces the changes we are witnessing in the industry today, especially when it comes to how women are treated, and not least because his daughters stand to benefit. "There's always been a tendency for powerful men in Hollywood to misuse their power. At one point it was so ingrained that the horrors of the casting couch were even considered the acceptable stuff of comedy. But when I hear the stories about lecherous producers in bathrobes..." he tails off, pain crossing his features at the thought, no doubt, of Harvey Weinstein. "I think, Yuck! No! Seriously?"

His life now couldn't be further from that kind of Hollywood scene. He lives with Sarah, an animal behaviour consultant, in the rural outskirts of Bath.

Their menagerie includes 10 horses, six donkeys, three dogs and a couple of cats. When not acting, he writes scripts - a couple of which are in production - or works on his other passion, music.

He even released an album four years ago, Staring at the Sun, with his own rendition of The Way You Look Tonight, which he recorded for Sarah. "It's her favourite song and I presented it to her on Valentine's Day," he says.

And with that kind of romance alive and well in a relationship, who needs marriage?

'The Split' begins on BBC 1 on Tuesday at 9pm

© Telegraph


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