In 2009, Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Anthony Stewart Head was playing a thrice-divorced sex-obsessed boss to two recently single talent agents looking for love (occasionally with each other, occasionally without) on the British comedy Free Agents. This year, he’s doing the same thing — but on the American remake (which premieres on NBC tonight at 10:30, before moving to its regular 8:30 timeslot next week) and with a few differences (here, they’re PR execs), yet the same silly, provocative panache. This guy knows a sexual position called the Flying Dutchman, and he’s not afraid to use it. EW caught up with Head recently to chat about the show, his character, American adaptations, and filming next door to Mad Men.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You obviously know Free Agents well. What’s it about besides sex in the workplace?
ANTHONY STEWART HEAD: It’s about how you deal with someone whom you obviously have a connection with, but you’re at the wrong time in your life to deal with that. Stephen, my character, provides the bizarre. Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn) are trying to figure out what their relationship is and he is all about bizarre relationships. That’s how he fits into the puzzle. Also, corporate PR is about damage control and it’s ironic that they’re constantly doing damage control on other people’s lives, but they can’t sort their own lives out.
Is Steven a menace?
He has an extraordinary schoolboy charm about his obsessions. There’s an innocence about him that makes his fascinations tolerable. Otherwise, he might be a quite unpleasant person.
This isn’t your first British series to have an American counterpart. What’s your honest opinion on these sorts of adaptations?
I have to say, sometimes you wonder about translations. I must admit I got a sneak preview of the American pilot of The Inbetweeners for MTV. And it’s good, actually. They followed [the original] very close. Its themes are pretty common. We’re all geeks at one time or another. Well, not the jocks, of course — they’re not. With Free Agents, they’ve taken all the essence — the best, best parts — and allowed them to grow. The original was basically a small, perfectly formed, critically acclaimed gem that they used as a jumping off place. As is, it was only six episodes long. This is, hopefully, 22. But now it’s 12 or 13.
Was there anything your character said or did in the original series that you thought “I will absolutely not do that again”?
No, I’m completely open to whatever they throw at me. Stephen is so outside my world of experience. I’ve never had a fascination with shocking people. And he really likes to shock. He’s very silly. And he likes playing with people’s emotions, which is not necessarily bad. There is one episode when he becomes quite Machiavellian and he pits Alex up against the assistant, Emma. But he’s doing it from the right place. He’s trying to get Alex motivated and back in the driving seat. We are about to shoot [an episode] I love, which is one of the English ones, where I basically say my employees have to go to my old work colleague’s funeral and pilfer all his clients.
So, in the American version, you’ll also keep sex toys in your dishwasher?
I haven’t. Yet.
Have you seen the Showtime series Episodes, which is about a couple adapting their hit British comedy for U.S. audiences? Was your experience like that?
Yes, I have. And, no, no, no. This series has the same essential wit and drive [as the original]. It’s very sharp comedy. It’s adult comedy. The gags come fast and furious. At the same time, they’ve managed to keep that adrift feel. Hank has got a wonderful handle on this lost soul who doesn’t quite fit with anything.
What’s it like on set?
We shoot it at the L.A. Center. It’s an old oil refinery or something bizarre. We share the lot with Mad Men, which is extraordinary. You’re walking amongst all these beautiful 1950s cars, and people dressed up in very sharp suits and fantastic sunglasses. And the women are all in hats. And then there’s me. Let’s just say they’ve used a very bright palette for my clothes. So I’m wandering through in more-than-pastel shades.
Which one of your characters do you get recognized for the most at home?
In Britain, my face is attached to Buffy, Little Britain, Merlin…I did one episode of Doctor Who, which seemed to tickle a few people. My favorite was a little girl — she was about six — who came up to me in the street in Bath. She stopped absolutely still in front of me and stared up at me with huge, wide, wide eyes and said “Are you real?”
What about in L.A.?
Obviously it’s Buffy. The show is still current. It’s still bringing people in. But I have to say, [people recognizing me for Merlin] have piped up in supermarkets.