My France - Anthony Head

Well-known actor ANTHONY HEAD is currently starring as KingUther Pendragon in the BBC TV series Merlin, filmed in Picardy,but his love affair with France started as a child. He tells Anna McKittrick all about family camping holidays.

What is your earliest memory of France? Well my mum played Madame Maigret in the BBC series of Maigret with Rupert Davies and they used to do all their location shooting in France so we always used to go on holiday around the job. My parents loved camping so even after my mum had finished Maigret we’d still go to France every year. We did the Loire, the Dordogne and in later years Brittany (pictured below), the C�te-d’Azur and I think we even went to the Camargue at one point. We pretty much covered most of France. We’d spend a week travelling down in the car stopping off at little pensions and hotels and end up in a campsite and then spend a week and a half there before driving back.Did your parents’ passion for travelling in France rub off on you? I’ve always loved France, I think because it was pretty much part of my life through my formative years; right up to the age of 15 to 16 I was still going with Mum and Dad. I think it’s got so much richness to it; the food and the whole culture. Even though it’s just across the pond, it’s so very different from us. Are there any French dishes that you’re particularly fond of? I developed a real taste for galettes in Brittany. I remember having a sardine cr�pe in Brittany, which was just incredible. The only thing I’m not so keen on is the long-life milk – a cup of tea’s not the same, but it’s a small price to pay. How did you find working in France? It’s lovely. We shoot Merlin at Ch�teau de Pierrefonds in Picardy and it’s extraordinary. I remember when I met the first director James Hawes, he said: “Just wait till you see the castle,” and showed me a couple of pictures that were really nice. But he said; “You cannot anticipate actually seeing it in the flesh.” I remember the first time I saw it, it was exceptional, and then walking into the main square, this cobbled stone square which is just stunning. It makes an enormous difference when you’re trying to recreate a period and you walk on to a set that is just somehow steeped in everything you want as an actor. Where do you stay when you’re filming? We stay in a very sweet little town about 20 minutes away called Compi�gne which has got its own history – it’s where the Treaty of Versailles was signed. There’s this nest of just fascinating stuff at our fingertips and I’m a great believer in exploring. There are acres and acres of beautiful forest all around Compi�gne where I’ve ridden my bike and walked. Do you go into Paris much?Yes I love Paris. I’ve got friends there and it’s just the most exciting, romantic and beautiful city. The first time I went to Paris I went to the Louvre, which I loved.Do you have a favourite arrondissement?We always end up in the Jewish quarter, the Marais, that’s open on Sundays. It’s just fantastic, with beautiful restaurants, great shops and a real buzz. When did you start learning French?It’s just something I did at school and it’s one of those classic things that you find as you practise, it you improve. I’m actually now much better than I was when I started this job. The thing I was never very good at was tenses and I’ve started to find that whole phrases come more naturally to me, rather than trying to decline each verb. Are you a fan of French film?Yes I love French cinema. As a teenager I adored Brigitte Bardot. But in my late teenage years I really got into Louis Bu�uel who I love as a filmmaker. It’s always confused me that the French have such a thriving film industry and we don’t. It’s got the most wonderful quality, nowhere else in the world. It has a humour to it and a passion that somehow seems to desert us, I don’t know why.