Gervais Says Farewell to 'Extras'
Wearing well-worn jeans and a black T-shirt, Gervais, 46, uses his day off from his first star turn in a film, "Ghost Town," to talk in HBO's Manhattan headquarters about his latest series, "Extras," which ends its 13-episode run Sunday, Dec. 16, with "The Extra Special Series Finale."
"Extras," starring Gervais as Andy Millman, a one-time extra who shoots to stardom on an idiotic sitcom, offers a brilliant, if bleak, ending.
Zap2it: Why end "Extras"?
Ricky Gervais: We said everything we needed to say, and if I carried on, I would be saying the same thing two or three times.
Zap2it: Where do Andy and Maggie (Ashley Jensen) go?
Gervais: I think they'll go to America.
Zap2it: Will he still act?
Gervais: On his own terms, this time for his own reasons. He doesn't need his picture in magazines he wouldn't have bought five years ago.
Zap2it: How do you and Stephen Merchant work together?
Gervais: In the same room, we come up with stuff. I put it into Dictaphone, it's typed up and get about 60 pages in hand. I can't wait to get my hands on it. If he says something and we both laugh or I'll say something and he'll laugh, we are only pleasing two people. I got to a point with "The Office" and with "Extras," where I said, "Oh, is that next?" I couldn't wait to do that -- writing and acting.
Zap2it: Do you still dislike acting?
Gervais: I like acting a lot more than I did. If I had to give one up, it would be acting. The first thing I did was "The Office," and I didn't know about hitting the marks.
Zap2it: You must have worked in an office to capture the soul-numbing depression it can induce. What was your experience?
Gervais: I was an ad man for the student union for London University.
Zap2it: Is that where you studied philosophy?
Gervais: Yes. When I was doing it, I was very keen on determinism. I was fascinated by ethics and morality.
Zap2it: Didn't you start in science?
Gervais: Yes, I wanted the hard facts. I did biology, physics, chemistry, and I changed after two weeks. I don't think there's any better grounding to do philosophy than hard science.
Zap2it: Philosophers are rarely too focused on money. Are you?
Gervais: I've never worried about money. I was poor, but it was not an important thing. If you got money, people would say, 'Well done.' It was never about being flush and being rich. I couldn't have been prouder about "The Office." The checks came in. It was nice to have a nice, safe house in a nice, safe area. But how rich do people need to be? I was offered a corporate gig. It was for 40 minutes, $40,000, handing out awards to marketing managers. The reason I did it was because it was more than my dad earned in a year. I did one or two. It was weird. It was inverse guilt. In the early days, I did an advert. There's nothing wrong with doing adverts or corporates. Now I want to be proud of everything I do.
Zap2it: Do you get recognized?
Gervais: Fame, it being an upshot of what you do, isn't what I want. I want to be successful and that's fine. I don't need to add to that pool. I am already more famous than I ever thought. Why would I go to premieres? I try to keep off the telly because I want to keep my powder dry. I think you are handed a big pile of goodwill when you start in this industry. But you can put it in the bank or you can use it. In England it's bad because in the place where you grew up, it's worse. Here [in New York], you walk by and people say, "Love the show." Everyone's doing something. They've got bigger fish to fry than you. In England, they are impressed by someone who has done one day on the soap.
Zap2it: I realize you're not moaning about it, but fame must have some perks, like meeting one of your heroes, David Bowie?
Gervais: I hook up with him two or three times a year. I was in a green room, and it was Salman Rushdie, David Bowie and me. The next night I was in a pub with my mate. He asked, "What did you do last night?" I could not say it. Someone sent Bowie a video of "The Office." I got an e-mail that said, "I watched. I laughed." For his 57th birthday, I sent him an e-mail. "Isn't it time you got a proper job?" He wrote back, "I have a proper job -- rock god!" He knows everything happening everywhere. When you meet him, you think, "I will meet David Bowie." And you meet David Jones from south London.
Zap2it: Do you collect anything?
Gervais: Art, modern, from landscapes to abstract. I paint as well.
Zap2it: What else have you worked as?
Gervais: I haven't had many jobs really. When I was 14, I worked in a factory to earn some money. The tables with metal legs -- I grinded down the sharp edges. I could not work in a kitchen. A butcher shop would be a nightmare. I am not a vegetarian, but I am very careful about what I eat.
Zap2it: Not to be rude, but you ate McDonald's for lunch. How careful can you be?
Gervais: I don't mean in terms of ingredients. Battery farming -- when they get a chicken so cheap because it's been in a cage this big (holds hands a few inches apart) and they debeak it. I can't stand cruelty to animals.
Zap2it: What's next?
Gervais: 2008 is pretty chockablock. This film with (director/writer) Matt Robinson, "This Side of the Truth." I'm doing live dates in L.A. and New York, and recording in July for an HBO special. I think you are meant to do something that scares you every day.
Zap2it: Who are your influences?
Gervais: Laurel and Hardy, Christopher Guest, Garry Shandling, Woody Allen. They all have something in common as well -- about making a connection. They are just funny. Groucho is a bit of a hero.
Zap2it: What are you goals?
Gervais: The first thing that popped into my mind was to have a nature reserve in the back garden. Get up and play with animals. I love the work, I want to do this until I can't anymore.