Ricky Gervais, cocreator and star of the instant-classic Britcom The Office, is about as un-Hollywood as Slough, the depressing working-class suburb where the show takes place. For one thing, he may be the only person in the entertainment industry who worries about winning too many awards. In this online-exclusive follow-up to his recent interview in Entertainment Weekly, he talks about his approach to writing, why he’ll never revisit The Office, and the new DVD of the series’ conclusion, The Office Special.
Entertainment Weekly What makes you proudest about The Office?
Ricky Gervais The writing. I loved getting involved in directing, and I loved performing — and I think I’ve really improved in performing. I think I’m a better actor in series 2 and the special than I am in the first series. But I’ve always been proudest of the writing. I think that I took chances, and I tried the hardest I have ever tried. You know, it’s a cliché, but you feel more rewarded the harder you try at something. With this I tried my hardest, and it’s like I was rewarded, like a fable. It’s like I got an A+, and now I’m hooked on getting an A+. I’m like a 43-year-old Lisa Simpson.
What was your writing process for the show?
I had a much bigger list of what not to do than what to do. And that’s from me watching hours and hours of bad television or bad writing that annoyed me. Exposition has always annoyed me. People coming in saying, ”Catherine, you know your sister, the doctor that moved to Gambia?” And I hated convenient jokes. If it was a punchline, I hated someone coming in and sort of setting someone up like they didn’t know what they were doing. There couldn’t be unfeasibly clever, funny, witty people all the time. The humor actually comes from people not being unfeasibly witty and clever.
How do you and [cocreator] Stephen Merchant write together?
It sort of comes out of conversation, and if it makes someone laugh, we work on it. And I put it into a Dictaphone so we get the feel and the language. And then Stephen actually transcribes that while I’m playing golf or something, because if he wants half the money, he’s gotta do something for it. And he does my laundry as well.
On the Golden Globes featurette on the Office Special DVD, why were you all so sure you wouldn’t win?
It was the first time we’d been convinced we were going to lose. We won just about everything in Britain. We won every time for three years running. And to be honest, it was almost getting embarrassing. Sometimes we were hoping that we wouldn’t win, because we just thought people would hate us. We thought that it would annoy people, to keep losing to us. So I remember the last couple, me and Steve were hoping we didn’t win. And the last one, Steve didn’t even come up because he was mildly embarrassed to go up again.
America was a whole different kettle of fish. I mean this one I was embarrassed to be up there because I didn’t think that they’d know who I was. I don’t know if this is true or not, but when we went up for the award, obviously no one knew who we were, and apparently, Clint Eastwood voiced this quite candidly and honestly, as he should. Apparently, he turned to the person next to him and said [doing a Clint Eastwood impression], ”Who the f–k are they?” [Laughs.]
I’ll bet he knows now.
More people knew us on the way out than on the way in. I was still scared that a security guard was gonna go, ”Oy. Excuse me, where’d you nick those Globes? You’ve got Matt LeBlanc’s. That’s Arrested Development‘s. Give them back.”
You know, the truth is, there were things I thought people would like more. It’s as simple as that. I still find it hard to put myself alongside shows like Friends and Arrested Development and Sex and the City. And I find it hard to put myself alongside people like Matt LeBlanc and Jeffrey Tambor.
Because you still don’t think of yourself that way?
I don’t compare myself to American megastars. I compare myself to a bloke that started out the same as me and is probably doing the London pub circuit, telling jokes. I don’t think of myself on that level. And I’m not. Also, I wasn’t born to be clean-shaven with a tuxedo and fanfare. I was born to be sitting around like I am now, in my pajamas, with slippers on, and my feet up. But it was an amazing experience.
Anything remarkable about the last day of shooting?
On the last day I came out and said, ”As it’s the last ever, take a memento.” And I meant things like, some stationery. I took the bell off reception. Everyone else, it was looting. It was like a plague of locusts in a cartoon. Chairs, heaters. They absolutely stripped the joint. It was decimated. It was empty by tea-time. [Laughs.]
Would you have any interest in revisiting The Office sometime in the future?
Even if we wanted to, we mustn’t. I’d be too embarrassed to go back on my word. I think it would look desperate. And it would spoil the completeness of the 12 episodes and the special. I’m more interested in the legacy than wringing out the towel a bit more.