By Chad Greene
“This is Ricky Gervais,” says the voice on the telephone.
“Obviously,” I reply.
My intent is not to come off as curt, but to reference the opening line of The Ricky Gervais Show, listed in Guinness World Records 2007 as the Most Downloaded Podcast: “I’m Ricky Gervais obviously.” But there is silence on the other end of the line.
Only a split second passes, but it’s time enough for a terrifying thought to occur to me: That I’ve just given a comic genius who’s built an empire out of awkwardness all the material he needs.
But then, Gervais starts to crack up. “Good catchphrase, that,” he laughs.
“Well, you thought it up,” I say.
Gervais, of course, also thought up The Office and Extras, the critically acclaimed Brit-coms that have earned the writer/director/actor a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. This year, Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale and the American adaptation of The Office —on which Gervais serves as an executive producer—have been nominated for a total of 14 Emmy Awards. The ceremony will be held on Sunday, September 21, capping what is sure to be a big weekend for Gervais, as the first feature film he’s starred in, Ghost Town, is set to open on Friday, September 19.
Gervais is the first to admit that the path he’s taken to silver-screen stardom was anything but traditional.
“If someone asks, ‘What advice do you give to younger comedians?’ I go, ‘Well, just write an award-winning comedy that gets picked up by 90 countries around the world,’” he chuckles. “In my own way, I’m trying to be self-deprecating. And I’m actually saying that it doesn’t count, really.”
But DreamWorks and Paramount are counting on Gervais—a man who David Bowie serenaded with an impromptu tune entitled “Pug-Nosed Face” in one episode of Extras —to open a romantic comedy about a dentist named Bertram (Gervais) who momentarily flatlines during a routine procedure and is subsequently besieged by ghosts asking him to help them contact the living. The most persistent is Frank (Greg Kinnear), who convinces Bertram to stop Frank’s widow Gwen (Téa Leoni) from getting remarried—inadvertently setting up a “spirited” triangle. But Gervais insists that the success of Ghost Town will have as much to do with the efforts of writer John Kamps and writer/director David Koepp as with his own star turn.
To listen to our interview with Gervais,