Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Ricky Gervais (in "David Brent's" "music video" for The Office Special on BBC)

Ricky Gervais on Extras

Extras, the new comedy series from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (creators of the Golden Globe-winning comedy series "The Office"), debuts Sunday, September 25, 2005 (10:30-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), on HBO.

The show stars Gervais (star of "The Office") as bitter, aspiring actor Andy Millman, who gives up his day job to pursue fame in the movies, only to find he just can't land the big parts. Each episode has a different setting and features cameos by top Hollywood stars, including Kate Winslet and Patrick Stewart. The cast also features Merchant as Andy's agent and Ashley Jensen as Andy's friend and fellow extra Maggie Jacobs.

Q: How did Extras come about?
RICKY GERVAIS: "The Office" resulted from the fact that I worked in an office for seven or eight years, and people-watched, which is what I do. For the past few years, I've been involved in media, so that's been the backdrop of my life. But it's only a backdrop, and that's the important thing. Just like "The Office" wasn't really about selling things.

With Extras, I've continued the themes of "The Office": desperation, self-delusion, ego, men as boys, demanding respect, confusing respect with popularity. It's about relationships.

Q: But Andy Millman, the lead character of Extras, is a very different character from David Brent of "The Office."

RG: In some ways. Andy's cleverer. He's genuinely a funny guy. He's misanthropic, whereas Brent was quite a people person, as long as he was leader of the pack. But there are similarities as well. They're flawed characters. Life hasn't dealt them the hand they think they deserved.

Extras is not an ensemble piece like "The Office," where people were thrown together. Extras, it's people seeking out what they want to do, but possibly not finding it. And my only friend is this hapless sidekick, Maggie. They met doing work as extras, and she's the only person that he can stand to talk to. Whereas Andy's unlucky with his career, and doesn't really care about anything else, she just wants to find a husband.

Q: How did you cast the show?
RG: Stephen [Merchant] and I cast "The Office" from scratch, and we cast Extras from scratch. That's what we like doing: a clean palette, no baggage. We didn't want to borrow other people's black books. If you watch telly and go, "Oh! That's exactly what we're looking for," don't go there, because someone else has done it.

Q: There must have been plenty of interested actors.
RG: They were lining up out the door. The good thing about doing it the second time around is that at least you're getting people with your comic sensibilities, who know that we want naturalism. The most important thing is that they can act like they're not acting.

Q: How did you recruit the celebrities who appear as themselves on Extras?
RG: Every time we read an article about "The Office," and a celebrity said it was their favorite show, we made a note to call them. First, they shared our comic outlook. Second, they liked us. Third, they might want to put their career in jeopardy!

Q: What is the writing process like? Is it really slow and painful?
RG: No, it's very slow and a joy. If Stephen and I get a minute a day we're happy. If we sit down for four hours, three hours is talking about what we saw on telly last night or what we hate.

When I came to this business and started writing "The Office," I had a much bigger list of don't's than do's. In fact, my list was only don't's. It was things that I hated: bad exposition, bad acting. Don't hang around too long. Don't do this because you want to be famous. Don't do it for the money.

Q: The writing is the most important thing to you?
RG: I love acting. But if I had to give up one aspect, it would be the acting. Writing is the most important. Then directing, then acting. But I love them all.

I don't rush around popping up in other stuff, because I don't do things to be seen. I don't particularly get a buzz out of watching myself on the telly. I've done a guest spot on one thing, "Alias."

I'm doing two other things this year, and for me, the best two things you could do are an episode of "The Simpsons" and a movie with Christopher Guest, who did "Spinal Tap." He's probably the biggest influence on my acting. I can tell you what I know about the film, but it's sketchy, because it's improv. It's called "For Your Consideration," and as far as I can make out, it's going to do for Oscar frenzy what "Spinal Tap" did for heavy rock.

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