When one thinks of the comedy stylings of Ricky Gervais, the word “sincerity” may not immediately come to mind. That’s exactly why he created, writes and stars in Netflix’s “Derek,” for which he earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy.
“You don’t want to do the same thing over and over again,” Gervais told TheWrap. “People even thought it was some sort of life change. Like people have asked me, ‘So is this a new you?’ No, I’m the same me, I’m just something different. I’ll probably go back to doing ‘The Office’ again, I’ll probably do the Golden Globes again one year and say awful things, my stand up is going to be the most offensive ever. But this is me doing something else for an experiment.”
An experiment in self-discovery, perhaps, as Gervais said in one way or another, all of his characters have been an extension of him. David Brent of “The Office” and Andy Millman from “Extras” each own to a different aspect of Gervais’ outsized persona, but Derek is the most deeply personal out of all of them.
“Derek’s sort of me when I was eight-years-old before the world told me to try to be cool and cynical, bow to peer pressure, and worry about what you seem to like,” he said. “Derek has no filter, Derek says what he thinks and Derek’s the person I’d sort of quite like to be I guess.
“He is the first person I played that is a part of me, that’s a heroic part of me — it’s all good — and the reason I made him hunched and shuffled with bad hair, getting words wrong and all those things is because they’re all trivial. None of those are more important things. I wanted this to be anti-fashion, anti-cool, anti-fame and I wanted kindness to come along and trump everything.”
Read on for the rest of our Emmy nominee Q&A quickie with the “Derek” creator and star.
TheWrap: What was the most challenging thing you did on “Derek” this year?
Gervais: Be sincere. As a comedian probably most associated with the comedy, embarrassment, excruciating social faux pas, snark, social satire, bringing down the rich and famous at the Golden Globes, openly being a fool and a provocateur for fun … I didn’t think that it was a challenge at the time, but I think that’s the thing that surprised most people and the feedback I’ve had in the initial stages.
First of all, it was, before they’d seen it, “Well, this is going to be cruel, it’s making fun of old people,” and then they saw it and they were confused. Then they went, “I can’t find the cruelty, I’m still looking — I’ll get back to you.” And then they went, “It’s not cruel at all, it’s really sincere and there’s piano and it’s nice.” [Laughs] Their perception completely changed, of course.
That’s what makes it more of a drama as well. I mean, it’s still the same stuff. I still do excruciating social faux pas, I’ve always snuck in a bit of pathos, I’ve always snuck in a bit of heart … a boy meets girl romance, worries — I’ve always snuck those things in. I think the big departure in things with David Brent, we were laughing at his blind spot, at the difference between how David Brent sees himself and how we see him. Whereas in “Derek,” the players haven’t got that blind spot. What they say is what they mean, what they mean is what they say, and we sort of agree with them. So that’s what makes it less the usual comedy and more of a comedy drama.
How would you persuade someone who has never watched “Derek” to give the show a shot?
It’s a bittersweet comedy-drama about the everyday struggle in life. It’s about how beautiful life is, warts and all.
It’s difficult trying to do sort-of high-concept one-lines about a thing that’s basically a docu-soap that is a ramble of loads of people’s lives. It’s not ‘It’s a man who can see through walls” — it’s different every week. The people are different every week. I would say it’s a show about kindness and I would say it’s about ordinary people doing their best.
What/who would be at the top of your Emmy ballot?
I think I’d have to give it to Louis [CK] in my category — I love Louis. All the others are great but Louis is sort of my type of guy.
“House of Cards” is the show of the year, no doubt about it. I’m actually jealous of [Kevin] Spacey: He gets to do a great show and look down the lens — that’s my kind of show.
“Breaking Bad” … they have got to pick up something. Those three shows stand out in my mind from this year and then a few other shows that weren’t nominated that aren’t worth talking about [laughs].
Which episode did you pick as the Emmy episode and why?
Episode 6, and I picked that because I think it’s got a bit of everything. I think it’s the most standalone. There is a beginning, middle and end to it. If you’ve never seen the others you quickly realize that Derek’s dad’s ill, he’s internet dating — he hasn’t dated for a while. There’s a real sweetness when he goes on his first date and it’s really funny.
I also think it’s probably the second-best episode. But the best episode, I think it would be too much for Emmy voters to sit through and consider it as a comedy performance. It’s Episode 5, when I put the dog down and it’s just, oh my God — it’s like a workout. The dog dies, Hannah cries because Tom is going off to sea and it’s just one trauma after another. In context it’s great and it’s sort of uplifting and really important, but I think for Emmy voters who have never seen the show and they go, “Well what’s this little comedy show from that funny guy Ricky Gervais who did ‘The Office’ and ‘The Golden Globes?’ Oh, he’s killing a dog and he’s crying.” [Laughs] So that was my thinking behind Episode 6.