With Stardust done and Ricky Gervais taking his first film lead, Total Film hooked him up with Tim Oliver – David Brent impersonator – to wish him well. And freak him out…
Ricky Gervais I can’t look at him! I can’t look at him! Just do the questions, and I’ll answer…
David Brent* I’ve got a list, but it’s off the cuff, of course… Soooo, as your stand-up show Fame prepares for immortality on DVD, I noticed there’s an extra with Karl Pilkington called ‘Fame: I’m Gonna Live Forever’. So, would you want to live forever?
RG Yeah. Erm, no. You want a serious answer? You don’t, do you? It’s up to you. I can give you either one you want. Serious or philosophical?
RG [Laughs] I don’t know! I don’t want to die, but I’m getting old and feeble now and the last years are the worst. A really cracking 70 years is long enough. Thing is, everyone else would die and that would be the bad thing. I don’t like making new friends. I don’t want to replace my friends – they know me now. I’ve worked on that, that’s safe. I don’t want to have to start again. And I’m an atheist so believe this is it, so my advice is make the most of it.
RG If you wanted my advice!!!!
DB I’ll take anything.
RG What was the question?
DB Dunno. I can’t remember… Do you want to live forever?
RG Well no, because I know the reality. I’ve seen enough sci-fi programmes to know it ends in tears. It doesn’t end! It’s just tears. It continues in tears!
DB And some fella would come along and chop your head off because that’s the only way immortals die.
RG Is it really?
DB That’s what Gareth told me earlier…
RG Oh god…
DB [Reading off question sheet] I suppose your work could continue through people like me…
RG Are you making these up as you go along?
DB I should, I should make them up…
RG No, no. I like this. It’s a new conceit! I’d usually be insulted, but I like it. I like that you’re reading it! Ah! [Spotting his David Brent ring] Have you got the ring as well? It’s very similar…
DB I got it as close as I could. Where’s your one from?
RG My girlfriend got it. It’s a Fleur-de-lis.
DB Mine’s Vivienne Westwood.
RG Is it?! Okay! Very similar though. And a taupe suit as well…
DB Sergio Giorgini.
RG Have you watched a lot of The Office, then?
DB Millions of times! Because every time I do a gig, they know every word so they shout out, “Oi! Brenty! What was the name of your band in the ‘80s?” “Foregone Conclusion!”
RG Yeah! Well I think I only said “Fact!” once, but it became a catchphrase. You know what, there was an impersonator who was doing Princess Diana…
DB Not literally?
RG No! But when Diana died she decided it wasn’t the right thing to do, so she started being a Jill Dando impersonator. True story.
DB Unfortunate, really. My mate Pavarotti’s not getting much work at the moment.
RG Don’t tell me you double up as a fucking Pavarotti impersonator!
DB No, but last night I was out in Newcastle with the Beckhams…
RG The lookalikes? I assume.
DB … and Justin Timberlake. Who was trying to shag Posh Spice in the hotel room after the gig.
RG If anyone overheard this conversation…
DB So that prompted me to think, have you got the Beckhams involved in the Extras Christmas specials?
RG No, that’s just a rumour. I can tell you though: it’s Clive Owen, Gordon Ramsay, George Michael and then lots of little surprises. Lots of little Les Dennises…
DB And then after that, sadly not back to The Office. Instead, it’s onto the movies. You’re moving on and playing the main part…
RG Yeah, I’m taking my first lead in a Hollywood film. I’ve resisted for five years. The first time I turned them down was because I thought, “I’ve been on telly for about a minute” – it’d be advertised on the side of buses for about a week and go straight to DVD. The scripts got better the more I said no and the first one I’m doing is Ghost Town. It’s directed by David Koepp and it was the best script I’d ever read. I’m a misanthropic dentist who’s sort of lonely, grumpy, in need of a hug and I die for a minute, cross over and see these ghosts. It’s really funny and fresh. It made me laugh out loud.
DB And then there’s This Side Of The Truth.
RG I’m co-directing. I’m co-writing and directing it with a guy called Matt Robinson, who’s a young Hollywood gun who had this idea with me in mind and I read it and it’s brilliant. We’ve worked on it and we’re going to direct it now. Which is scary, particularly with one you’re in charge of. That’s scary. Millions of dollars will be your responsibility. Though I prefer to be in charge than not. I look forward to writing and directing more than waiting to be told what to do.
DB But what amazes me about Night At The Museum – where you were just acting – is that when you come in as the manager and go, “Excuse me, do you mind keeping your kids off the artefacts!” the whole cinema cracked up laughing, even though it wasn’t funny! That makes my job so easy! It’s brilliant! They just laugh when you come on screen!
RG I like the fact that you think it wasn’t funny.
DB Yeah, but then apparently you do have the funniest face in British comedy. Scientifically.
RG Right! They made a face and it really did look like me. So officially Ricky Gervais has the funniest face in the world? Anthropologically, biologically, for comedy. It was very flattering. I don’t know why it was flattering, though! I was born like this and I ate too much. That’s flattering!?
DB Back to the movies: Stardust…
RG It was just before we started filming the second series of Extras and I told Stephen Merchant, “We’ve got to get De Niro!” But first rehearsal, I didn’t ask him. Next day we’re getting on well, I’m making him laugh, ad libbing. It’s great, best friends. Bob De Niro! He’s laughing at my jokes. Seven hours, last scene… I say, “I do this thing called Extras and…” The director Matthew Vaughn knew I was going to ask and he has a laugh and says, “OK, let’s turn around!” So we do the scene again and I keep getting interrupted. But finally I ask and he says he’s really busy, but he’ll call… Two days later he calls and says, “Hi, it’s Bob. we did that thing together.” And I went, “I thought I told you to never fucking call me!” And he laughed! It was lovely because when we did the scene, him and Stephen were acting and I was directing and De Niro came up to me and said, “How about me? How am I doing?” And I was like, “Yeeeaaahhh!! You’re doing alright!”
DB Can I just ask... ‘Freelove On The Freelove Freeway’. Can you release that for me, give me a bit more work?
RG You can do it. Why don’t you release it? Kill two birds with one stone. We actually take the piss out of that in the Extras Christmas special, about comedians releasing novelty records as I just think, “Do you want to be on Top Of The Pops? Is it for charity? Or is it for you?” It doesn’t make sense. Good tune, though.
DB Absolutely. People love that song.
RG Catchy. C F Am G. That’s the four I know. Do you play guitar?
RG Easy. C F Am G.
DB Well, normally a band would be at a gig I’m at and they’ll be like, “Brenty’s in! Sing the song”. And I have to go, “Pretty girl on the hood of a Cadillac!” And do the whole thing.
RG Have you ever been Andy Millman? Oh, you can’t because of the beard!
DB Someone asked me to do him, but I had too many bookings and couldn’t shave the goatee off!
RG What are your teeth like?
DB I need to have an operation.
RG Ha ha! You really don’t!
DB That’s going too far isn’t it?
TF: Just before we go, Ricky – what was it like being interviewed by Brenty?
RG It was funny because it was scary. It made me laugh because he’s so good. It’s also nice as an actor to realise that when he’s being Brent and I’m being me, it’s not the same. That’s good!