Ricky Gervais has been tenderized. After years spent taking the piss out of celebrity culture on Extras, tormenting his best mate Karl on An Idiot Abroad, and laying siege to our nerves as a wretched middle manager on the original BBC version of The Office, Gervais is now ready for something more kindhearted.
In his latest television series, Derek, the 51-year-old Brit plays an earnest, socially crippled rest-home worker surrounded by geriatrics, misfits, and begrudging volunteers. “In most comedy, you’re laughing at the person,” Gervais says. “You’re laughing at the blind spot between how they see themselves and how you see them. But Derek is sincere. There’s no joke with him.” Gervais describes the titular character as childlike, innocent, and “not smart.” He had originally intended to drop Derek into the dog-eat-dog milieu of standup comedy, but says, “It was slightly more snarky. There’s something adolescent and toothless about irony.”
Perhaps it was his three-year stint as the tart-tongued host of the Golden Globes, where Gervais notoriously ribbed and bruised the egos of the awards ceremony’s celebrity attendees (“Just looking at all the faces here reminds me of some of the great work that was done this year… by cosmetic surgeons”), that soured him on continuing to lambaste the fatuousness of fame. “I just got tired of media,” he says matter-of-factly. “So I went back to basics with Derek. It’s a sitcom. There’s no veil of irony.”
Derek premiered earlier this year on Channel 4 in the U.K., and will soon be available for streaming on Netflix. Gervais sealed the deal with the on-demand video site after sending an email to chief content officer Ted Sarandos that said, “Netflix is the future. I want to do something.” Sarandos quickly replied, “Anything you want.” Over a cup of cappuccino at the Four Seasons Los Angeles hotel, we asked Gervais to consider an alternate future—one populated by robosimian sass, zero-gravity urination, and the total evisceration of eight-legged arthropods.
ON BEATING DEATH THROUGH CRYOGENIC FREEZING:
“My first thought, apart from it being so strange and narcissistic—and assuming that everyone wants to live forever, which I certainly don’t—is that I’d need my girlfriend and all my friends and family to be frozen with me. It would be too weird otherwise. I’d be starting over at 51 with people going around in space suits and, you know, hoverboards looking at me weird. I don’t think I’d do it unless the scientists said, ‘We can freeze you for a year and we’ll have this drug ready by then. It’s either that, or you’re going to die tomorrow.’ Then I might do it, but certainly not to see the future. I can’t be giving up the next however many years I’ve got with my loved ones to see how Coca-Cola turns out.”
ON POPULATION CONTROL:
“I think it comes down to a single question: Should I have two kids or nine? When I see a woman wearing leggings and smoking a cigarette, her bloke with his shirt off and no teeth drinking strong lager, and their eight kids running around, I want to go, Can I see your child license? Can you pass some tests before you continue multiplying? I wouldn’t let you have a gun and I wouldn’t let you have a pet, so how have you got all these human beings? It’s dangerous. We’re moving into eugenics now. It’s fascist. [In mock voice] ‘Ricky Hitler Gervais said the working class should be sterilized at birth.’ Honestly, the real answer is discerning breeding. You don’t need to have 12 kids. It’s not compulsory.”
ON ROBOT BUTLERS:
“I’d probably make it look like a chimpanzee. It’s cruel to do that to a real chimp, so I’d have a robot made to look like a beautiful wild animal with no emotions. [Makes chimp sounds.] He’d be called Jeeves, and he’d have a little tuxedo on. Actually, I’d make him sarcastic. I’d go, Another whiskey, please. And he’d go, ‘Another one?’ I’d go, Yeah, another one, Jeeves. He’d go, ‘It’s your life.’ In fact, I’d like all of my technology to have a little attitude. My voicemail would say, ‘You have one message. I forgot to ask who it was. They said it was important.’ The TiVo would be like, ‘You don’t want to watch that. It’s awful. She really overacts.’”
ON ZERO GRAVITY:
“The first thing that comes to mind is eating crisps like Homer [from The Simpsons]. The second thing is having a wee.”
ON MOON VS. MARS LIVING:
“I’d choose the Moon because it’s closer. When I get asked to do a movie, I’m always like, Is it filming in L.A. or New York? I always want them to say New York because it’s closer to London. Still, I think Mars would feel more like home because of the gravity. I’d be walking around whistling with my monkey butler.”
ON BEING BIONIC:
“I want to be able to fly, so somehow I’d like to be equipped with a jetpack. I just want to be up there alone. I don’t want to be in traffic. I don’t even care if my flight is 30 feet in the air, just as long as no one punches me in the stomach. Actually, wait—I want Wolverine claws coming out of my hands. I need titanium fists.”
ON ACTING GLOBALLY:
“I’d like people to stop thinking, ‘Oh you were born in that country—that’s unlucky.’ Not worrying about people in developing countries running out of water or oil is rather like not caring that your neighbor’s house is on fire.
“Spiders. Let’s get rid of them.”
Photography by Tierney Gearon. Styling by Kris Zero.
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