Ricky Gervais is a comic with baggage. And he's fine with that. It's given him a TV career (the BBC version of The Office, Extras). And it's about to give him movie stardom.
"If you want a rude or confused or delusional putz, then call Ricky Gervais! If you want the dashing leading man with the strong jaw line, I think you should stick with the Pitts and Clooneys of this world," he says.
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He does "confused or delusional" as well as anybody. And tactless and insulting.
"It's nice to find your own niche."
That's why his first starring role in a film, as a dentist who dies briefly during an operation and who wakes up with the ability to hear and see dead people, seems tailor-made for him. Ghost Town is about what a nuisance the dead can be to a guy who doesn't care for the living, either.
Dr. Bertram Pincus is "a wounded man who lashes out, and I've always loved those guys," Gervais says from New York. "But let's face it. Sometimes, he's right. Like all of us, sometimes we do think, 'God, this world IS full of idiots.' And we're right. But we internalize our, 'My, but you're an idiot, aren't you?' Pincus doesn't."
Gervais says his characters have a lot of him in them, "like a parallel version of me, a 'There but for the grace of God go I.' David Brent (his tactless Office character) would be me if I'd just stayed in an office and showed off all day. Andy Millman (his movie extra who "makes it" by selling out in Extras) could've been me if I hadn't done The Office, hadn't stuck to my guns and gotten the show I wanted to make on the air."
He sees these jerks as "sad, and redeemable." All Brent needed in The Office "was a hug, really." Dr. Bertram Pincus can be redeemed by the love of a good woman (Tea Leoni). That makes Ghost Town an "old-fashioned comedy," one Jimmy Stewart might have made, "an antidote to all these smutty comedies aimed at 14-year-old boys," Gervais says. But he likes being out of step. "I couldn't be prouder of it."
He's not alone. Variety praised his and Leoni's performances as "sensational," and Kyle Smith of The New York Post raved that Ghost Town "is one of those big-hearted comedies people will love."
At 47, he's a little old to be a newfound film star. But this son of a Franco-Ontarian WWII vet who met his British mum in a blackout during the war is relishing every minute, every fresh brush with fame. Celebrity, he says, allowed him to "get the best of it" here.
He's just bought a condo in New York, having fallen in love with the city making Ghost Town.
"Even things I'd find annoying in England, I look at them here and go, 'Ahh, but it's New York.' You know what I mean? It's like walking around the streets of Naples and you see all these people hanging their washing over the street from high up in their; well, actually, they're slums. But you go, 'Aah. Naples!'"