Best known as the star and co-creator of the British TV shows “The Office” and “Extras,” Ricky Gervais is the star, co-writer, co-producer and, for the first time, co-director of the new comedy “The Invention of Lying,” which opens Friday. He spoke at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The hardest thing about trying to have a conversation with Ricky Gervais is figuring out when he’s being serious and when he’s being funny. His mind works so fast, both often happen at the same time.
Best known as the star and co-creator of the British TV shows “The Office” and “Extras,” Gervais started acting in films a couple of years ago. He’s the star, co-writer, co-producer and, for the first time, co-director of the new comedy “The Invention of Lying,” which opens Friday.
Set in an alternative world where everyone tells the truth all the time, Gervais plays a script writer who stumbles upon the ability to lie – first for selfish purposes, then altruistically. But soon the world is turned upside down.
He spoke at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: What was the most outrageous lie you’ve ever seen or heard about yourself?
A: People don’t say anything about me. But they did say I was pregnant. The British pub rats got a picture of me with my stomach like that (holds his arms out), and the headline was “Is Ricky pregnant?”
Q: What lie would you like to see about yourself?
A: That I had to hang up my guns and I’m no longer a gunslinger; or I killed a man in the ring once, that’s why I won’t box again; or I fought a shark.
Q: Some people might take offense to the sort of anti-religion attitude of the film, and you’ve often said that you’re an atheist. Do you expect any hate mail?
A: I don’t see why we would ever get hate mail. When we wrote the film, we decided that in this alternative world, that’s how religion started. It’s in no way atheist propaganda. I love films about angels and things. I love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I don’t need the cinema with my faith or lack of it challenged, and I don’t think people who believe in God should take this as an affront. It isn’t anything other than an artistic choice. I am an atheist, and when my mother was dying, I told myself that if she ever asked if there was a heaven I was going to lie and say yes. That’s a white lie.
Q: You also make a lot of fun of your own looks in the film, especially in comparing yourself to Rob Lowe, who’s the handsome and dashing villain.
A: I’ve always done that. I think it’s funny. I still think of myself as a comedian acting, as opposed to an actor. I think I’m all right (as an actor), but I think of myself first as a writer-director. And I think a comedian has to let the world know he doesn’t take himself seriously. I think the moment he starts trying to be cool or macho or believe his own hype, he ceases to be funny. Comedy is a lot of empathy, and I think you’ve got to be the underdog as a comedian.
Q: How did you go through the process of co-writing and co-directing with Matthew Robinson?
A: We were always together, we were always in the same room, and we huddled. We had one simple rule: We didn’t compromise. It was one veto, and it was out.
Q: What did you learn from direction that you brought to your next project, “Cemetery Junction?”
A: I learned nothing at all. I went there with a theory of how to do it, and I just kept to it, whether I’m right or wrong (laughs). No, I surround myself with people who are better at their job than I am.
Q: Is it true that you’re kind of anal about certain things?
A: Well, I need it quiet when I’m acting. I’m not a real actor, so everything puts me off. And I’ve always been hung up about lateness. I suppose I was always early because I didn’t want to be late. But because I was early, because I didn’t want to be late, they were even later. I just can’t believe anyone wouldn’t rush to see me. So I guess I’m anal about lateness, people chewing loudly, whistling. And now Twitter is another one.
The Patriot Ledger