Night At The Museum - Ricky Gervais interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
RICKY Gervais talks about making his Hollywood debut in Night At The Museum and reuniting with Ben Stiller after Extras.
The comedian also talks about why he still feels lucky to be so famous and his hopes for the family comedy.
Q. How did you become involved in Night At The Museum. Did it have anything to do with Ben Stiller and your past experience of working with him on Extras?
Ricky Gervais: I just got an email out of the blue from him saying he’d worked on Extras and that he had a part for me in this new film he was doing – did I want to return the favour, no pressure?
Q. Were you surprised or was it always part of the plan to break into movies? What was the appeal of this project for you?
Ricky Gervais: It was great because I wouldn’t have thought it was the next thing for me – a Hollywood blockbuster. I’m not a film snob at all. I much prefer a really good Hollywood blockbuster than a thought-provoking art house movie because entertainment is sort of where it’s at. But I’m always looking for comedy plus. I don’t see the point of just doing a knock about comedy. It’s quite easy to make a load of people laugh, it’s often a reflex action, but I think to make them cry is harder without manipulating them and this film doesn’t do that. It doesn’t skimp on the comedy but it has heart and it’s visually amazing.
But the visual effects are a supporting role to the story and that’s the way it should be. There are so many films now where you know the story is a supporting role to the visual effects – it’s someone showing off with a big bag of toys. This doesn’t do that.
Q. Do you still have to pinch yourself when you get to work with people like Ben Stiller and some of the biggest names in Hollywood?
Ricky Gervais: I knew he was a fan of The Office but then everything we’ve done has come from the success of The Office, particularly in America.
It was a small show, it was only on BBC America, but it got a million or so viewers, which I think made it the highest rated show on BBC America. Of those million people watching, however, half of those worked in Hollywood! So we approached people to appear in Extras that we knew had described it as their favourite show and they said “yes”. It gives you that kudos and that little bit of faith, as well as one chance.
If Extras had been awful, you quickly use up your goodwill if you can’t keep back it up. So, I still feel that they’re doing me a favour, I still feel when I get someone like David Bowie – they’re doing me a favour and I’m always grateful.
Q. Are you and Steve Coogan now honorary British members of Stiller’s comedy frat pack?
Ricky Gervais: I don’t think I’m a member of any club – it’s just sort of me and Steve Coogan alone. It’s nice to be asked and it’s nice to be asked back but I don’t see myself as part of an acting fraternity or a comedy fraternity.
I see myself much more as a writer/director or at least an aspiring writer/director – not necessarily in film, although we would want to do that. For me, this was a challenge and it was dipping my toe in the water. It’s funny because people keep saying: “He’s got a cameo.” It’s very flattering because I seem to have missed out on my 20 years of building parts and then just doing cameos like Roger Moore or something!
Q. Did you come up with the idea of your character never finishing sentences?
Ricky Gervais: No, the idea that he tried to start an analogy or metaphor and wasn’t quite able to grasp at the words was actually in the script. I came up with different examples maybe. But that’s what exited me in the script. I saw him as this pompous person who had worked hard to get where he is and was holding on to it. He’s not the wittiest person in the world and he doesn’t want to be. But you know deep down that he’d like to be invited to the pub with the rest now and again.
Q. Is the character David Brent-ish in that respect?
Ricky Gervais: Well, he’s David Brent in the sense that he’s got a blind spot. But he’s different in the sense that David Brent’s big thing is mistaking respect for popularity. McPhee thinks that it’s silly and he says he doesn’t need popularity. He wants business as usual – but deep down he’d also want a hug! So, he’s similar and very different. He’s more tragic than Brent because he’s probably alone a lot.
But at least Brent could go through the denial by mucking around with people and he was the boss. McPhee is a little bit more alone so he’s a bit more tragic. But it’s nice to inject that sort of heart into a film, especially as it’s my first experience of anything like that.
Q. Were you at all disappointed that you didn’t get to meet Dick Van Dyke?
Ricky Gervais: Yes, I’ve spoken to him since but of course. People think that it’s fun to meet celebrities – but what do you mean by “celebrity”? Someone you recognise? What are they famous for? It’s people who’ve done something that are exciting, and Dick’s longevity alone is to be applauded.
Sadly, I left the day Mickey Rooney flew in. I would have loved to have seen him too because I’d heard so many stories about him. I wanted to stand next to him because I’m taller than him – so that would’ve been nice. But Ben’s a future legend.
Q. What was it like entering the replica set of the National History Museum?
Ricky Gervais: Fantastic. I went on the set and it was the opposite of something like The Office – that was a chair and a table! Myself and my girlfriend were flown out there First Class and we stayed in the nicest hotel in Vancouver, which was amazing, and then we went to my trailer and it was huge.
We then went onto the set and Shawn came up to me and said: “Hi, is everything OK – is your trailer OK?” I said: “It’s bigger than my hotel room” But he replied: “Do you want a bigger hotel room?” I remember thinking: “This is the place for me!”
Q. Were you disappointed that you never got involved in the action side of the movie?
Ricky Gervais: No I’m not sorry because I’m a very lazy man [laughs]! I worked out that my ideal film would have been starring in Phone Booth; it was a nine-day shoot and for some of the time it was sitting on the floor of the phone booth.
So running around? No, sitting down! Actually when I’m being directed I always say things like: “I think I’d rather sit down for this one.” The director might ask if I’m saying that because my legs were tired. But I’d go: “Yeah!”
Q. If you could meet a famous person from the past who would it be?
Ricky Gervais: I’m sad because I’ve been doing lists like that just for myself. It would have to be Laurel and Hardy. Or Charles Darwin! I’d want to go: “God, you took a risk there!” As an atheist myself, he was on dodgy ground coming out saying: “You know what? We came from monkeys.” But I like brave people like that.
As for Laurel and Hardy, I just love them. And I wish Homer Simpson was real! I mean I wish God was real. Churchill as well. I’d like to get him off his head, if you know what I mean. I love the idea that he used to smoke cigars and brandy and then used to take cocaine to stay up all night – no wonder he wanted to fight them on the beaches. You can’t libel the dead!
Q. Do you have a favourite scene in the movie?
Ricky Gervais: I do and it’s not with me in it. It’s Ben [Stiller] slapping a monkey and Robin Williams coming in and going: “My God man, why are you slapping a monkey?” It’s an amazing line! It’s up there with, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
As for a favourite scene that I was in… I do like the bit at the end between myself and Ben because it felt like I was a real actor for 10 minutes. So I thank him [Shawn Levy] for that because it was great.