Enough of fame and celebrity – Ricky Gervais is turning his attentions to ‘normal people’ again.
The co-creator and star of The Office, Extras and Life’s Too Short, said his new Channel 4 pilot was all about ‘kindness and forgotten people on the peripheries of society… there’s no veil of irony. People say what they mean’.
Derek is a comedy-drama set in an old people’s home and starring Gervais, his friend Karl Pilkington and fellow comics Kerry Godliman and David Earl, best known on the stand-up circuit as Brian Gittins.
Gervais plays Derek Noakes, a character the comedian first introduced in his stand-up shows more than a decade ago as ‘an excuse to see the world differently’.
‘He’s lovely and kind,’ he added. ‘Whatever he thinks and does is the nice way to go. He knows what he likes and does everything with passion and honesty.’
Derek appears to have some degree of learning difficulty but Gervais, perhaps wary of inviting more controversy after his infamous ‘mong’ comments, claims he has never thought of him in that way. ‘I’ve never thought of him as disabled. He’s not that bright but neither are Kev [David Earl’s character] or Karl. He’s cleverer than Baldrick and Father Dougal and he certainly hasn’t got as big a problem as Mr Bean. When portraying someone with disabilities I usually get someone with that disability to play them.’
Nonetheless, he said he fully expected the media to attack him for the show, of which he is the writer and director. ‘I’d be disappointed if they didn’t. Every week it’s been the end of my career – for the last 20 years! But I don’t make things for the press or the public, I make them for me.’
After the knowing humour of Gervais’ previous work, Derek is honest and tender and at times a little sentimental. But that’s nothing new, according to its creator.
‘People assume my work is cynical and outrageous and it’s never been. I’ve always liked realism. There’s nothing better than real life. I like getting close to real emotions. It’s just that people don’t quite expect it if they’ve been having a laugh.’
Gervais denied the pilot heralded a move into ‘straight” work, saying it was a struggle for a comedian to make something serious and be taken seriously.
‘But as long as you’re [playing] a flawed character with problems, you can be funny and serious.’
It has not yet been decided if Derek will be commissioned as a series – Gervais said he had written it and hoped it would.
‘It’s certainly got legs…there are so many stories to explore.’
He’s got plenty to keep him busy in the meantime anyway; he’s working on a one-hour special of Warwick Davis sitcom Life’s Too Short, his Flanimals film and a new TV series about an atheist who dies and finds himself in Heaven. ‘I play God. It’s quite a stretch,’ joked.
Click here for our review of Derek.
Report by: Nione Meakin