One-on-one with Ricky Gervais
Gervais (left) picked up his Golden Globe for the character David Brent.
(CNN) -- Ricky Gervais, co-creator and star of BBC situation comedy "The Office," has been named best comedy actor at the Golden Globe Awards for his painful portrayal of an ineffective middle manager.
"The Office" also scooped the award for best TV comedy.
In an interview with GLOBAL OFFICE Gervais talks about his eight year stint as a real middle manager and how this was a rich source of material for the hit show.
CNN: How many countries are showing "The Office" or have already shown it?
GERVAIS: At the last count I think there were about 60 countries showing the English version of "The Office", I mean dubbed into their own language, which I am quite interested to see. I would like to see David Brent talking in a Spanish accent, or Russian or French that would be quite good.
CNN: What stage of production is "The Office" at in the U.S.?
GERVAIS: NBC are filming a pilot at the beginning of February which myself and Stephen are going over to watch what is happening and see how the Americans do it. Our involvement is sort of less and less. Obviously when we sold the rights to them, they asked our opinion and we helped find the writer which is Greg Daniels, who was co-creator of King of the Hill and worked on "Siegnfeld" and "The Simpsons". So his credentials are pretty amazing. We are involved very little on a creative level. We are executive producers, but I think that sort of comes with the package. But, no we are very interested to see what happens.
CNN: What differences are they going to make?
GERVAIS: It will be different; it'll be a completely different cast. And I think we have handed one change on a plate to them. A lot of reasons why they fundamentally change British sitcoms are Americans have always been more about the love story and the relationship as opposed to English ones, which are usually around the central character who bumbles around doing funny things. Whereas, "The Office" -- we have already sort have injected a certain amount of that love story with the Tim and Dawn thing. And I think if we had not done I think they would have. So that is already sort of made for the American audience.
I do not really know how they are going to change it. We have seen some of the scripts and it is quite faithful. You would recognize the characters and a certain amount of the scenario. But certain things have to change. Certainly more than changing tomato sauce to Ketchup and tap to faucet. It will be more drastic than that. But as long as they keep the important themes, a job, work, a boss going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, trying to make a difference, being stuck somewhere that you do not necessarily want to be, no canned laughter, it is a fake documentary. It is going to be recognizable to anyone who saw the English version.
And there is 250 million Americans who have never see or heard of the English version and that is the ones who they are aiming it at obviously, people who have not seen it yet.
CNN: Where is it going to be set?
GERVAIS: We had a little bit of a brainstorming session of what is essentially Slough in America and I think we have come down with Newark.
CNN: Will it be a paper mill or merchant?
GERVAIS: I think it is. I cannot remember, yeah. I think so. There was no reason it was a paper merchants. It was just we wanted an arbitrary sort of industry really. Everything is arbitrary is it not? I mean, very few people grow up and think -- "one day I want to work in an office." They have something in mind or they fall into it. And that is why we chose an office really. Most people have worked in an office for some reason; they have either temporarily worked in one or they have found themselves working in an office whatever that is, whether that is selling roofing tiles or finance. There is a certain amount of administration that has to happen and most people have had an interaction with an office. I worked in an office for eight years where I was secretly making mental notes thinking one day I'll write about this.
And you know when people say, classic, they say -- "you should write a sitcom about this place." Usually they are right. You know you can find comedy and drama in everyday things and that is what we try to do. You walk down the street and you will find about a half hour drama, and usually people say drama is real life with the boring bits left out. Well we left some of them in because that appealed to me as much as high jinx if you like.
CNN: Have they told you who will play David Brent in the U.S. version?
GERVAIS: I have seen a classy type of someone that we all really like. But nothing is confirmed yet.
CNN: This Brad Pitt thing is a red herring?
GERVAIS: I know where it came from. I think it was on the Jonathan Ross show. He said -- "who do you want to play you?" And I said Brad Pitt as a joke. And then someone at home went "that is a good idea." I think I said on Des O'Connor I have been offered lots of films, but I do not really want to just pop up in films, you know. If Stephen Spielberg calls...and then next day in the press it says "Stephen Spielberg called me." And a quote from me saying "when Mr. Spielberg called, because I was flattered." They just made it up.
I am sure you are going to overdub, and it will be me saying, "I am the greatest actor in the world."
CNN: You must have been pretty surprised when the Golden Globe nominations dropped through the letterbox?
GERVAIS: Well, I got a couple of texts from people and I thought that is nice cause I did not really understand the big deal. I have since found out that they are like the Oscars. So that worried me a bit more. But then I relaxed and I was very philosophical about it because I realized we do not have a snowball's chance in Hell, which makes me fell a whole lot better about the thing.
CNN: Why has the show been such a hit around the world?
GERVAIS: I do not know if it is a hit. I mean, it is a hit for BBC 2 and the specials went down very well. But it is not a phenomenon like "Only Fools And Horses" is. But the reason I think a few people like it is that we did not patronize. We did not put a laugh to track on telling people when they should laugh. We did not insult their intelligence by over-explaining convoluted plots and I think we picked on something people identified with. Just the basic sort of themes really, decent jobs at work, a relationship, a boss who needs to be loved, going through a mid-life crisis. I think that because it was couched in realism, I think people recognized things, which I think is always comforting when you are watching something. The more you understand something I think the more you can enjoy it.
CNN: You must be surprised by the global response?
GERVAIS: Yes, I think they got it free with Absolutely Fabulous. You buy one; get "The Office" free. I do not know. No, it is very flattering. Yes of course. And no we did not expect it to be as popular. I thought it would be a bit of a cult hit and I hoped it would be some peoples' favorite show. I did not realize it would be as universally accepted on a very small level.
CNN: Where did the idea of setting a sitcom in an office come from?
GERVAIS: Well, I worked in an office myself for about eight years and I love the minutiae of life. I love the little things that bother people. It does not matter whether you are the head of the CIA, or the head of the Mafia, or you work in NASA, if someone gets a bigger chair than you and you have been there longer you go "why has he got that chair?" You cannot help it. You pick up symptoms. And I love that artificial world, that arbitrary world. You have got nothing in common with most people who work in an office, except you walk on that same bit of carpet. No one grows up saying "I hope I work in an office one day?" And that fascinated me -- that people from 16 to 65 are just thrown together and that is a tantalizing mix.
The other theme in "The Office", the fake documentary bit, was people we have just lived through a decade of docu-soaps and I was fascinated by someone like David Brent, thinking he could get a game show out of just being filmed at work -- and that was the other thing. But really it is about making a difference and not wasting your life -- we use Tim to show that. And it is not a snobby look at nine to five, I have done nine to five, I would do it again. It is more like if you are not happy do not kid yourself. Do not stay somewhere because it is convenient. You do not want to wake up at 60 and go "Shit I was going to write a book." So that is the heavier theme. The other side of it is that it is -- me as a little fat bloke doing a funny dance, which I think that pulled the ratings in.
CNN: Why do people like Tim stay when they hanker for something better?
GERVAIS: That is life really. The nicer, cozier, easier the job is the less reason to leave. If it is a nasty job with a boss whose hit you on the back of the head with a stick, you will leave. Whereas, if everything is just all right and safe and cozy and you walk to work, there is less impetus to get up and walk out. And I think that is the sad reality. I think people do stay in jobs where there is no real reward other than enough money to pay the rent and Tim is all about that. Tim is not making a move, he is not going to university; he is not making a move on Dawn and that is just reality I suppose.
CNN: Did you set out to create a happy office?
GERVAIS: I remember when we did the pilot and it was too busy. There was people talking, taking phone calls, getting stuff done. It looked too much like Wall Street. And so we actually took out some extras, took out some supporting cast. Just took some people out of the office and took some of the buzz out of it. And that is why when you see shots of the office people are working quietly, they are not having a laugh, they are not talking. They are just getting through the day and they are doing that (looks at watch) every ten minutes.
We did not want it to be a great place to work. We wanted it to be an OK place to work, a safe place to work, but nothing too glam cause we wanted to sort of drain the life out of them really. We literally drained some of the color out of it as well, so it just looked a bit drab. We wanted it to look like it was a documentary from the 80s that had been stuck on a shelf. Just so we wanted everything to be a little bit grayer really.
CNN: Do you think TV audiences feel better or worse about working in an Office after watching the show?
GERVAIS: I think some people looked at it and thought, "oh, they are but for the grace of God..." and others thought "oh no, they are right, there is no point." But, it is the same as David Brent. Some people come up to me and go "ah, we have got a boss just like him, he is a nightmare," whereas some people come up to me and go: "ha, I am just like David Brent!" And I go: "do not shout about it." It is not a good thing. Actually I like David Brent. People said he was the boss from hell and all this sort of stuff. I do not think he is; I think he is an OK boss. I think he is just a little bit wounded. And I would rather have a boss like David Brent than a boss like Neil. He is all right.
CNN: How would you describe David Brent's management style?
GERVAIS: The greatest mistake David Brent makes is he confuses popularity with respect and they are not really related. And he wants to be everyone's friend and he expects everyone to go "you know, you are not only a great boss, you are a brilliant laugh." And people do not do that when you dance around like a chimp for them. So I think that was his worst mistake doing the old friend first, boss second thing. I think it should probably be the other way round.
CNN: What about his strengths?
GERVAIS: I think he is probably quite loyal to people who give him a bit of loyalty back. I think you have got to treat him like a bit like a kid. And I think you have got to sit him down and say "you know what, you are alright, you do not need to do all this." And maybe invite him for a drink now and again. So when you are leaving if you see him look out the door like that, just go "do you want to come David?" And I just think that would help, that is all you have to do now and again.
CNN: Do you think there are any female David Brent's?
GERVAIS: They would be difficult to recognize. The only way you could recognize them is I suppose... more their pretension. I do not think you would get many women dancing like David Brent. But it is difficult because it is particularly male, because it is men as boys. I do not think men really grow up. You see a bloke playing with a kid with a gun and they are holding it like that. They are thinking I would probably be good with this. They do not really grow up; they do still want to be soldiers and cowboys. And I think women grow out of that very early. I think they are a little bit more mature throughout life than men.
CNN: Do you feel any fondness for office life?
GERVAIS: Yes I do. I like working. I enjoyed working and I enjoyed finishing at 5.30 pm and having a beer and I enjoyed the lead up to Christmas. I enjoy those things and I enjoy talking about people with other people, because there is a connection there. As I said I like the minutiae of life. So the more you know someone, the more you have in common with people, the more fun it is. So yes I like doing the job of work.
CNN: Has playing a manager made you more interested in managing people?
GERVAIS: I was a manager. I was a middle manager and I did management-training courses and I did those groups that you see in episode four, series one. I did a few of those and I have seen people do motivational speeches where they have gone "there is the door, get out!" These are all things that I have seen and done. I have seen training videos like the one we made with Peter Pervis. Peter Pervis said "this is not a spoof. This is the real thing," because he had done a lot of them. And I am interested in management.
It is fascinating just the theories that come through, how you are meant to interact, what you are meant to do. The thing is about those sorts of things is that they do not change a lot. I think once you have done a fundamental training course, you either know it or you do not. It is like customer care. I saw it so many times, people doing a customer care course and the ones that were good to customers were carrying on being good to customers and the ones that were not, they forgot everything they learnt in about a minute. So I do not know how much they help, but they are good fun to write a sit-com about.
CNN: Do these training seminars do anything beyond team bonding over a cup of tea?
GERVAIS: I think that is probably the best achievement. When you go on those sort of residential things and you meet other people. I think the people you go with from your company; I think that is the important thing. If you go away and you did not know them well, when you go back you know them better. It is always nice to have a bit of camaraderie and bonding with people you have to see everyday. People see people they work with almost as much as they see their spouses, their kids or their parents. Eight hours a day. You are there for eight hours a day, you are asleep for eight hours a day and the other eight is your own.
CNN: What are the other challenges in managing people?
GERVAIS: I thought about this and I think that if you had to do just one thing and nothing else it is about just being fair. I think if you are fair they cannot have you on it. You do not have to be afraid, you do not have to be a particularly great boss or motivate. But just if you are fair, if you have got any decisions to make just show that there is equality and I think that is the important thing. It is these people who try and play one against the other. It is no good going to someone "I give you a pay-rise, but do not tell anyone -- get out!" Just be fair and open with everyone.
CNN: Do you get asked to address companies about management issues?
GERVAIS: Yes. I have done a couple in the past, some corporate things, but I do not enjoy them much. I like people using "The Office" as a model -- which is nice. A lot of firms have bought "The Office" to show how not to do it. And that is very flattering. That is very exciting. So they are welcome to do that. But "The Office" should really be stand-alone. I do not really want to take Brent out on the road. I just think it was meant to be a finite piece that should be stand-alone. I think you should watch it as part of the sitcom and you do not really need him popping up all over the place.
CNN: Do you find leadership easy?
GERVAIS: Leadership is probably a strong term. I do prefer being in charge or having no responsibility than somewhere in the middle. I would rather either just move rubble from one side to the other then leave and not think about it. Or I want to be in charge of the rubble moving. I do not want to be this middleman. I do not really like compromise or committees in the things I do. I have always been more excited about altruism than team writing. It is nice to be part of a team. But in art you have to be a complete fascist to get a vision...
CNN: Why is "The Office" finished and other comedies like "Friends" go on and on?
GERVAIS: Because "Friends" can keep up the quality, and it has, because there is lots of writers and lots of producers. I am not really interested in letting someone else write "The Office." I enjoy that process. It is rather like getting a model airplane kit and then getting someone else to make it for you. They might be better than you, but the fun to me is making it. I enjoy coming up with stuff, I enjoy writing it down. I enjoy the casting, I enjoy the directing, I enjoy the editing process, I enjoy worrying about the fonts on the back of the DVD. And you cannot keep that up for too long.
The other thing is lots of sitcoms have let me down, I have loved the first couple of series and then I can just see the writer taking the money and knocking it off at the weekend for a lucrative special. And I do not want anyone to think that of me. Also it was meant to be a finite sort of work. Just for credibility, how long would a BBC film crew be hanging around a paper merchant in Slough? Like the "Truman show". They would have babies and we would film them. So I think it was time to finish.
CNN: What are you doing next?
GERVAIS: I am doing a bit in Alias (while I am out in the U.S.),which should be fun, and then we are watching the American version being filmed and see what happens there. I am working on a new live show called "Politics," which I will be touring this year and the main thing that I am doing this year is trying to write another series for TV, which I might be in or I might not. I think there will be a part of me. I will cast myself and let me know.
CNN: Where is it going to take place?
GERVAIS: We have a whole pile of ideas. We thought of doing a sketch and then "Little Britain" came along and they have done it really well. They have done the sitcom of the decade I think, sorry the sketch of the decade. We are thinking about doing a thing called "Men at the Pool," which is about a group of 20 something's in a sort of seaside town in 1970s where the sexual revolution did not quite reach. But we have got a lot of ideas, it is just which ones we pick. You know it will be another three years of our lives, because we do it all. It is not like we can have a lot of jobs on the go. This next thing will take three years, so we have got to make sure it is the right thing. You do not want to get half way through and go "this is rubbish." There is no rush. I think some people, some actors -- I do not think of myself as an actor -- some actors I think sit at home and go "I have not been on TV for a week. They will forget about me. Get me on the TV!" I do not care if I am not on TV again. So there is no rush.
You can see the full interview with Ricky Gervais on the next edition of Global Office. Click here for show times.