Ricky Gervais Interview: ‘After Life’
“It’s the most overtly grown-up and vulnerable I’ve been as a performer,” admits Ricky Gervais. His latest series “After Life,” recently premiered its second season on Netflix to rave reviews for its unvarnished exploration of grief, hilarious one-liners and characters ranging from relatable to ridiculous. Watch our exclusive video interview with Gervais above.
In “After Life,” Gervais writes, directs and stars as Tony, a hapless journalist at the local free newspaper grieving over the death of his wife from breast cancer. After contemplating suicide, he decides to soldier on, taking his anger out on the world by saying and doing whatever he wants, without a care in the world. It is a raw and honest portrayal of paralyzing grief that is also incredibly funny as Tony scowls at his colleagues and strangers with the abandon of a guy that has nothing left to lose.
“He’s sort of addicted to grief,” explains Gervais. “Because hope has let him down too much. There’s a staple in comedy, particularly sitcoms and that is an ordinary person trying to do something they’re not equipped to do. That’s what we’re laughing at. With Tony, he tried to make himself a bad-ass verbal vigilante. He tried to turn himself into a psychopath so he wouldn’t feel pain anymore, but he couldn’t because he’s got empathy and he’s got a conscience and he’s a nice bloke.”
The two-time Emmy winner (as a producer on the U.S. version of “The Office” and for his lead performance in “Extras”) has earned 21 additional Emmy nominations across the acting, writing, directing, and program categories for his various shows and specials. After his hugely successful “The Office” (the original U.K. version and the U.S. remake), “Extras” and “Derek,” “After Life” was somewhat of a departure for the comedian, combining uproarious, foul-mouthed comedy with heartbreaking pathos and emotional intelligence. His performance as the cantankerous and defeated Tony is brutally honest, abrasive and melancholy. We feel a deep sense of empathy for him as he grieves, while he also barely tolerates the idiots that gravitate to him, to great gut-busting comedic effect.
Amidst Tony’s grieving, he visits various townsfolk to feature in the newspaper he works at, and those scenes are often the funniest to watch. “There’s another staple of comedy,” he says. “Undermining societal norms. We don’t expect a sweet old lady who has got a telegram from the Queen to say this is awful, kill me,” he laughs. “Everything I’ve done has been slightly existential. ‘The Office’ was about being 40 and are we living the best life and ‘Derek’ was about the end of a life and how we’re leaving the world passed on and this is literally existential because it’s about death.”
Gervais has made a name for himself with his no-holds-barred sense of humor, highlighted on “After Life” when Tony berates people he encounters with expletive-laden disgust. This year we were once again reminded of his ability as a stand-up comedian, as he returned as host of the Golden Globe Awards for the fifth time after previous stints in 2010-12 and 2016. His searing opening monologue featured the standard acerbic barbs aimed at the Hollywood A-List at the annual gala, delivered in his trademark style of slightly irritated outsider holding a beer and complaining about being there.
“I think it did hit a nerve and it’s probably the best reaction I’ve had really, and it was the most fun I’ve had and it seemed like it was the right time and place,” he admits. “I shuffle out with a beer like I don’t want to be there but I’ve got to be the outsider. I made that decision the first time I did it ten years ago. Do I pander to the 200 egos in the room or the 200 million people watching at home? No contest. The people at home are not winning awards, they’re not millionaires. I’ve got to make this a spectator sport!”