Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant talk 'Cemetery Junction'

0

Comments

Add +

The directors and writers of 'The Office' and 'Extras' discuss 'Cemetery Junction', the first movie they've made together

One of the first things that strikes you about Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s office just off the main drag of Hampstead High Street is how remarkably unremarkable it is. The sparse, utilitarian space proclaims that this is a location for serious business. If it weren’t for the Simpsonised standee of Ricky in one corner, box-sets of ‘The Office’ and ‘Extras’ sitting on some bare shelves and a mini podcast studio, you could easily mistake it for the workplace of a pair of moderately successful accountants. Between them they have accumulated enough awards to fill an impressively large trophy cabinet – including seven Baftas, five British Comedy Awards, three Golden Globes and two Emmys – but these are notable by their absence. Instead, propped on the windowsill is an old-fashioned railway sign bearing the embossed words, ‘Cemetery Junction’. It’s this, the duo’s latest collaboration, that I’ve come to talk to them about.

Your new film, ‘Cemetery Junction’, is the first movie you’ve written and directed together. We hear it’s a lot more serious than people may be expecting. Are you at all concerned that it might not be the Gervais/Merchant production people have been waiting for?
Ricky Gervais ‘I think you should always blow expectations away.You should never pander or do what’s expected, particularly with comedy and drama. It’s always about misdirection; it should always be a surprise.’

Stephen Merchant
‘I wonder what people’s perception of us is, anyway. Is it just Ricky doing a funny dance and me wanking over a pen, rather than all the other stuff?’

RG ‘We’ve never actually done broad comedy. Our shows may have appealed to a broad audience but that was never what we set out to do. Our work should just have stayed at cult level.’

SM ‘People also don’t see the work we do behind the scenes for years on something like this film. They just see you on a chat show and go, “Well, hang on, I thought the last time I saw them they were dicking around. Why are they doing this serious stuff?”’

RG ‘But we’ve always tried sneaking stuff in. Like we always knew “The Office” was meant to be nearly a soap opera with laughs, but actually the themes were more ambitious than the average sitcom. It was quite existential. That’s what excites me. I remember the buzz I got when we finished “The Office”. I still get a buzz when I write a joke. An adrenaline rush. Nothing else does that: watching it on telly, winning an award, money – these don’t give me an adrenaline rush. But the artistic process – having the idea all the way through to finishing it with no one interfering, that gives me an adrenaline rush. I hope every film I sit down and watch changes my life in some way. That’s the truth of it. And that’s what we wanted from this film.’

Cemetery Junction’ is the story of three young men trying to escape their stifling lives in a small town during the 1970s. How autobiographical is it for both of you?
RG
‘It’s definitely taking us back to our roots. I grew up in a place exactly like the one in the movie. I knew all of those people, so did Steve.’

SM ‘We’ve romanticised it to a degree. We’ve done that deliberately to make it feel a little bit like a dream of the past, rather than the tough, gritty realism of Britain in 1970.’

RG ‘Even so, my dad was a labourer, my mum was a housewife and we lived on a really working-class estate, but it didn’t seem grim; there was nobility in that life.’

SM ‘I never felt I was escaping an inner-city, drug-fuelled estate. It was quite a pleasant life. But I still felt personally very constrained.’

RG ‘Exactly. It was more about the mindset of the people there. There’s a line that my mum said to me when I was 18 that sums it up. I said, “I’m going to France,” and she said, “What do you want to go there for? There are parts of Reading you haven’t seen yet.” And that’s not a quintessentially English mindset either; it’s exactly the same in Middle America now.’

Having had a lot of international success while you were writing it, did you ever consider how this very ‘English’ story would be received across the Pond?
RG
‘Not really, but then we didn’t make “The Office” for a global market, and it’s gone everywhere. The themes are universal: boy meets girl, man fears wasting his life and wants to make a mark in the world. The same themes that we have in this film.’

SM ‘Funnily enough, one of the main inspirations for “Cemetery Junction” was a line from “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, which couldn’t be more American: “A town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win…” ’

You’ve had so much success with your past projects. Are you at all nervous about how successful this one will be?
RG ‘It’s a success already because it’s exactly how we wanted it to be. If you start trying to do things to please other people – public, critics or peers – and they don’t like it, you’ve failed. If you don’t give a fuck about what they think and you’re trying to please yourself, you can’t fail.’

SM ‘Yeah, but we’d still like people to go to the cinema. However, in the end you have to think of the long-term picture. What’s our body of work going to be…’

RG
‘… in 25 years’ time.’

SM ‘It’s got to be work we’re proud of. Not four sequels in which, yet again, Ricky is mistaken for a Bolivian dictator who looks exactly like him and has to masquerade…’

RG ‘Hold on, let me get a pen… Ultimately, though, you do it for yourself and likeminded people. Bob Dylan had a great quote, he said: “A man can consider himself a success if he wakes up in the morning, goes to bed at night and in between did exactly what he wanted.” That is success and that’s precisely what we do.’

SM ‘The problem is it sounds conceited.’

RG ‘It always does. But it’s true, we do what we do primarily to please ourselves.’

So does criticism have no effect on you?
RG ‘The thing is there are some good critics, there are some bad critics, and then there are some critics that aren’t really critics, they’re gossip-mongers; they’re fed up and they’re jealous: “We’ve won! We’ve won! Their life didn’t turn out like they wanted it! We’ve won!” You mustn’t worry about those ones. But ultimately to complain about critics is like complaining about waves. They are there whether you like it or not.’

SM ‘I don’t want to read reviews even if they’re glowing; it’s not useful to me. Our own self-doubt and anxiety about if we’ve done something right or not is far more important and gnawing than anything some bloke I’ve never met could say.’

Hollywood appears to have embraced you. When you’re over there do you still have the feeling of being outsiders, or are you now very much on the inside?
SM ‘I still feel kind of privileged that they would let me in the country club to have a walk around and have a quiet drink in the corner, but I don’t feel like we’ll ever be real members.’

How did you get away with the comments you made at the Golden Globes about stars like Mel Gibson and Angelina Jolie?
RG ‘Because it’s with their blessing. They get the joke. It’s often a relief that someone will talk normally to them again. I bet they miss that.’

SM ‘I think Ricky still isn’t really one of them. He’s just a Brit coming on, a beer in hand, kind of roasting the celebs.’

RG ‘I had to play it as the outsider. I had to be the wrong person for the job. That way I could say whatever I liked because I’m not a threat in any way at all.’

Do you see this film as being the first of a large body of work that you’d like to look back on in later life?
RG ‘No. I’d like to look back on a perfect body of work. But I don’t care how large it is. The point of art is to make a connection, and I don’t care how many people I connect with but I want every connection to be a big one.’

SM
‘Yeah, it’s not the volume of work, it’s being able to say there was some good stuff. There weren’t endless bad sequels. We weren’t chasing celebrity and money. You know what I mean? We simply created some good shit.’

Author: Interview: Tim Arthur



Users say

0 comments


Top Stories

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.

Oscar predictions

Oscar predictions

The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards

January film highlights 2013

January film highlights 2013

Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.

Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'

Martin Freeman interview

Martin Freeman interview

'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Ang Lee interview

Ang Lee interview

The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'

Michael Haneke interview

Michael Haneke interview

The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.

Read our interview with Michael Haneke

Thomas Vinterberg interview

Thomas Vinterberg interview

The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.

Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.

Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us

On the set of 'Sightseers'

On the set of 'Sightseers'

Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.

Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.

Read our interview with Tim burton

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.

Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films


Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

Martin McDonagh interview

Martin McDonagh interview

The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.

Read the interview

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’