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Extras returns to sour actor’s dream
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are back with a second series of the BBC Two comedy Extras.
While Gervais and Merchant claim to have enjoyed total creative freedom making hit sitcoms The Office and Extras, they afford nothing like the same luxury to Gervais’s character Andy Millman in the second series of Extras.
The former “background artiste” should be overjoyed to be filming his own sitcom, but is horrified that producers’ interference has turned it into a comedy that Hi-De-Hi!’s Paul Shane rejects for being too broad.
Forced to wear “funny” glasses and curly wig for his character, Andy is dismayed to observe the first episode’s recording being enjoyed by audience members in It’s Chico Time! T-shirts.
“We wanted it to be like a real sitcom that wasn’t our taste,” explains Gervais.
“We wanted it to be a good ‘bad sitcom’. We worked so hard on it.”
Gervais and Merchant approached the sitcom-within-a-sitcom with the same thoroughness as the film and TV scenes in Extras.
They worked out back stories and discussed who would be making them – a process Merchant admits was “very labour intensive”.
Both are quick to point out that they have not shared Andy Millman’s experience of seeing his artistic vision compromised.
However, Gervais admits it is surprising the BBC was so trusting of the relative newcomers who made The Office.
“It’s certainly not based on our experience – we didn’t have any interference,” says Gervais.
“They really let us auteur it.”
Merchant adds: “This is the horror version of what could have happened to us.”
The first series of Extras managed to overcome the massive level of expectation that followed the phenomenal success of The Office.
The BBC Two series averaged 3.9 million viewers an episode and won the Rose d’Or international award for best sitcom.
Gervais’s co-star Ashley Jensen, playing fellow extra Maggie Jacobs, won the best sitcom actress Rose d’Or and two British Comedy Awards.
Celebrity cameos
After stars including Samuel L Jackson, Ben Stiller and Kate Winslet lampooned themselves in the first series, the six new episodes will include appearances by Sir Ian McKellen, David Bowie, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe.
But Gervais says his performance of the series “comes from a little, fat scouser called Keith Chegwin”.
He adds: “It’s not like we are just trying to get points for celebrity chums – there has to be something we can deconstruct.”
The first episode of the new series sees a vain Orlando Bloom showing off magazine articles that name him the world’s sexiest movie star, and incredulous when Maggie reveals she is not attracted to him.
“He did say when we got him the first draft he loved it and said we can go further if we want,” says Gervais.
“They either get it or they don’t. If they get it, they trust us and we can go anywhere. It’s never happened that someone has said, ‘I just can’t do this.'”
Gervais and Merchant admit they would like to produce “something more dramatic” in the future.
The pair admit to being inspired by US dramas such as The Sopranos, 24 and The Shield.
“All the things we like at the moment are coming out of America,” says Gervais.
“They are innovative, audacious and done brilliantly and taking on film.”
Currently, though, all their energies are focused on finishing editing Extras.
“We get so exhausted at this stage that we say we are never going to do anything else ever again,” concedes Merchant.
The second series of Extras starts on BBC Two on Thursday 14 September at 9pm.