Entertainment Television

Wednesday 16 October 2019

'Hope is everything' - Ricky Gervais speaks to Independent.ie about his stunning new Netflix show After Life

Ricky Gervais in After Life (Natalie Seery/Netflix)
Ricky Gervais in After Life (Natalie Seery/Netflix)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Only Ricky Gervais could serve up comedy gold playing the role of a grieving, suicidal widow, yet After Life is already being hailed as his finest work.

The six-part Netflix 'dramedy' premiering this Friday (March 8th) serves up an intoxicating mix of despair, tragedy, sitting humour and, ultimately, hope for Gervais's tortured character Tony, as he tries to find a way to come to terms with the death of his wife Lisa from cancer.

It's a storyline that only the devious mind of Gervais could visualise, with Tony's misery exasperated by his role as a local newspaper reporter covering panel stories that include a kid who has mastered the art of playing the recorder with both nostrils and parents who are convinced their baby looks like Adolf Hitler.

It may sound like an improbable landscape for Gervais to create another television masterpiece, but that is what After Life certainly is and as and as the comedy giant sat down with Independent.ie at a London hotel, he admitted this production may never have got past the censors if he made it for network television.

"I think this is the first show that has the 'C word' in the trailer and that says all you need to know about working with Netflix," begins Gervais. "They let us get on with this, backed up all the way and the result is a show that is precisely what I wanted to make.

"It was a no-brainer to go with Netflix and the main reason was I like to have final edit on what I do. Some people never get that luxury, but I've been lucky in that I've always managed to have it. Getting it for The Office was very odd because the BBC don't give it to newcomers to the business, but that was mainly because it was low budget and no one at the BBC cared too much about it.

"When you do well with something, you get the chance to have a final edit again, but I've had to be inventive to hang on to that control. I had to go to Channel 4 instead of ITV for Derek. I went to BBC 2 instead of BBC1 for The Office.

"Then Netflix comes along and it is just a dream. No interference, we can do what we want, the sky is the limit and they have 140 million subscribers.

"I'd have been getting notes if I was doing this on another network about toning down the use of the expletives, but we have that word in a trailer on this and that says all you need to know. Netflix never tell you to take anything out and to be honest, I probably took some of the swearing out to make sure it was not gratuitous.

"I think TV has been beating films for the past 15 years. It started with things like Sopranos and The Wire and you can invest more in a character on a TV show. You get more embroiled when the format is like this, as the beats of a movie don't work as well as they do on TV for something like this.

"To be honest, I haven't watched mainstream TV for the last few years and tend to watch Scandi noir, shows like The Bridge, The Killing, Before We Day and I'm watching Greyzone at the moment. These shows are grown up, uncompromised, compelling and are just brilliant TV."

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Ricky Gervais with Penelope Wilton in After Life (Natalie Seery/Netflix)

Gervais has built his career on the premise that no topic is off limits for his comedy and at a time when PC culture has allowed some to find offence where none is lurking.  He insists he will change for no-one.

"I'll keep saying and doing what I want and if that offends some people, so be it," he continues. "We are grown-ups. I'm 57 and I don't just do jokes about certain subjects to get a reaction, not at all. I do it because I have thought about it and calculated what is funny and what is going too far.

"My comedy show Humanity was played to 800,000 people around the world. I have seen those jokes from every conceivable angle. They are bullet proof and yet people complain about the joke when the live show is broadcast on Netflix. They have not thought through their complaint, but they fire it off and want to get a response.

"Complaints about a joke are generally misguided.  While I am a fan of political correctness and appreciate some of the sentiments, it is warped sometimes. How can you be offended by a joke? Just ignore it if you don't like it, but don't be offended by it.

"Censorship is strange at times and I see some things on TV that confuse me. Let's give you an example. I was in a gym....okay I feel the silence in my room as you look at my belly and ask yourself the question!

"Moving on from that, I was in a gym in New York and the Denzel Washington film Training Day was on one of the screens. It was during the daytime, so they have bleeped out some words, replaced the F word with 'forget' or any other word that can overdub.

"Then, amid all these deleted swear words, one of the main characters is shot in the heart! So they bleep out the swear words and shot someone in the chest with a bloody gun. How can that be right? Is it politically correct to remove a swear word and then show kids a man being shot in the heart? That's messed up."

With a stunning performance Kerry Godliman as Tony's late wife Lisa and wonderful cameos from Ashley Jenson and Roisin Conaty, the London-born actress with strong Irish roots, After Life is a sure-fire television hit that is worthy of the critical acclaim it has attracted way ahead of its launch to the world.

"It is kind of like a self-help show on how to get through something like this and one question hovers over everything is this; is it worth living when you have lost everything and without ruining the show, the answer to that question has to be yes," adds Gervais.

"Even though it might never be as good for Tony as it was when that special person was with him and there is scar tissue that he will never be comfortable with, you have to find a way to enjoy a new life. If you know the bad days will outweigh the good forever, it is tough to get through life but you don't know that. Hope is everything, as Tony says."

After Life premieres on Netflix this Friday (March 8th)

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