Ricky Gervais wants to kill himself.
That’s how the acerbic actor-comedian says he feels when asked about his first turn as a leading man in screenwriter-director David Koepp’s romantic comedy “Ghost Town.” After working both behind and in front of the camera on the TV series “The Office” and “Extras,” Gervais is simply serving as an actor on the “Ghost Town” set.
“I want to shoot myself,” he said during a break from filming “Ghost Town” at the Brooklyn Museum last November. “I want to kill myself. I can’t stand the waiting around. I can’t stand not being in charge. Everything annoys me, but it doesn’t get better than this, does it?”
Leave it to the 47-year-old misanthropic funnyman to make his leap from the small to big screen seem downright insufferable. In the film, Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, an irritable dentist who can see — and is annoyed by — ghosts after he died for seven minutes. These apparitions want his help with the living. He just wants to be left alone.
The Emmy and Golden Globe winner has built a career from The Art of The Uncomfortable, first shimmying into the mainstream as the writer-director-star of the British version of “The Office,” which debuted on the BBC in 2001. Gervais’ antics as self-deluded boss David Brent paved the way for Steve Carell’s American interpretation.
After Gervais and comedy partner Stephen Merchant ended “The Office” in 2003, they turned their attention to sending up celebrities and the entertainment industry with “Extras.” Gervais received accolades for playing pathetic background actor Andy Millman, once again solidifying himself as the King of Comedy Discomfort.
Too bad he can’t find a better throne.
“It’s like a bus stop, isn’t it?” he says before squeezing into a stiff pink plastic seat during a break from filming “Ghost Town.” In the scene Gervais is shooting today, Pincus and his jerky sidekick Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, are eavesdropping on a scientific speech given by Frank’s mummy-studying widow Gwen, played by Tea Leoni.
When asked about his co-stars, Gervais provides a less genuine response.
“Honestly, I don’t really listen to what they’re saying,” the deadpan comedian says without the slightest hint of a smirk. “I just concentrate on my lines and my close-ups. What do you want me to say? ‘They’re absolute professionals and I can’t wait to hang out with them once this film is over?’ Let’s be serious. I’ll never see them again.”
It’s answers like those — along with the rotund Gervais constantly cracking up at Kinnear in the middle of takes — that serve as reminders that this up-and-coming leading man is far removed from Hollywood. Gervais insists he took parts in his three previous films for selfish reasons, not because he was interested in formulating his acting reel.
Gervais says he appeared as a dodgy trader in “Stardust” to coax star Robert De Niro into guesting on “Extras.” He popped up in “Night at the Museum” to payback Ben Stiller for his “Extras” cameo. And Gervais played a movie studio chief in Christopher Guest’s “For Your Consideration” because of the director’s creative influence on him.
“Films have to have something more in it for me,” says Gervais. “I have no desire to just be an actor. I get no thrill of seeing myself on the big screen. I don’t do anything for money. It has to tick a few boxes for me. I’d say I’ve been offered about 100 films in five years. Half of the them were English. The other half were inappropriate.”
Despite those big-screen cameos, his success as the star of “The Office” and “Extras,” the Emmy trophy he won last year for acting and his top billing in “Ghost Town,” Gervais doesn’t truly consider himself an actor. He likens himself to a medieval prince, only crowned because everyone else qualified for the job died from the Black Plague.
“My career isn’t acting,” he says. “This is a big bonus. There’s diversions doing what I do. What I really do is create, write and direct. That’s my day job. Then, I get offered things like writing an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ or being in movies or co-writing a song with David Bowie. To me, those are frivolous joys.”
Coming off of “Extras,” Gervais was attracted to “Ghost Town” because it seemed like something he could have written himself. He was also interested because the film was shooting entirely in New York, a place that Gervais says ties with London as the best city in the world. He admits the movie isn’t “my baby, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.”
Gervais will give birth to his own film creation soon enough. “This Side of the Truth,” which Gervais co-wrote and co-directed with Matthew Robinson, is due out next year. It’s about a world where no one lies and stars Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and — you guessed it — Gervais as the one man with the ability to fib.
Maybe now he’ll have second thoughts about offing himself.