Ricky Gervais: “Derek is the first proper hero I have played”

As the British comedian prepares to bid farewell, he explains why the kindly care home helper will always have a special place in his heart

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Ricky Gervais is about to face up to a TV bereavement. Tomorrow (on Good Friday) the last ever episode of Derek will be released on Netflix – and he admits it will be a wrench.

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“I am fonder of Derek than anything else,” he tells RadioTimes.com. As well as writing and directing the Channel 4 comedy – which is facing its final curtain after two series and the forthcoming special – he plays the eponymous care home employee.

“As an actor – or maybe as a person – I like being Derek. He makes me feel good. He is the first proper hero I have played. All the other people I have played are prats and they are meant to be prats. Even though I redeem them and they are not that bad, we are laughing at the blind spots, we are laughing at the difference between how they see themselves and how we see them.

“With Derek – and the other characters in Derek to a certain extent – there isn’t that blind spot. And that’s what makes it more of a drama and that’s what makes it more sincere, because what they say is what we see and what they mean.

“With someone like David Brent he says ‘they love me out there’ and you cut to outside the office and they don’t love him – they don’t care.”

Gervais also admits to being fond of Derek because he reminds him of his young self.

“I think I like Derek because he is all of us before the weight of the world makes us be cynical and cool and we worry about what people think. He is sweet and sincere. He is me before I turned about 8. It was also a little bit of an antidote to all that cynicism and irony that I am guilty of – I am the ringleader of it, fifteen years of irony!”

Over the course of its run, the Channel 4 comedy has been criticised for mocking learning disabilities – something Gervais has always repudiated by insisting that Derek is not in fact intellectually-challenged or autistic, as detractors claimed.

“Derek is this tender soul. As he says, ‘I am not good because I think I will go to heaven. I am good because when I do good, I feel good; and when I do bad, I feel bad’. It’s so basic and visceral.”

And while he claims there are “existential” elements to all his TV comedy work, Gervais adds that there is greater “weight” in Derek.

“The difference between The Office and Derek is: in The Office it’s about being 30 and saying what am I going to do with my life. In Derek, it is being 80 and 90 and asking ‘what have I done with my life?’. So there’s much more gravitas instantly.

“In Derek, you see a dolly [tracking] shot of two old people by themselves. Wow, that’s quite heavy already isn’t it? People who are working and bored [in The Office], you think: we’ve all got a crap boss, get over it. Whereas Derek’s got more weight pictorially.

“Also, in other work I have done, all their foibles are all their own fault, whereas Derek’s aren’t. He can’t help the way he walks and has bad hair and shuffles and a strange vocal pattern. Not only can he not help these things but also they don’t matter. I wanted him to be like that so kindness can come along and trump everything. Also, as far as intelligence is concerned, he is wiser than most people because he listens to old people.”

Gervais promises that the last ever visit to Broadhill Nursing Home will also put a smile on the face of the show’s fans.

“Like The Office and Extras, this is the most dramatic and uplifting and happy ending of any episode so far,” he adds.

“I take him through problems. Derek and [his friend] Hannah [Kerry Godliman] have their first argument about something. [Derek’s other friend] Kev [David Earl] gets in a bit of bother and comes out with the most amazing revelation you will ever hear. But I don’t want to give too much away.”

Despite his fondness for the character, Gervais is adamant that the concluding episode will be the last – but he is not ruling out bringing the character back outside the confines of the sitcom format: “I am bringing back David Brent for a different project [the BBC-backed film Life on the Road] so maybe, but probably not for many years. I think this is the final chapter.”

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The last episode of Derek will be available on Netflix from tomorrow (Good Friday)