Ricky Gervais: creator of The Office, Extras, and now… Derek – a bittersweet comedy-drama following a group of people working in an old people’s home. Here’s what the show’s stars – Gervais, Karl Pilkington, Kerry Godliman and David Earl – have to say about their characters and the importance raising awareness for the elderly.
Derek Noakes played by Ricky Gervais – a simple but good-natured man who works with his best friend Dougie in an old people’s home.
Why did you choose to write about a care home?
Half my family are care workers. My sister works with kids with learning difficulties, my sister-in-law works in a care home for people with Alzheimer’s and four or five of my nieces work in old people’s homes. I always write about what I know.
Tell us about your character, Derek.
He sees things very differently from the rest of us. He can say funny things because he does it with innocence and sincerity. He is like us when we were eight, before we discovered lying and competition and selfishness and started to shut up when we were excited in case it looked uncool. Derek is scruffy and people dismiss him, but he is pretty perfect because he possesses the only thing that matters, which is kindness.
It sounds like being kind is a pretty important component of the show…
Absolutely. If there is a theme, it’s kindness. Kindness trumps everything. And that’s why the main characters have to be outsiders and losers. They all have to be deficient in everything except doing the right thing. They’re still better people than you if you’re not kind. Derek is so non-judgemental but he sees through bullshit too. He only has one agenda: “What’s the right thing to do?: He’s just “good” and nothing takes his eye off the ball.
There’s a strong sense of being “in it together” amongst the care home workers and residents, isn’t there?
They’re fighting the outside world. I have a lot of uncaring intruders coming into the care home. A council worker comes in and he clearly doesn’t care, sons and daughters drop off their parents and immediately start looking at their watches. The residents and care workers are one big family.
Have you cast Derek as a good role model then?
Definitely. Superheroes fight evil, and in Derek I wanted to create a superhero who leads by example. He’s terrified by spiders, but he would never harm one. He is the best person I know. He’s funny and sweet and kind and sincere and helpful and enthusiastic and honest, and that trumps everything he isn’t. I love Derek!
Dougie played by Karl Pilkington – the home’s caretaker, bus driver and flatmate to Derek
Tell us about your character, Dougie…
Dougie is me if I hadn’t had any luck. Although he hasn’t been very lucky, he always tries his best. Deep down he still knows that life is basically rubbish, but we can’t do anything about it. As much as he moans about his job, part of him likes it. It gives him a sense of worth. He hates scroungers and people who come to the nursing home hoping to benefit from their relatives’ wills.
You and Ricky have worked together a few times now – how did he recruit you for this role?
We were out having something to eat and he said to me, “I’m doing this new series called Derek. Do you fancy being in it?” He’s always saying that. I replied, “It’s nice of you to ask, but you know I’m not an actor. Why don’t you get someone who knows how to do it?” I felt guilty about the idea of taking the job from a proper actor.
Do you plan on doing more acting from now on?
No. This is not a new line of work for me. I’m not looking to become an actor. I still don’t feel like a proper actor. Ricky is a brilliant actor. Even though I know what is coming in every scene, he still does great things that leave me with a lump in my throat. I know it’s only acting, but it still gets a great reaction. Whenever he does that, I always think, “I can’t do that. I’m going to get found out here!”
What’s it been like working on set with Ricky and the other actors on the show?
I’ve learnt a lot, and it’s been a great experience. The hardest part is remembering the lines and trying not to laugh. Ricky is determined to make me laugh all the time – that must drive the crew mad! I suppose I can’t believe my luck. I’ve got no qualifications, but I’ve been given this great opportunity and I want to make the most of it.
Do you think Derek can change society’s view of older people?
It’s a nice thought that after watching this viewers might be more pleasant to old people all of a sudden. It’s probably not going to happen. But if this show makes one or two people change their view of older people, that wouldn’t be at all bad. It messes with your emotions – it makes you laugh and cry – and there is not much around like that.
Hannah played by Kerry Godliman – the care home’s dedicated manager who shares a long and close friendship with Derek and is in love with Tom.
Tell us about your character…
Hannah is the manager of the care home. She is very passionate and devoted to her job and she’s a very loving person who doesn’t want to judge at all and that makes her a very good carer. I’d like to be more like Hannah.
And what about Hannah’s relationship with Derek?
They are friends who go back many years and have always enjoyed working together. She adores Derek. They have a very lovely friendship, and she thinks he’s a great bloke. Her affection for him is really sweet. What she adores above all else is his selflessness, and she wishes more people would be like him. She has developed this affection for him that he values enormously. They depend on each other – Hannah doesn’t have anything outside work.
So, is there any romance around the corner between her and Derek…?
No. It’s a platonic marriage. His understanding of that is not the same as yours or mine, and she could never reciprocate it. But it remains a very sweet relationship. Hannah is a bit unlucky in love. She fancies Tom and fantasises about a relationship with him, but that doesn’t exist beyond her imagination. Tom and Hannah are very scared of making a horrible mistake and hurting each other. You could have shot them leaping into each other’s arms like a glossy, traditional love story. But this show isn’t like that.
What’s it been like working with Ricky and Karl?
It’s been brilliant. Ricky works really fast, so it can go by in the blink of an eye. He arrived with the characters really well formed – they were very well fleshed out from the beginning, but we are still able to do loads of improvising. Ricky is so creative – it’s a pleasure being able to enjoy his whole world. I didn’t know Karl before, but he is the most unpretentious person I’ve ever met. I don’t know how he has remained so unaffected.
Do you see a long future for Derek?
Absolutely. It’s not just about Derek and Hannah, it’s about all the residents. So many lovely characters reside at the nursing home and they all have amazing stories. It could go anywhere and there are endless tales still to be told. We’re obsessed with youth in this country so it’s great to see a show like this that celebrates older people.
David Earl plays Kev – Derek’s slobbish, unemployed friend who hangs around the old people’s home desperate to have sex with any available woman, with absolutely no hope of doing so…
Tell us all about Kevin.
Kev is a bullshitter. He’s lazy, but quite confident. He’s like a dog that no one strokes. He just sits in the corner and wants to be fondled, but just gets ignored. And he is properly dirty – it’s great fun talking about rude bits 24/7! I wouldn’t want to send my own parents to a place where someone like Kev worked! But he also has a softer side, and he looks out for Derek.
Does Kev get on with Derek’s flatmate, Dougie?
Kev and Dougie argue all the time, but they’re still like brothers. If someone is giving Dougie a hard time, Kev will step in because it feels like the brotherly thing to do. They get on each other’s nerves, but they will always defend each other.
You’ve worked as a stand-up comedian and a gardener – what made you switch to acting?
Ricky gave me an opportunity, and you have to give it a go, don’t you? In my head, I’m still a gardener. So when you’re offered a job in a sitcom, you think, “I’ll give it a crack, and then I’ll go back to the gardening.” I don’t necessarily see myself as an actor, but Ricky gives me a lot of room to play and he doesn’t mind if I mess things up from time to time. There’s no pressure to nail it on the first take. I love acting. When you get it right, it’s great fun. It also beats digging a ditch, which is what I do with the rest of my life.
Does it work having a comedy set in a nursing home?
I can’t believe there has never been a sitcom written about a nursing home before. It seems like the perfect situation. All the residents have these great stories and have lived the most amazing lives. Often older people are forgotten about. I hope this might help some people change their mind about the elderly.
Derek is on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 10pm from 30 January 2013.