Ricky Gervias is back, and ready to dish out some really low blows.
“Life’s Too Short,” the latest comedy series from the writing duo who gave the world the original BBC edition of “The Office” and “Extras,” makes its American debut on HBO, another documentary-style look inside the world of fame. This time the camera – and the comedy – is aimed at the real-life, three-foot-six actor Warwick Davis, who’s appeared in of “Return of the Jedi,” the “Harry Potter” and “Leprechaun” series and star of the 80s fantasy film “Willow.”
Davis plays a fictionalized – and highly unlikeable – version of himself, often playing out real ife scenarios that have been heavily reworked for maximum comic potential by Gervais and his "Office" and "Extras" co-star and co-creator Stephen Merchant. Davis also, as in "Extras," often finds himself alongside A-list actors like Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter and Steve Carell. As they braced for the American response to their edgy shenanigans, the team gave PopcornBiz a preview.
Warwick Davis: How raunchy do I want it to be? It's kind of already established how raunchy it is. Actually, it's not particularly raunchy. I mean, it does push the boundaries in comedy and that's what's exciting. That's what Ricky and Stephen do best anyway, but it's lovely to have HBO take a series like this, and I think it's a good home for it, certainly.
Ricky Gervias: I think I deal in taboo subjects, particularly in standup, because I want to take the audience to a place they haven't been before – and no harm can come of taboo subjects. And when people say it's sort of outrageous or sick or pushing the boundaries, I don't see that it is. I think some people confuse the target of a joke with the subject of a joke. You know, you can have jokes about race without being racist, et cetera, which we've always done. And I think sometimes people flinch too soon. And very often, the target is people's prejudices or the character's stupidity, so I think smart people know what we're trying to do. We're not trying to be just outrageous for outrageous’ sake. That's too easy. It's childish and it's pretty pointless. But I do think you have to go as far as you can to explore comedy. I think the job of a comedian isn't just to make you laugh. It's to make you think as well. I have to be able to justify everything, and that's the truth. I shouldn't have to, but I think I can justify everything we do.
Stephen Merchant: The more we explored this, initially it came from sort of Warwick's own observations of his experience as being a little person. And then, obviously, the fact is that he was in "Willow" and he was in "Return of the Jedi" and all these other things. And so you have a commodity there: you have Warwick's own experience in the real world, as it were, but also his celebrity. And so if we're going to do something kind of truthful and honest, we end up using that aspect of Warwick that does exist, and so inevitably we sort of are in the world, again, of show business. It was all sort of born out of making this kind of twisted version of Warwick, of one aspect of which is celebrity.
Gervais: Even though we have returned, you know, to the subject of fame or celebrity, it's not, really – that's a backdrop. It's still about real people living their lives, and it's a fake documentary like "The Office." I mean, it's moved on. If “The Office” sort of reflected those quaint docu‑soaps of the '90s, where normal people were getting their 15 minutes, this is much more up‑to‑date. This is much more those things where people do anything just to be on television, open the doors 24/7, because they've got a massive tax bill or their agent thinks they can make a fast buck and sell a perfume. And it's almost like fame these days is much more aggressive. It's just rife. There's no shame in anything – and you can't exaggerate it. One thing we found doing this: you can't do something that's so ridiculous that isn't happening in Hollywood. It's literally impossible, so that was fun.
Davis: A few of the things that happened in the show happened to me. And the things that hadn't happened to me that Ricky and Stephen wrote, I always wonder why they hadn't happened to me! They've managed to kind of get inside of the head of a little person so well and so believably that I was thinking “That's a scenario that should have happened by now,” and I'm sure some of them will come back to haunt me. It was always fun to sort of play out those scenarios that had happened to me in reality and with Ricky and Stephen's added spin on those, which was so fantastic. What starts as an amusing anecdote becomes hilarious once they get their hands on it.
Gervais: He's used his own name, but it's not like him at all. This man is manipulative, he's exploitive, he's jealous. We have to make him an awful person, because Warwick’s screen presence is adorable. He's drenched in humanity, and we had to make him like a Hitler for you to get the gag, and I've never had so much fun. He's the best person to direct. It's like downloading thoughts. And his physicality is amazing. He's like a silent movie star. There's just nothing he won't do. We can dress him up, throw him around, make him climb bookshelves. I was shoving him down a toilet – that's a good day's work.
Merchant: Most often, the physical comedy's born out of the character of Warwick hoist by his own petard. He shouldn't have been in a giant car that he has to fall out of. It was his own fault because of his ego he's bought this great big SUV. He doesn't need to get something from a high shelf – he can ask. But because he's got this chip on his shoulder, he needs to climb it to make a point. So it's born out of this character's kind of inner demons.
Davis: I never could have envisioned that we would have the sort of caliber of guest stars that we ended up getting. And Ricky would text me just "Do you know who we just got?" And name of Johnny Depp would come to me on my phone and I couldn't believe it. I mean, it's great that they wanted to be involved and, they were all an absolute pleasure to work with, I mean, really just terrific people and just gave so much to their day on the show. Really, really fun to work with. Some of them I knew before. Some of them I didn't, but they're all really fabulous people.
"Life's Too Short" debuts this Sunday, February 19th, at 10:30 PM ET on HBO