As a man who credits all of his success to his beloved partner, the character Ricky Gervais has created for his new show is very close to his heart.
The star plays Tony in sitcom After Life – a man struggling to cope following the death of his wife of 25 years.
And Ricky insists that if he ever lost his long-term partner and rock, Jane Fallon, he would unravel in the same way.
Ricky, 57, says: “Jane went to Brighton once to visit her mum, and the boiler went and I didn’t know how to do it, so I was on the couch under a blanket with the cat listening to internet radio for two nights, because I couldn’t get the telly working and it was like, honestly, it was like Castaway.
“And then when she went away, next time, she left me instructions.
"She drew a picture of the remotes and what they all did, and I still had to FaceTime her.
“So I would fall apart without her. I mean, emotionally first.
“I don’t know how I’d cope with it. You don’t know, do you?”
Ricky and Jane, 58, a TV producer turned novelist, met at University College London in 1982 through a mutual friend.
After moving in together they both struggled financially, with Ricky’s pop career in new wave act Seona Dancing ending and Jane working as a jobbing script editor.
He said previously: "Our first flat was in King’s Cross and it was one room above some sort of seedy sauna, it was horrible but all we could afford.
"Our little bed was in this room and I could open the fridge from the bed.”
Thankfully, things are very different for them now – after his huge hits like The Office and Extras, they have homes in West London and New York.
And Ricky credits Jane with his massive success.
“She is the first for everything,” he told the Series Linked TV podcast. “I’ll go for a run and I’ll go, ‘I’ve written a joke for my stand up’ and I’ll tell it to her and she’ll go, ‘Please don’t do that in public’. And I know it’s a good one!”
In After Life, a six-part Netflix series, viewers discover Ricky’s character Tony and wife Lisa (played by Kerry Godliman) never had children.
At one point, Tony tells a work colleague they didn’t want them – and this is also the case with Ricky and Jane.
On the Ellen DeGeneres show earlier this year, Ricky said: “There’s loads of reasons why I don’t have kids. The world is overpopulated, no one’s sitting around going, ‘Oh Rick’s not going to have kids, we’re going to run out’, there’s loads!
“I’d worry sick about a baby. I have a cat and I worry about that. I check the door three times before I go out. I put food and water in every room in case the door closes and he’s peckish.”
In After Life, each episode begins with Tony watching clips of Lisa on his laptop as he tries to make sense of life without her. He reacts to his loss by deciding to punish the world by saying and doing whatever he wants – with no inhibitions.
Tony tells his brother-in-law: “If I become an a***hole and I do and say what the f*** I want for as long as I want, when it all gets too much I can always kill myself. It’s like a superpower.”
So is Tony, a local newspaper journalist who gets annoyed by things like people eating loudly and is seriously impatient, really just an exaggerated comic version of Ricky?
Well, he admits it is the closest character to himself that he has created.
“Everything’s semi-autobiographical. David Brent, there’s parts of me in David Brent, well, in all of us, actually. Everyone wants to be loved, everyone wants to be popular, everyone wants to be invited to the party, you know?
“But Tony is the closest to me, yeah. Obviously his circumstances have changed, but I think it is him. And, yeah, I have no patience. I have to curb it now.
"What’s getting worse is I’m famous now, so I can’t say what I want to say. I can’t send my soup back if there’s a mouse in it, because I think someone would be filming it for YouTube, do you know what I mean?
“I don’t want to be that guy having a fight on an aeroplane, so I have to bite my tongue more than I ever did. But, no, I want peace and quiet, and I do go round thinking like Tony does.”
One place Ricky does still say what he feels and means is Twitter .
He has 11 million followers and while many now find it a negative place, he can still be found chatting to fans and even trolls, describing it as being like “reading every toilet wall in the world at once”.
He adds: “You go into a public toilet and you look at it, and most of it is banal, mental stuff, and then you’ll find one really funny thing, and that makes your day.
"I use Twitter as a marketing tool and a testing ground, and you can get the best out of it. I don’t get bothered with trolls. In fact, sometimes I go looking for them for material to find a funny thing to talk about.
“And I feel for people who do get bullied and they get real trolls, but it’s crazy to worry about it. It’s virtual.
If you’re not on the phone, they don’t exist.”
And while a world stand-up tour called SuperNature is already being worked on and there is potential for a second series of After Life, Ricky plans to one day reduce his workload so he can retire and live “like Noah”.
He says he wants a giant house filled with animals, including the dogs he wants to have but cannot at the moment because he works in the US so much.
“I go out for a walk in the morning in Hampstead or New York to meet dogs. If I meet a good dog it’s like heroin. That’s the headline, isn’t it?
“Why have I not got a dog? They only live to 15. I want to be with that dog every minute of its life and I am back and forth to America.
“I probably won’t retire in that sense, stop work completely, but I might be settled more in one place. My idea would be to live in a big house with big grounds and have every stray dog and everything’s welcome, disabled wallabies, blind hedgehogs, flightless crows, welcome.
“I look like Noah. I think Noah was 900 when he built the ark, so, yeah. And me at 60 will probably resemble him. Then I’m going to play with that dog. That dog’s going to go, ‘Why don’t you go to work? I’m exhausted’.
“I will never stop throwing a ball for a dog. I will wear a dog out. I will bore a dog to death before I get bored.
“Honestly, they do something to me. I wish I could bottle it, you know?”
- The full series of After Life is released on Netflix on Friday and a Series Linked TV podcast featuring an in-depth interview with Ricky comes out the same day.
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