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Last Updated: Friday, 7 January, 2005, 09:23 GMT
Gervais puts new BBC sitcom first
By Tom Bishop
BBC News entertainment reporter

Ricky Gervais
Gervais has been offered US roles after the success of The Office
Despite having won over a US audience, The Office star Ricky Gervais says his new BBC sitcom is his top priority for 2005.

"I could go around America for the next two years playing butlers and villains, but where would that get me?" he said.

"I would rather write something myself that had real impact."

America's love affair with Gervais was made public last year when he became the first British actor to win a TV comedy acting award at the prestigious Golden Globes.

'Still surreal'

The Office, co-written with Stephen Merchant and screened on cable channel BBC America, also became the first UK sitcom to win the best comedy prize.

"It is still quite surreal to have won," Gervais said. "Any day now I'm expecting (Friends actor) Matt LeBlanc to inform the judges that this fat bloke and tall guy nicked his awards."

The show's US popularity led to Gervais being offered walk-on parts in US films and the chance to write his own episode of hit cartoon series The Simpsons.

The Office
The Office ended with a two-part special in 2003
"There are some things you just have to say 'yes' to and worry about fitting them into your time later," he said.

"So I'm writing for The Simpsons, appearing on (sitcom) Arrested Development and making appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman."

Gervais is also keen to snap up an offer to appear in action movie Mission: Impossible 3, "because I admire director JJ Abrams and Tom Cruise is the greatest film star of our generation".

Nevertheless he adds: "I still turn down about 95% of things I am offered because I am busy working on Extras."

My character is a moaner who bitches about the stars and laughs in the face of adversity
Ricky Gervais on forthcoming series Extras
Extras is the new sitcom he is writing with Merchant, in which Gervais plays a struggling film and TV comedy actor.

"My character is a moaner who bitches about the stars and laughs in the face of adversity," Gervais said. "It's not filmed as a documentary this time, but fans of The Office should like it."

Movie stars Jude Law and Kate Winslet have signed up for cameo roles in Extras, which is being filmed in March and is due to be broadcast on BBC Two this summer.

Ratings pressure

"We didn't want it to go straight onto BBC One because it would face too much pressure to get huge ratings straight away."

He is concerned that such pressure will prevent the US version of The Office getting "a fair crack of the whip" when broadcast on the NBC network later this year.

Gervais is impressed by the US episodes, of which he and Merchant are executive producers, but he said audience focus groups have proved harder to convince.

Gervais voices a pigeon in upcoming animated film Valiant
"I told them that was good news because focus groups gave the original series of The Office the lowest score of any programme in BBC Two history, apart from women's bowls."

This year will also see Gervais write a sequel to his children's book Flanimals, to be turned into a film, as well as voicing a pigeon in animated movie Valiant and following his Animals and Politics stand-up tours with a similar Science tour.

"I love the idea of picking a huge subject and getting it wrong," he says.

Is Gervais not tempted to hire a body double to share some of his workload? "I would do, but Johnny Vegas is busy," he replied.

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