Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 11:11 UK

Office creators Gervais and Merchant get serious

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant explain why they have left the world of TV sitcoms behind to make a coming-of-age drama set in 1970s Reading.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Gervais and Merchant co-created BBC sitcoms The Office and Extras

If one did not know Cemetery Junction was the creation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the brains behind hit BBC sitcoms The Office and Extras, one might easily take it for a horror film.

"That was his fear," admits 48-year-old Gervais, pointing to his writing and directing partner.

"But I'm hoping people will think it's a Twilight sequel and that Robert Pattinson is in it. It'll do very well then."

Not that box-office success is necessarily a concern for the British comedy star, who was recently seen compering the Golden Globe awards and who shortly begins another sold-out stand-up tour.

"I don't care what anyone thinks of the film," he jokes. "I've had the money and I've spent it."

If people do go and see their latest venture, however, Gervais and Merchant are keen to ensure they know what they are getting.

"I think we should warn people it's not a knockabout comedy with a couple of blokes off a sitcom," says the former.

"It's a drama, I think - in fact, I know it is. A feel-good drama."

Hedonistic

"There are laughs in it, if you need a few laughs," chips in Merchant. "But people shouldn't go in chasing laughs."

"I'm hoping for 12 laughs over an hour-and-a-half," says Ricky. "But there'll be a few tears as well."

Christian Cooke, Jack Doolan and Tom Hughes in Cemetery Junction
The film takes its name from a working class area of Reading

Taking its name from a corner of Gervais's home town of Reading, Cemetery Junction tells of three working class lads facing adult responsibilities for the first time.

Freddie - played by newcomer Christian Cooke - is intent on bettering himself and thinks the best way to do so is to become a door-to-door insurance salesman.

But his friends Bruce and Snork - played by Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan respectively - prefer a more hedonistic existence built around late nights, juvenile pranks and pretty girls.

One of those girls is Julie (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Freddie's boss at the Vigilant Life Assurance Company (Ralph Fiennes).

To Freddie's dismay, though, she is already engaged to one of his colleagues - played by Matthew Goode, from A Single Man and the 2008 remake of Brideshead Revisited.

"It's about the minutiae of a few kids growing up in a small town," says Gervais, who appears in the film as Cooke's embittered factory worker father.

"It's about escape and stifled ambition, set in world we understand and have inhabited."

Adolescence

Gervais drew on his own childhood and adolescence while co-writing the film, originally titled The Man from the Pru - as in Prudential, the British insurance company.

Merchant, though, is quick to point out that the themes of its story transcend its historical period and parochial setting.

Emily Watson and Ralph Fiennes in Cemetery Junction
Emily Watson and Ralph Fiennes play the parents of the film's female lead

"There's no reason why you need to have grown up in the 1970s to enjoy it," insists the 35-year-old Bristolian.

"Our young cast grew up more recently but still related to it, so hopefully it's broader than that."

"People thought The Office was quintessentially English and it wasn't really," agrees Gervais, citing the award-winning sitcom that rocketed him to fame.

"The show had universal themes - boy meets girl, having a decent job at work, making a difference - that anyone could understand."

No doubt Ricky and Stephen will be hoping similar acclaim greets Life's Too Short, a new show they say they are developing for the BBC and US cable channel HBO.

"It's about the life and times of a showbiz dwarf, played by Warwick Davis," Gervais explains.

"I suppose it's like Curb Your Enthusiasm meets One Foot in the Grave meets Extras," he adds, "but with a dwarf."

Cemetery Junction is out in the UK on 14 April.



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