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It was the meme shared ‘round the world: During Ricky Gervais’s gleefully scorched-earth monologue at this year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the cameras caught America’s Dad, Tom Hanks, expressing extreme discomfort as the famously outspoken British comedian went after Hollywood’s assembled royalty. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment six months removed from the event, Gervais insists that Hanks wasn’t as offended as viewers at home assumed. “I don’t think he was anti what I was saying,” he explains in an interview recorded from his home in London. “I think he sort of thought, ‘Oh, this is a bit hot. Is this OK?’” (Watch our video interview above.)
Gervais adds that he hasn’t spoken to the Forrest Gump star — and coronavirus survivor — since that night, where he tearfully accepted the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Cecil B. DeMille Award. But the comedian thinks they’d be able to share a pint and a laugh about it anyway. “I don’t think he would be offended. But the flip side of it, when I teased Leonardo [DiCaprio], and he really laughed, people loved that! People love a celebrity going, ‘You got me.’ That’s all you have to do.”
Of course, plenty of people also love a good celebrity takedown, and that’s what Gervais provided onstage. During the course of his monologue, the creator and star of the Netflix drama After Life poked fun at embattled stars like Kevin Hart and Felicity Huffman, and also issued a blanket warning to anyone with a politically-minded acceptance speech prepared: “If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a political platform to make a political speech. You're in no position to lecture the public about anything, you know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So, if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God and f*** off. OK?”
Those words wound up resonating with a wide swath of viewers, and Gervais recognized immediately that he touched a nerve. “It was quite zeitgeisty,” he says now. “I suppose because people were tired of being lectured by multi-millionaires telling them to recycle when they’re flying around in private jets. So I think people were tired of the hypocrisy.” At the same time, he’s careful to note that he’s interested in comedy first, and social commentary a distant second. “I’ll often take a complete opposite stance to what I actually believe if it makes the joke better. I’ll pretend to be right-wing, left-wing or no-wing! It depends on the joke.”
Gervais points to his Golden Globe appearances as one reason why some viewers have a hard time taking him seriously when he tries to go in a more dramatic direction. But those audiences would be wise to watch both seasons of After Life, in which the writer, director and star plays Tony Johnson, a widower wrestling with grief, depression and suicidal thoughts after his wife dies of breast cancer. “The seed of the idea was, ‘Imagine if you lost everything and you were going to kill yourself,’” Gervais says, noting that he’s seen and heard first-hand how the show has resonated with viewers. “I’ve never had a reaction like it. I don’t just mean the size of the reaction, I mean the emotional strength of the reaction.”
Gervais drew on some of his personal experiences with grief while writing After Life. In Season 2, for example, Tony loses his elderly father (David Bradley), which stirred memories of when his own dad passed away. “Everything is semi-autobiographical, because I think you should always write about what you know. And when you get to 58, you’ve got things to grieve over. I lost my mom and my dad about 20 years ago, I lost my older brother last year. I imagine that the worst thing is losing your life partner.”
After Life’s second season ends with Gervais potentially embarking on a new relationship with a nurse played by his Extras costar, Ashley Jensen. But don’t expect Season 3 — which he hopes to shoot in the spring of 2021 — to be sunshine and roses all of a sudden. “He’s still grieving, and he’s also got guilt,” Gervais says. “You’ve got to find a clever way of giving people what they want, without killing [the drama]. It’s really tough; that’s why movies always end with them walking into the sunset!”
After Life is currently streaming on Netflix.
— Video produced by Jon San
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