RT Visits the Set of Cemetery Junction

We hang with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on their latest

by | September 4, 2009 | Comments

RT Visits the Set of Cemetery Junction

“He won’t do it,” says Ricky Gervais, striding over to RT. He’s referring to his round-headed friend Karl Pilkington. Last time we sat down with Gervais he’d suggested Pilkington – co-star of his phenomenally successful podcast series with Stephen Merchant – as a film reviewer for the Tomatometer. “I said, ‘They’ll pay you £50.’ He wasn’t interested. I said, ‘We’ll dress you up as a giant tomato.’ He went, ‘Oh, this is getting better and better.'”

But while Gervais has failed in that particular recruiting mission, he and Merchant are on fine form today. It’s late July and RT has come to the Shepperton Studios set of Cemetery Junction, their first feature film together after success on the small screen with The Office and Extras. The atmosphere is light, the cast and crew seem to be enjoying themselves and Gervais’ trademark cackle rings regularly through the air.

Taking its name from a road junction in Gervais’ hometown of Reading, the film stars Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson and Matthew Goode. Relative newcomers Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan and Felicity Jones, play its young leads. “It’s a film about escaping your roots and that small-town mentality,” explains Gervais. “There’s a line in it which my mum said to me when I was 18. I told her I was going to France and she said, ‘What do you want to go there for? There’s parts of Reading you haven’t seen.'”

“It’s about a group of working-class lads in the 70s, one of whom aspires to be better than his dad – played by Ricky – and not go to work in a factory,” continues Merchant. “Instead, he goes to work for Ralph Fiennes’ character; a sort-of white-collar job. He finds a role-model in him but in doing that he starts to drift away from his friends who are still in that world. It’s the story of them, really, and whether that friendship will last.”

Cemetery Junction

Gervais and Merchant on set, rocking the Miami Vice look.

Like all of their work to date, there’s a sense that this is a comic take on a delicately-observed slice of real life, but it’s not just the hometown location that makes the project feel all the more autobiographical than The Office and Extras. “The coolest kids in school when I was growing up,” says Gervais, “the best footballers, the best fighters, the ones who got a girlfriend first — now they’re bald and stacking shelves. The Office was that feeling of, you’ve already wasted some of your life and you don’t want to wake up and go, ‘That was it.’ With these kids we’ve condensed that pounding feeling that there must be something out there. They’re 23, not 33.”

It seems, too, as though the comedy in Cemetery Junction will come from a slightly different and perhaps unexpected place. “We’ve lost that level of irony,” Gervais tells us. “We’ve lost that level of, isn’t it funny that they’re bad? Isn’t it funny that they’re stupid or they’re saying the wrong things? With this we wanted to give them a rip-roaring adventure — we want you to like these guys. They do get into fights and they do drink too much and chase girls, but it’s to be celebrated.”

And that’s the key point for Gervais and Merchant — this isn’t your average British film. While much of the British industry seems to wallow in gritty realism, get lost in romantic fantasy or strap on a bonnet and put on a posh accent, Gervais and Merchant hope that Cemetery Junction will strike away from pack and, perhaps, present a slightly less blinkered view of life in Britain. “We liked the idea of making it very contained in this small town in the 70s, but with that sort of swagger that you get in Butch Cassidy,” explains Merchant. “It’s a much smaller story about tiny lives, but in their heads it’s epic. No-one lives their lives going, ‘I’m a nobody and I’m pathetic.'”

Gervais continues: “Their world is as big to them as it is to us; it’s just that they sometimes don’t go outside of their square patch of it. Even in the kitchen we’ve tried to make it cinematic. We’ve used the widescreen this time; we’re not shooting for telly. And we’ve got our soap-opera radar — anything that looks slightly cheap is out. We were very conscious that we didn’t want this to look drab and dingy, and curtains drawn and kitchen sink. We want this to look like Hollywood doing early-70s England. And we have taken liberties, you know; it’s sunny every day in Cemetery Junction for that summer.”

RT Visits the Set of Cemetery Junction

Casting the central roles was the biggest challenge — finding actors in Britain who had the screen presence to strike that epic quality. “In the States, I think one of the reasons there are perennial heroes like Steve McQueen is because they’re classless,” says Merchant. “I think it’s one of the things that are tricky in making British films, because class always comes into it. It’s quite tricky to find something that feels neutral and allows you to think about the story and not the class of the characters.”

“[Our actors] just had that,” says Gervais. “They walked into a room and suddenly they were film stars. They weren’t phoning their agent saying, ‘I’ve got The Bill tomorrow and I’ve got a small part in Holby and I might do a play.’ They were going, ‘I want to be a film star,’ and they got it straight away. Plus they were cheap, and we’ve signed up for 50% of their earnings until they’re 68!”

If that’s not strictly true, as we suspect it may not be, Gervais told RT last year that the plan was to extend the world into a TV series so the pair could further explore these characters, so this may not be the last time they work with the young cast. The spin-off is still on the cards, they said, but nothing was certain. “It’s an option, but we never hold ourselves to anything like that. I’d like to, but anything could happen. We might think it ruins the legacy of the film, and that’s important to us, and we’ll turn it down. We might love it; we might do five series this time instead of two. I think the likelihood is that we’ll probably write it, at least, because that’s the real joy for us, the writing.”

Cemetery Junction

L to R: Felicity Jones as Julie, Christian Cooke as Freddie, Tom Hughes as Bruce, Jack Doolan as Snork.

“It’s all speculative,” agrees Merchant. “We’ve been totally focussed on this script. But we like the characters, and we’ll be doing a scene with Ricky and we’ll go, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if…'”

“What we’d lose is the one big story,” adds Gervais. “But we’d have more fun with the smaller characters. My character, for example – it could become about the family unit, so it’s more of a sitcom.”

For now though, the focus is on delivering the film amidst the pair’s other commitments. In addition to their work together, Gervais, also has a stand-up tour to do (he’d probably be keen on us mentioning that it’s sold out, as his last tour was) and his first American directorial feature, The Invention of Lying, to promote.

So with all the work on their plates have there been any tensions between them? “We see eye-to-eye on 98% of stuff,” says Gervais. “And when we don’t see eye-to-eye, we’ve got one rule: one veto and then it’s out, or let’s do them both and we’ll see in the edit. There doesn’t need to be arguments, really. And we work so fast, and it’s such a joy. It’s so much fun. The only thing I don’t like is getting up early.”

“Or doing the work,” adds Merchant.

“Or doing anything.”

“Anything that takes you away from the sofa.”

Gervais unleashes that cackle again. “Yeah, so all my scenes were on the sofa. At one point Steve went, ‘Ricky, are you actually asleep?'”

Cemetery Junction is released next year. Ricky Gervais’ home on the web is rickygervais.com, where you can fail to buy tickets for his sold-out stand-up tour.

Tag Cloud

Pirates 24 frames Tomatazos screen actors guild canceled TV shows sports Box Office HBO First Reviews FXX satire Chilling Adventures of Sabrina renewed TV shows Spike Turner Avengers Character Guide Amazon Prime 2015 2019 TV Red Carpet VH1 Pop TV comiccon finale spy thriller CW Seed Opinion Biopics The Purge Thanksgiving IFC Films romance Music Peacock films DC Comics Sundance TV Winter TV LGBTQ Binge Guide Ovation 71st Emmy Awards cults cooking Hallmark 45 documentaries OneApp Discovery Channel Creative Arts Emmys comedies El Rey Awards screenings Family all-time Certified Fresh casting Election Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Trailer christmas movies Apple canceled Rocky OWN PlayStation Shudder Hallmark Christmas movies Film Festival parents blockbuster Mudbound indie 2017 TV Land CNN psychological thriller what to watch Travel Channel cars Captain marvel NBC Lionsgate Writers Guild of America witnail aliens BAFTA richard e. Grant Emmys Pixar 20th Century Fox BBC Western chucky crime Disney streaming service Netflix Christmas movies discovery toy story space spain BET Awards Rocketman CBS YouTube Chernobyl news MCU CMT The Arrangement latino singing competition Walt Disney Pictures DGA television cancelled police drama werewolf 2020 mission: impossible YouTube Red DC Universe franchise Action golden globes Fantasy Polls and Games Awards Tour breaking bad Pride Month FOX joker Cannes south america Schedule MSNBC Star Trek Marvel Studios Dark Horse Comics Black Mirror transformers Lifetime Christmas movies facebook The Witch Apple TV+ PaleyFest DC streaming service Nickelodeon video on demand natural history Oscars Sundance ABC Family Television Critics Association BBC One IFC adaptation movie science fiction animated First Look Marvel FX unscripted USA free movies Trivia Grammys Summer period drama Masterpiece dceu Starz Year in Review dogs Funimation slashers name the review jamie lee curtis TruTV Amazon MTV video hispanic Shondaland Disney Channel stand-up comedy nature 2018 Tubi A&E anime TCA 2017 Tumblr biography children's TV social media Anna Paquin SDCC mutant Watching Series Lifetime kids Countdown Rom-Com Comedy Central scary movies TLC The Walking Dead comic SXSW Acorn TV GoT Hulu versus BET 007 The CW cats Infographic USA Network Country GLAAD Epix dramedy cops based on movie Cosplay Animation festivals Universal vampires strong female leads green book anthology supernatural composers crime thriller Television Academy Kids & Family Spring TV Mary Poppins Returns rotten movies we love American Society of Cinematographers See It Skip It romantic comedy theme song hist robots movies ESPN Nominations RT21 Syfy spider-man foreign TCA Winter 2020 Showtime Winners zombies harry potter Women's History Month YA spanish language Crackle San Diego Comic-Con Quiz Paramount Network 2016 crime drama Amazon Prime Video elevated horror Comedy TCM blaxploitation Superheroes Sony Pictures GIFs History Martial Arts Adult Swim TIFF Musical reboot Emmy Nominations LGBT Netflix PBS Pop Logo Freeform Endgame Esquire Paramount Pet Sematary Sundance Now Bravo TNT Reality Competition Arrowverse zombie Heroines Musicals Drama child's play Podcast stoner sequel ratings miniseries dragons true crime Marathons zero dark thirty award winner technology Interview Super Bowl TV renewals concert 21st Century Fox cancelled television doctor who Fox News FX on Hulu teaser Academy Awards diversity 4/20 TCA Awards disaster TCA Teen crossover cinemax DirecTV revenge mockumentary SundanceTV Black History Month A24 binge Ellie Kemper die hard Turner Classic Movies Vudu Food Network Warner Bros. BBC America Horror political drama Britbox Tarantino Spectrum Originals Stephen King Lucasfilm Mystery Premiere Dates NYCC ITV quibi Film a nightmare on elm street streaming thriller Best and Worst Star Wars E3 adventure Comics on TV twilight Video Games politics tv talk ABC Reality universal monsters Christmas indiana jones dc sag awards Apple TV Plus President talk show asian-american Disney game of thrones Crunchyroll Holiday Baby Yoda critics documentary AMC Columbia Pictures psycho series WarnerMedia dark Song of Ice and Fire HBO Max independent Mindy Kaling Set visit Holidays batman medical drama Marvel Television National Geographic cancelled TV shows historical drama Photos CBS All Access Extras war Elton John Valentine's Day WGN RT History justice league Toys YouTube Premium VOD Rock serial killer Cartoon Network book boxoffice criterion X-Men Comic Book Amazon Studios Disney+ Disney Plus Calendar directors travel Superheroe APB sitcom Ghostbusters ghosts Trophy Talk halloween HBO Go Sci-Fi TBS Disney Plus comics cartoon E! docudrama game show Mary poppins Brie Larson best Fall TV reviews VICE New York Comic Con Sneak Peek spinoff cancelled TV series Classic Film Hear Us Out Nat Geo Mary Tyler Moore