Ricky Gervais needs a drink and a wee. [Ricky Gervais: You know the interview's going well when "the wee" gets a big mention.] It's late afternoon on a Friday in London, and he's just connected over Skype when he steps away from the computer to take care of the latter. With him outside the frame, the room is unobscured: the cream-colored walls, a gold-framed mirror [RG: The walls are more mushroom-colored. The mirror, more mirror-colored.] hanging in the study of his spacious home, and is that white marble? This Trump-Tower-done-tastefully decor was furnished by a man who has made a self-proclaimed "cottage industry" out of finding stories and comedy in the most unglamorous people and environments.
It's weird to see someone who openly eschews personal vanity (Gervais regularly publishes "horrendous" double-chinned photos of himself in the tub on social media) in this luxe home in tony Hampstead, with an apartment waiting for him on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He can hardly believe it himself. "[The neighborhood] was sort of rarefied, quite eccentric old money—until I came along. That was when the Beverly Hillbillies arrived. Curtains were twitching. They thought I was a lottery winner. I've moved up a few social classes, I think." [RG: It was impossible to go down.]
Gervais gets up again to let Ollie, a beloved Siamese cat [RG: Part Siamese, Burmese, Rex] that he tweets photos of with almost daily regularity, out of the room, and explains his success. "I didn't pander. I didn't aim for globality. Not right—I want to be famous and make shows everywhere." Gervais was 40 when The Office premiered on the BBC. He's 54 now and continuing to churn out movies and TV series on which he maintains full creative oversight—writing, producing, directing, and starring in them. His latest is Special Correspondents, premiering on Netflix on April 29, which follows a radio correspondent and an audio engineer as they fake an Ecuadorean war from an apartment in Queens for fame and glory. "I'm not good working for anyone else," he says. "I'm unemployable. When I had a real job, I was thinking, God, I wouldn't do it like that. Just let me do it."
Some of Gervais's projects have been hits (The Office, Extras) and others have landed flat or been met with confusion (Derek, Ghost Town). [RG: Sigh. The multi-Emmy-and-Golden-Globe-nominated Derek. Also, I didn't write and direct Ghost Town.] But he loves all of them because they're wholly his creations. "I think people think I'm arrogant, but I'm saying, 'No, you might be able to do it better than me, but I don't care.'" And even when he's doing a gig, he has to make it his own. "I'll get an advert, a huge campaign offer, and if they don't let me rewrite it or do my own thing, I say no. It's odd. Even if it's a ridiculous payday, I still want it to be my work. Because it's a bit of my DNA there." [RG: Not literally, obviously. That would be disgusting.]
It's cocktail hour, and Gervais's longtime girlfriend, Jane Fallon, hands him a glass of wine outside the frame. "It's prosecco. It could be champagne, but what am I, made of money?"
That's when I feel the disconnect between Gervais the guy talking to me from his house with a glass of bubbly and Gervais the guy emceeing the Golden Globes with a pint. When it comes to hosting, he says, "I'm the fat guy at home on the couch in his pants, having a go at Jennifer Lawrence for having $52 million, then whining." But the couch he's sitting on is really nice, and he's actually at the awards show in a tux. Still, his vaunted place in the Hollywood hierarchy doesn't seem to faze him. "The Golden Globes might get 200 million people watching it and loads of column inches, like I murdered someone. I treat the Golden Globes like some people treat golf on a Sunday. Come Monday morning, I'm back writing a character for a comedy or a movie. And that's why I'm not beholden to anyone in the room, because I own my own labor." He considers what he's just said and smiles. "I sound like a Marxist." [RG: Groucho, obviously. Not Karl.]
He says catching grief for his act can get in the way. "It's a double-edged sword. I've got this reputation for being a shock jock, so they don't actually hear the joke," Gervais says. "They see a swagger and a beer and they think what I've said is probably mean." It also works to his advantage. His onstage edginess, his potential for breaching the taboo, is what gets people in the seats for his personal projects. "If you're very anodyne, people only have to see you once," he says. "You don't want to be the boy band of comedy. You want to be David Bowie or Radiohead." The mention of Bowie reminds him of a story about the icon coming up to Gervais after seeing a clip of his aborted '80s pop-music career and saying, "I owe you an apology. It seems I ripped you off." The two began a friendship that included regular lovingly antagonistic e-mails from Bowie and a guest appearance on Extras during which the singer calls Gervais a "chubby little loser." [RG: His last ever TV gig. Still can't believe I cowrote a song with Bowie.]
It's 7:00 P.M. now, and with the light all but gone, Gervais's immaculate room is no longer visible. In the darkness, his black hair and shirt have rendered him a Cheshire cat, his self-described "manky" teeth [RG: And by "manky" I mean not artificially straightened and whitened like every other cunt in Hollywood.] the only thing perceptible onscreen as he fills me in on the rules of etiquette for dick pics with fans. "I was in the bathroom [at a boxing match at Madison Square Garden]. I am at the urinal. I am actually urinating. 'Ricky! Can I have a selfie?' There's a selfie out there of me, cock in my hand—luckily, we couldn't see that—at the urinal. He sees me at the urinal, comes over, puts his arm around me, gets a selfie. I think, This is odd. And I'm not a brave man. I'm already at a fight. There's a lot of testosterone. With my knob in my hand, I'm not about to go, 'Fuck off, mate.'" If it had been a microphone in his hand instead of his knob, he probably would have.
From the MAY 2016 Issue of Esquire.