Ricky Gervais (left) and Greg Kinnear crack up at Ghost Town’s TIFF presser.
GHOST TOWN directed by David Koepp, written by Koepp and John Kamps, with Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni, Kristen Wiig and Billy Campbell. A Paramount release. 103 minutes. Opens Friday (September 19). For venues and times, see Movies.
Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear sit down next to each other in a hotel room at the Four Seasons, surrounded by journalists, and within 10 seconds it's like Kinnear has vanished.
Oddly, this is the same relationship they have in their new movie, Ghost Town. A TIFF premiere, David Koepp's supernatural comedy casts Gervais as the the only living person who can see or hear Kinnear's departed philanderer, whose mission in the afterlife is preventing the remarriage of his widow (Téa Leoni).
It's easy to understand how this works. Gervais is such a live-wire personality that his relaxed, unprepossessing co-star disappears all over again.
Right now, for instance, we're discussing Ricky's rules.
"No nudity, certainly," Gervais says. "You do not wanna see this. And I'll only ruin 30 per cent of the takes by laughing."
"Honestly, that is the most difficult part about working with Ricky," Kinnear says. "If it's funny and it's happening and it's cooking, he just can't help himself. I guess it's the ultimate compliment, but it also means ‘Cut! Start over! Reload!'"
"I can't help it," Gervais says, already giggling. "If something's funny, I'll laugh. Even if I've written the line, I'll laugh. The other thing I say to directors is ‘I'm not a real actor.' It's their fault. They've spent the money, they can't have it back."
While he's taken small roles in studio pictures like Night At The Museum and Stardust, this is the first time Gervais - who attained international celebrity as the writer and star of the British TV comedies The Office and Extras - has headlined a project he hasn't written.
"Best script I've read in five years, is the simple answer," Gervais says. "It was very me, it was very what-I-do, and I just thought, ‘I'm the best person for the job here.' And you rarely are. But sometimes things come along and you just think, ‘I've gotta do this.' And it was very collaborative as well. David let me change things - script ideas, character points - and he let us ad lib on the day."
Boundless creative freedom isn't always the best way to stay on schedule, though.
"After two hours," Gervais said of the first day's shoot, "David came over and said, ‘Do you think we could do one take as it is in the script?' I mean, in the cold light of day, the lines are great and it's 90 per cent what's on the page. But it's the other 10 per cent that brings it to life, so you can see the chemistry and the actors enjoying themselves. People pick it up subliminally, I think."
"I look at it much more actorly, probably, than Ricky does," Kinnear explains, possibly as a way of reminding us he's still in the room.
"Just play the character and try to be as truthful as I can. With comedy, I certainly think that trying to make something funny is the first step in not making it funny. It was all written out with ideas and motivations, there for me to just follow a pretty straightforward character. It's all a testament to David's script."
The trick, Kinnear says, was keeping the focus on the characters' emotions and avoiding elaborate visual effects. "Which was nice, because we weren't dealing with a bunch of green balls and I didn't have suction cups on my fingertips."
"No balls on the face," Gervais muses. "That's your rule, isn't it?"
"That's right," Kinnear smirks, taking the shot with affection. "That's one of my rules."
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Ricky Gervais on his wildly popular podcasts with Stephen Merchant and the freakish appeal of their sidekick, Karl Pilkington:
Greg Kinnear and Ricky Gervais discuss their next projects, and take a moment to admire the comic genius of Christopher Guest: