EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Merchant on The Office and Life's Too Short
" Yesterday I had the chance to speak with Stephen Merchant about his new film that he co-wrote and co-directed with Ricky Gervais, Cemetery Junction, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 17. Since he's an executive producer on the American version of The Office, I also had to get his take on all the talk surrounding Steve Carell's departure after the seventh season and who might replace him. Merchant is also undertaking a new TV venture with Gervais entitled Life's Too Short with actor Warwick Davis, which we reported on back in April. Take a look at what he had to say on both of these matters below, along with news of yet another brand new TV project he's working on with Karl Pilkington.
I also have to ask about The Office. There have been a bunch of names thrown about like Danny McBride and Rhys Darby. How close are you to that process of trying to find a replacement for Steve Carell and is there anything you can say about those names that have been mentioned so far?
Stephen Merchant: No one has talked to me about those people. No one has asked my opinion of them, except journalists. They're very much an autonomous unit. We're there if we're needed, but we're pretty much hands-off. We've trusted them this far and they've done well, so it would seem weird of us to intrude now. They are great names, great contenders and they have big shoes to fill. It would be a difficult job to replace Steve, if they even choose to replace him. They could just use the talent they already have there at The Office. I don't know. I don't know any more than you. In fact, I know less than you.
Stephen Merchant: Well, I don't know. Maybe they need to go in a completely different direction. Maybe they need to make it a woman or a puppet or an animated character or an alien, like ALF. That would be perfect, a puppet and an alien. Or like a huge animal, or like a Roger Rabbit, a zany animated character.
You could have Bob Hoskins show up in an overcoat or something.
Stephen Merchant: Right, exactly. Or, as a kid, like a hilarious mix-up, a 12-year-old is in charge (Laughs).
That's great. You're both also working with Warwick Davis on that new BBC series Life's Too Short. Is there anything you can say about the progress of that series? Is that anything that would be aimed at airing on BBC America or going stateside at all?
Stephen Merchant: I think it will get stateside. We're still discussing that, but we have the pilot, which we're really pleased with. Warwick is very funny, a very physical comedian which we really made use of, and he plays a version of himself, going about his business. I have to imagine it can be quite tricky when you're that small and that's one of the things that we exploit for the laughter. I say exploit, but I think exploiting in a way that we exploit my height or Ricky's looks. I don't think its exploitative since he helped create the idea and came to us with the story. He's very charismatic, very charming in it and I think it will evolve and change, so I don't want to nail down exactly what it's like. I was really pleased. He's a real comic star in waiting.
Is there a time frame in place for the series to premiere? Are you in production on the actual series now?
Stephen Merchant: We're negotiating all that and we're talking about ideas, so if it happens, it would be sometime next year.
Are there any other screenplays you're both working on at the moment?
Stephen Merchant: At the moment, the Warwick show is distracting us along with the fact that we've also been executive producers for our friend Karl Pilkington. He does podcasts with us and he's this rather eccentric guy and we've been having conversations with him over the years and just recently we made a show in which we sent him abroad, further out of his comfort zone. He's very much a typical Englander, very small-minded and never really traveled much. We've thrown him into the deep end. We've sent him to rough it in India, the jungles of Peru. It's very funny, very very funny. It's just following his experiences, but that's been distracting us from other projects.