Stephen Merchant Talks <strong><em>Movie 43</em></strong>

Stephen Merchant plays Truth or Dare with Halle Berry in Movie 43, in theaters today

Stephen Merchant is know for creating the popular British version of The Office alongside Ricky Gervais. The two have gone onto create and star in a number of well-received television series, and in his downtime, Stephen has appeared in a number of co-starring roles in films such as Hall Pass, Hot Fuzz, and Burke and Hare. He takes on his most challenging part to date in the Truth or Dare segment of Movie 43, starring opposite Halle Berry. The comedy also reunites him with his Hall Pass director Peter Farrelly.

We recently caught up with Stephen to find out more about the hilarious blind date he embarks on in Movie 43. Here is our conversation.

Truth or Dare was shot nearly three years ago. What is that experience like in seeing it now, for the first time?

Stephen Merchant: It's a little weird. Yeah. I had done this movie with Peter Farrelly a while ago called Hall Pass. Afterward, he came up to me and said, "Do you want to do a sketch where you are on a blind date with Halle Berry?" I said, "Yeah! Yeah!" There is no hesitation there. That is like winning some kind of actor competition. That was the reason I did it. And I guess it kind of slipped my mind, really. They were trying to get this crazy cast list of people all together, so it was taking a while. They all had to work around people's schedules. It's bizarre that it is now coming out. Because, as you say, it does feel like so long ago that we actually made it. But also, because I was only there for two days. I was on this blind date with Halle Berry. That is one of the great highlights of my life. Its always been in my thoughts. But more the experience of doing it, not the movie itself.

With the passage of time, it must feel strange to actually sit and watch it. Was it cool to see it finally?

Stephen Merchant: It was cool to see it. Yeah. I didn't really remember what we'd done. I just remember it being good fun. And Peter Farrelly is really fun and easy going. So, yeah, it was kind of surreal. It was weird to see it in this longer film with all these other actors doing this mad stuff. The whole thing was very surreal. I still find it surreal that I get to do this for a living. Its constantly weird to me, when I see myself on screen. I have never gotten used to that. In my head, I think I look like James Bond. I feel so much more sophisticated and cultured. I'm almost 40. I have read a lot of books. I like music and art. So when I see myself on screen acting like a total dick, I don't understand it.

You seem to be a very timeless actor. You don't seem to have aged much since I first saw you nearly ten or twelve years ago...

Stephen Merchant: That is a great compliment. The one thing I have discovered is that in regular life, I have a beard. But whenever I am on camera, I shave the beard off. I must tell you, it takes 18 months off me. Its like I am making myself remain youthful. I'm hoping that can go on for a few more years, before people think I look weird and creepy.

I don't think you need to worry about ever looking weird and creepy...

Stephen Merchant: I think I do. My greatest anxiety is that is how I will look. You will see me in a bar, when I am 60, just on my own, just looking at girls. That is one of my big fears.

Bobby Farrelly didn't want to help out with this?

Stephen Merchant: No. Peter Farrelly was there, flying solo. We did it in just a couple of days, so it wasn't a big undertaking for him. I think that is how they persuaded all of these people to be in it. Because it is obviously a relatively small thing for them. Halle Berry was really game, and up for a laugh. She didn't balk at any of the suggestions that were made, that I sort of threw in. So, no, it was a joy. It was great. When I am hired as an actor, this is the thing I am always looking for...Will it be a fun experience? When I do my own projects, I am willing to work a lot harder, and really put the hours in. Whereas, as an actor, you are always looking for something completely different.

When you work with someone for a while, like you did with Peter on Hall Pass, you sometimes want to move on and get away from each other. Here, you wanted to jump right back in and go to work on something else with the guy. What was the push that made you want to keep on collaborating?

Stephen Merchant: I like being around people who are not only good at what they do...But they are collaborative, they are nice people, they don't scream and shout, they don't act like divas, they just enjoy trying to make people laugh. And that is what Peter Farrelly is like. Both he and his brother are nice guys who are funny. It is a slightly different kind of sensibility to the comedy that I do, but they make me laugh. So, its like, "Yeah, I'll jump in." That is generally my experience. I never understand when I hear people that have had bad experiences on set. The director has been shouting at people, and it has been a mean, angry set. I think, come on. We are only making movies here. Its entertainment. Its not the front line in Iraq. There is no reason to scream and shout. Maybe that is how some great work is made. But it certainly is not conducive for comedy.

How did the collaboration with Halle Berry work? Did you become more comfortable working with her, and sharing your ideas with her, the more open you saw she was to certain things?

Stephen Merchant: I knew she had seen the script, and Peter had convinced her to do it. So I guessed that she was already pretty game to go for a laugh. I threw a few things in here or there, I did some improv. But I was amazed, even based on the script, how willing she is to make a fool of herself. One thing I have always sensed with a lot of Hollywood actresses is that they are worried about making a fool of themselves. They are worried that it is somehow undignified. I think that's why there are a lot of actresses that don't do comedy. It strips away a bit of your dignity. To be willing to be funny, you need to be willing to give up some of your dignity. Halle Berry trades on her dignity and her glamour. She was so willing to go the other way, which was a lot of fun, and it is exciting. When it happened, I thought, "Wow, this is a side of Halle Berry that no one has seen." I always get excited when actors and actress are willing to do that. We did a thing with Liam Neeson, where he makes a fool of himself. Kate Winslet. People you don't associate with this type of thing. I always give props to them. I think, they have my estimation. In the end, they are performers. I think a lot of actors are very precious, and a bit concerned about making a fool of themselves.

Can you tell me what we can expect from your HBO show coming up, and why you and Ricky Gervais decided to go your separate ways on these next couple of projects?

Stephen Merchant: I did a stand-up show here in the UK. I also did one in the states. It was called, "Hello, Ladies." And it was about my various ill-fated attempts over the years to date and seduce women. To be a ladies man. I did a show in Los Angeles, and HBO said it might be fun to think about as a sitcom. So, that is really how it came about. It wasn't some grand plan on my part. But, it was never really going to be a project I felt I could do with Ricky Gervais, mainly because he has been in a relationship with the same woman since he was at college...Since he was at university. What does he know about dating in the modern age? I wanted it to feel truthful. Again, it gives me an excuse to be undignified and uncool. It allows me to expand on this quite personal stuff that I have done in my stand-up show. That is the reason why that leaves me flying solo.

It will be this summer when we get to see that?

Stephen Merchant: I think it will be later in the year. Maybe in October, I would imagine.

B. Alan Orange