Do you ever have one of those days where things are just going right? One of those days where you wake up early, jump in an idling towncar to be driven to the Delta shuttle to Boston, land at Logan, hop in a van, get out at a film set, interview Jennifer Garner, Ricky Gervais and Rob Lowe, jump back in a van, go to Logan and fly back to New York? No? Well, one day last year Warner Brother's somehow got ahold of my name and invited me up to the set of The Invention of Lying, due out on October 2nd.
I had never been to a film set before, let alone a set run by my comedy hero (sorry, Jennifer, I'm speaking about Ricky Gervais). The Invention of Lying, at that point called This Side of the Truth, was a bit of a mystery. I had heard rumblings online about this film, written, directed and starring Gervais (also written and directed by Matthew Robinson, who I'll get to later). A quick peek at IMDB before I left sent shivers down my spine. Listed in the cast (in addition to Lowe, Garner and Gervais): Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Jeffery Tambor, Jason Bateman, Louis C.K., John Hodgman, Patrick Stewart, Martin Starr and Christopher Guest. I didn't know who would be on set that day but odds were that whoever it was would be A) very famous, B) extremely funny and C) super intimidating.
I am not a journalist but luckily Edward Douglas, of ComingSoon.net, was there with me to ask all the important questions and teach me how to behave on set. However, the moment we stepped foot on location a ritzy private school in Lowell, Massachusetts where George W. Bush had been "educated" things were a little different. I had expected to be kept in some sort of holding area and instructed to go speak to certain people at certain times. Instead, and possibly because it was just Edward and me, we were told by the publicist to "grab whoever" for interviews "whenever you want." Talking to Jennifer Garner is intimidating enough in a sterile, controlled environment, but just strolling up unannounced and sticking a tape recorder in her face was something altogether different.
(By the way, to my great dismay, all of my tapes from that day got lost at some point over the last year. So, instead, I will link you all to Edward's interviews on ComingSoon.net. Trust me, he did a far better job than I could ever hope to do.)
My goal for the day was getting an interview with Gervais but aside from a quick introduction, his time was spoken for most of the morning. In the scene being filmed, Lowe and Garner are out on a date at a nice restaurant. Nothing immediately funny there. But the hook of this film is that it all takes place in an alternate reality, one very much like our own but one in which people, for some reason, never discovered how to lie. What transpires on the date is a very funny exchange between the two based on this premise, with Lowe and Garner batting back straight-faced insults as if this were the most natural thing in the world. (The real hook of the film is that Gervais' character has somehow figured out how to lie).
Between set ups, we got our chance to speak with Garner. Now, I am a sweaty sort of man to begin with, but put me in a room with 100 people on a brutally hot day and perspiration will begin to cascade from my hairline to my chin in seconds flat. This is the condition I found myself in while speaking to Garner, who was extremely kind and very, very beautiful. Being a veteran of some TV myself (no big deal) and used to wearing makeup, I know that on camera you may look fantastic but get up close in real life and the makeup only does so much. This was not the case with Garner whose skin was absolutely flawless to the point that she almost looked like a doll a kinky Japanese businessman would pay top dollar for.
Garner's Interview with Edward here.
We spent the next chunk of time trying to get Rob Lowe to sit down and chat but it was his last day on set and he was running around trying to finish up. The publicist told us we could grab him later and that, in the meantime, would we want to talk to Gervais and/or Robbinson. The answer of course was yes and yes.
We sat down with Robinson first who didn't appear to be much older than me (he is not) and, according to his IMDB page, even less experienced than me. But here he was co-directing a movie he co-wrote with Ricky Gervais. The big question was, "how?" It turns out that Robinson is actually living the dream. He was an unknown screenwriter who had an idea for a movie. He somehow got a treatment for the film to Gervais and then got a personal phone call saying Gervais wanted in. And, the best part, he didn't want Robinson to ghost write the film or deny credit, he wanted to co-write and co-direct it with him. Take a moment to think about just how incredibly awesome that is. Having one of comedy's most important and brilliant minds hear your idea and decide to help you make it a reality. Robinson tried to play it cool but it was clear that even he had trouble grasping just how amazing his situation was.
Robinson's interview with Edward here.
Next up was the man himself, Ricky Gervais. Ever since I sat in my London apartment (or "flat") during my semester abroad and watched The Office for the first time, I knew, without a doubt, that this guy had figured out the next big step in comedy. At that point, the idea of 'realistic' comedy was still in it's infancy Curb was only a year old when The Office came out and the Apatow machine was still in TV land so watching The Office in England before the American version debuted was like getting a sneak peek at what was about to become the dominant form of comedy. Ever since then, Gervais had been my comedy idol and I followed his career obsessively. And now here I was, splayed out on a lawn (he wanted to do the interview outside) listening to my idol talk shop. Again, Edawrd was my salvation and asked the actual interview questions while I sat there starstruck and stupid. Much like Robbinson probably felt when he got the call that Gervais wanted to make his movie, I couldn't stop thinking about just how lucky I was to be in this situation. Before I could get to my real meaty questions ("Are you ever going to record all of David Brent's songs for real?") Gervais was called back to set.
We finished up our interview with Gervais in a more sterile environment after filming for the day had ended and i finally got to ask my hard-hitting questions (his answer as to the fate of David Brent's songs was that he did not want to record them because that would make him actually like David Brent. Touche). All in all, Gervais was gracious with his time and far more indulgent with my fandom than he needed to be. I heard rumors that he was a prickly, mean kind of guy but based on my time with him he was anything but.
Gervais' interview with Edward here.
Our last mark for the day was Rob Lowe and, though meeting Gervais was one of the highlights of my life, it was my time with Lowe that makes for the best story. It goes like this
When we were finally able to get Lowe alone for an interview, it had to happen in his trailer as he got ready to fly back to LA. By this time it had started to rain. Or, rather, what appeared to be a hurricaine had descended on us. PAs were scrambling everywhere, trying to keep all the equipment dry and there was a general franticness to the set. We entered Lowe's trailer to find him mid-pack. We all sat down and he appologized for being so rushed and that he hoped we wouldn't mind if he changed during the interview. I thought for a moment about how many women would give almost anything to be sitting where I was.
Lowe's interview with Edward here.
From there Lowe launched into a great interview about working with Gervais and Garner and how much he had enjoyed the film. You could tell he was excited about the film and not just in the 'there are reporters here' kind of way; he was genuinely pumped to have worked on this film. Like a kid showing off a new toy, he showed us some production stills of Jeffery Tambor from a "secret scene" with big smiles. And then, that's when it happened.
Toward the end of the interview Lowe pulled off his shirt just as an enormous bolt of lightening ripped through the sky and huge thunder rack cut the air. I jumped a bit but Lowe just stood there, shirtless, looking every inch the Greek god. It is still unclear whether the Lowe commanded the thunder and lightening to highlight his wardrobe change or if that is just nature's way of reacting to people of his caliber. It was truly something to behold and to this day I regret this perfect comedic moment was not captured on video.
And that was it. We were treated to some food at craft services, said our goodbyes to the people on set who had helped us out during the day and made our way back to New York.
How will this movie be? I have no idea. I can say the scene I watched was very funny and given that Lowe and Garner, for all their talents, are probably the least comedically-inclined of anyone in the cast, this should be a funny film. And I wouldn't expect anything less from Gervais. Anything he has helmed The Office, Extras, the Ricky Gervais Podcast has been as close to comedic perfection as one can hope to approach. So do I expect this will be a funny film? With that cast and Gervais' gifts behind the camera and on the page, you'd have to actively try to make it bad to not get a laugh out of me. And even if the movie is terrible, I'll still always remember fondly the day I got flown to Boston to meet my hero and one of the most beautiful women in the world. Oh, and the day Rob Lowe commanded the weather with his pecs.
The Invention of Lying opens October 2nd.