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RICKY GERVAIS IS furious about the terrorist threat plaguing UK airports. How will he cope without loads of hand luggage? Specifically, without his iPod? He's got two trips to America coming up and says he wants to ring up the airline to tell them to have an iPod ready and waiting for him when he gets on board. He can do without books: "Not allowed to take novels on flights? Not a problem. Never read 'em!"

He would like a full set of magazines, though. "Loads of back copies of heat would be good to have on the plane ... there are still some things about Grace I don't know!"

He lets out a huge, rasping cackle which echoes round the bare walls of his office. Then he clasps his hands in front of his mouth to get the effect of a tannoy announcement: "We will be landing in one minute ... " he says, adopting the tone of an airline captain, "You still have time to read two copies of heat!"

He apologises for making fun - "What the fuck am I doing? I'm biting the hand that feeds ... You're the magazine that said The Office was the best comedy ever made!" - then explains that heat is mentioned repeatedly in the new series of Extras. Why? Because when we last saw Ricky's character Andy Millman, he was about to have his own sitcom made by the BBC. In this series, he becomes famous and gets embroiled in the insane world of celebrity. A world where, for example, you're given 2,500 watches for free. heat has noticed the stunning TAG Heuer timepiece on Ricky's wrist, which doesn't seem like the kind of item he'd buy for himself. Sure enough, he explains that it was given to him by American GQ for being their Man Of The Year. He leans into heat's recording device and says loudly, "That's American GQ ... Man Of The Year. Man Of The Year. .. in America!"

After another signature cackle, he leans back and relaxes in his swivel chair for the rest of the conversation ...

So, you've been filming Series Two of Extras while Big Brother was on. Did you keep in touch with it?
Yeah, well, it was good that Big Brother was on at 9pm most of the time - I could watch it, then go to bed. But then on Wednesdays it was on at ten, after The F Word, which was annoying. I have to have my eight hours of sleep. And filming starts at Sam. No idea why. We finished at 4pm. Why couldn't we just do lOam till 6pm, like normal jobs? But me and Jane [Ricky's partner] thought Love Island was better.
Really? How come?
Guaranteed madness every episode. Someone screaming and crying and going mental every night. Sometimes Big Brother was just Pete in the Diary Room, and that would take up 24 minutes! [Laughs.]
But, hang on, didn't you hate Love Island last year?
Yeah, but last year everyone in it annoyed me. This lot didn't annoy me so much. They were madder this time, but not as needy. I've got rules! Madness annoys me less than neediness. But it is so entertaining. The ultimate guilty pleasure. It's just like putting insects in a jar and shaking it up and seeing who wins. I know it's awful to compare humans to insects ...
I don't think this lot would be bothered ...
No, they're happy to be insects in the jar as long as it's a televised jar. I remember last year when Jonathan Ross said, "Turn over to Love Island," so I did and they all seemed happy. That's not what I want - I want misery and conflict. So I switched off. This time they gave me what I wanted. And Paul Danan never disappoints ...
In what way?
He goes berserk. That's his job. I think they have less inhibitions on Love Island. With BB you know you're in London in front of hundreds of cameras, but on Love Island they're on a beach and they think they can hide behind a tree; they forget that this is for the telly. They seem to think they really are on holiday - they forget what they've said and done.
Have you ever voted during Big Brother?
No. Never. I'm one of those people who laughs at people doing karaoke but would never go up there and do it myself.
Are you happy with how this series of Extras has turned out?
Well, this is a dangerous thing to say, but I think Series Two of Extras is the funniest thing we've done. I'd like to say it's the best thing we've done, but I don't think it'll have the romantic depth or emotional resonance of The Office. It's more out-andout funny, though.
How does it develop from the first series?
Well, what is different is that if Extras Series One looked like a vehicle for Ricky Gervais, this new girl [Ashley Jensen] and a load of star cameos, Series Two is much more about the four of us: me, Maggie, Steve [Merchant] as my agent and Barry from EastEnders. It's all of us, like a gang, against the world.
And your character becomes a celebrity?
Yeah, it starts off with me getting to make the sitcom I've always wanted to do, and I wanted it to be subtle but everyone's interfered and it's turned into a monstrosity. Maggie is still an extra and she's working on a courtroom romcom with Orlando Bloom. It explores what happens when you put out a comedy that you're not happy with. It's a case of "Be Careful What You Wish For" ...
And among the guest stars is Jonathan Ross?
Yep. I don't want to say too much but there's a scene in Episode Six where me and Jonathan are wrestling each other with our shirts off. It's like Women In Love. But it's all right ... he's got kids and everything.
Is it true that you have to kiss Ian McKellen?
Very nearly. But not quite ... Whoever reported that got it twice removed from what actually happens. But Andy does get involved with Ian McKellen. Professionally.
Which of the guest stars surprised you the most?
The one cameo that is amazing and brilliant is Keith Chegwin. It's in Episode One. I won't say much more about it, all I'll say is that he plays the worst man in the world and he's brilliant. I don't know why he doesn't act full-time. He was remarkable. Generally, the things that we've asked people to do are off the scale. People like Richard and Judy. I still don't know why they say yes.
Last time we spoke, you were looking for a new house. Have you found one?
Yeah, and we are moving out of central London.
Really? Where to?
Hampstead. It's near Jonathan Ross, David Baddiel and the Paltrow-Martins. So I've already got a social network set up! Jonathan's got the tennis court, Chris Martin has a tabletennis table and I'll have a virtual golf course. An indoor golf range. I'm spending my earnings on toys ... [Shakes his head in disbelief.]
You said the next thing you and Steve Merchant write might be a drama ...
Yes, but I never said I'd give up comedy. How could I give up comedy? I've been doing comedy for 44 years. [Thinks.] Wait a minute ... I'm 45 -why did I say I've been doing it for 44 years? What happened in the first year?
Maybe you weren't funny before you were a year old?
[Cackles.] Yeah, I wasn't funny in my silent days. As soon as I could talk, words were my tool! No, I think I forgot that I was 45. My birthday was just recently. So now I forgot how old I am.
So you would like to do a drama series?
Yeah, but I wouldn't necessarily film it in Britain. I'd want it to be like 24 or The Sopranos. I wonder why we've never done anything like those shows in this country. Maybe it's something to do with the climate or our accents or something. But I'd want to try to do a big, brilliantly made drama. And I wouldn't necessarily be in it ...
You said that about Extras ...
[Laughs.] Oh, I know. But you know what? I love acting now ... I got to act with Robert De Niro recently [in the film Stardust] and I loved it. One day's work. And I spent the day ad-libbing, trying to put him off and make him laugh.
And did you succeed?
Yeah. And when he eventually lost it and laughed, I wanted to run round the room celebrating. Then, when we finished, I did that thing of suddenly letting everything flood out and being a nerd. I said, "I think you're brilliant ... you're the best actor in the world ... I've seen everything you've ever done ... " And he looked at me and said, "Thank you very much ... "
So you enjoy doing cameos in big movies now?
Well, yes, I'll always do something if I think it'll be a great experience. Especially if it's just going to take a day or two ... I'll always remember that day with Robert De Niro. And this is the difference between Hollywood and over here: I did this cameo in the new Ben Stiller film (Night At The Museum) and when I arrived, I was taken to this beautiful hotel with an incredible suite. Then I went on set and I'm given this unbelievable trailer, and the director Shaun Levy comes up to me and goes, "Is your trailer OK?" and I said, "It's fine. It's bigger than my hotel room!" and he said, "Well, we can get you a bigger hotel room ... " That's the difference ...
Did you see the French & Saunders joke about you in their Christmas special?
No, I didn't, but Jane told me about it. They said I was "the little fat one with the big ego" or something. I think that's fair comedic satire, the joke being that Dawn French considers herself to be the little fat one with the big ego. I don't think they were having a go. And let's face it, I'm bang to rights! [Pause.] Although I do think she's got a few pounds on me.
Your partner Jane has written a novel that's about to be published, but you don't read novels ... Have you read hers?
No, I haven't read it. It's true I've only ever read one: The Catcher In The Rye, when I was 28. So maybe this should be the second. The thing is, I just don't ever feel the urge to read novels. I'm saving them up for when I can't walk. But my eyes will have gone, so it'll have to be audiobooks.

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Extras Series 2 begins Thurs 14 September on BBC2




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