The Lost Roles of Ricky Gervais
Whether you know Ricky Gervais best as a writer, an actor, or a brave, envelope-pushing purveyor of Kim Kardashian zingers, it’s safe to say you’ve heard of the comedian who turned the world on its head Sunday with a performance as Golden Globes host that completely delivered on promises to shock and alarm viewers. The streets are still filled with rioters in the wake of the Golden Globes ceremony, during which Gervais sent the masses into a frenzy by taking aim at sacred cows like Kim Kardashian’s short-lived marriage, Justin Bieber, and the movie Norbit. While you’re barricaded in your home to keep safe from the anti-Ricky Gervais mobs that have taken to the streets, why not join me as I take a look back at all of the movie and TV parts Gervais has turned down over the years?
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
The role: Basher’s engineer
Who got it: Jared Harris
While his television series like The Office and Extras have won him a great deal of acclaim, Ricky Gervais has been reluctant to take on high-profile movie parts. That doesn’t mean Hollywood hasn’t offered him his fair share of big screen roles, though. Says Gervais, “I’ve probably been offered about 80 films. Half of the films I’ve immediately said no to, they’re British. The half that are left are rubbish.” Gervais claims to have turned down the part of the engineer in the second installment in the Ocean’s franchise. The role instead went to fellow Brit Jared Harris (Mad Men, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows). Ricky Gervais put it best on this one, saying, “Why say a couple of lines opposite Brad Pitt when I could be playing a lead back home?”
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
The role: Launcelot Gobbo
Who got it: Mackenzie Crook
Gervais turned down the chance to star alongside Al Pacino in this movie adaptation of the Shakespeare play. His Office co-star Mackenzie Crook took the part instead. Gervais explains that he was tempted to accept the role but decided against it, explaining, “I don’t love Shakespeare, I don’t know if I’d be any good at it, and if I really wanted to meet Pacino, I’m sure I could.” I don’t know if Gervais would be any good in a Shakespearean part either, but it would sure be funny to see, no matter what. I’m holding out hope that he’ll take on a Shakespearean role at someday.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
The role: Lord Cutler Beckett
Who got it: Tom Hollander
“I didn’t really fancy sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles for nine weeks for two minutes on screen, to be honest,” Gervais was quoted as saying about his decision to pass on an offer to star in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Although participating in the Pirates franchise may not have been creatively satisfying for Ricky Gervais, it would have reunited him with his Office co-star Mackenzie Crook, who is a regular in the Pirates series. Gervais and Crook wouldn’t have have shared many scenes here, but it still would have been nice to see these two reunite onscreen.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
The role: Benji Dunn
Who got it: Simon Pegg
Ricky Gervais signed on to play a technician in this Tom Cruise action film but production of Mission: Impossible III was delayed for months because of script problems. When it came time for the movie to be produced, Gervais had dropped out, along with Kenneth Branagh, Carrie-Anne Moss, Scarlett Johansson, and director Joe Carnahan, who were all supposed to be a part of the movie originally. Gervais had previously worked with M:I-3 director J.J. Abrams in a guest starring role on his show Alias. Gervais’s reason for dropping out of Mission: Impossible was because production conflicted with Christopher Guest’s movie For Your Consideration, in which Gervais had a significant supporting part. Guest has been a major influence on Gervais’s work, with Gervais having employed Guest’s dry mockumentary style for his biggest hit, The Office, so the chance to work with an idol of his outweighed Gervias’s desire to appear in a big-budget action movie.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
The role: Remy Jean
Who got it: Jean-Yves Berteloot
Ricky Gervais was offered the chance to play the butler, Remy Jean, in the adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. Gervais said, “I told director Ron Howard ‘I will ruin your film. The number of times I’ve sat down for a great film by a great director and a British actor pops up and ruins it for me – I don’t want to be that bloke.’” Gervais might have been out of place in a serious movie like this one, but he wasn’t the only comedian offered a part in The Da Vinci Code. Jim Carrey also turned the movie down when he was asked to play the part that went to Paul Bettany. This could have been a very different movie if Gervais and Carrey had taken part.
Writing Night at the Museum (2006)
Ricky Gervais wrote a piece for The Daily Beast last year, in which he said he had the idea for Night at the Museum back in 1999 but never got around to writing it. Gervais ended up taking a supporting role in Night at the Museum several years later when other writers created a movie based on a similar premise to his. Looking at all of the big budget movies Ricky Gervais turned down on this list, Night at the Museum stands out as a big studio film that he actually agreed to appear in. No doubt Gervais only took this part to do some detective work and figure out how the writers of Night at the Museum got into his brain to steal his movie idea. No word on whether or not he discovered that it was based on a book written in 1993, well before he claimed to have the idea.
Star Trek (2009)
The role: Cameo
Another movie part that J.J. Abrams offered to Ricky Gervais was a cameo in Star Trek. It’s not known which part this would have been, but Gervais made his decision to pass on this one by explaining, “I was never a big fan, so I would’ve felt guilty taking the part just to be in a blockbuster. To what? Boost my profile?” Like the Shakespeare movie, it would have been strange to see Gervais in a sci-fi universe, but J.J. Abrams managed to make comedic actors like Simon Pegg and John Cho fit into Star Trek naturally and he probably could have done the same for Gervais.
The role: Arthur Bach
Who got it: Russell Brand
“I said ‘no’ straight-away,” Gervais told the press about rejecting an offer to remake the classic 1981 Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. “Why would I mess with a perfect comedy? They know people don’t watch films that have the wrong font — it’s got an ’80s font,” Gervais added. You’ve got to respect Ricky Gervais’s aversion to tampering with the original Arthur. A remake would have been a high-profile movie with Gervais as the lead and guaranteed a sizeable paycheck for the actor, but he wisely put his foot down and refused to participate in this instance of the movie industry regurgitating an old idea. In the original Arthur, Dudley Moore’s character laughs throughout much of the film, so it’s for the best that Gervais didn’t bring his hideous cackle to the project.
The Office (US) (2011, presumably)
The role: David Brent
Ricky Gervais told the press last year that he was offered the chance to play the main role on the US version of The Office. “They said ‘Do you want to play the main role?’ but what’s the point of that?” Gervais was quoted as saying. Gervais continued, “We made The Office, that was a document of what it was like to be in an English office and it was made by English people for English people, and this should be made by Americans for Americans.” While Gervais didn’t mention when he was offered the chance to star in the US Office, I think it’s safe to assume it was after Steve Carell’s departure in 2011 and not when the show first began in 2005. Gervais guest starred in a couple of Office episodes last year during Carell’s transition out, but he didn’t take on the lead role. Gervais would have been an exciting choice to take over for Steve Carell because he had some experience playing a branch manager at a paper company from his days starring on the UK Office. To be fair, though, the original UK Office had a short, perfect run, and Gervais reprising the role of David Brent as a regular on the US Office might have tainted the status of the original series, had it gone badly.
Magnum, P.I. (unproduced)
The role: Jonathan Quayle Higgins
Around 2004, George Clooney was attached to star in a big-screen remake of the ’80s Tom Selleck detective show Magnum, P.I., and Ricky Gervais was offered the part of Magnum’s butler, Higgins. Gervais rejected the role and the Clooney version of Magnum, P.I. never got off the ground. This is the second butler role on this list (after Da Vinci Code) that Gervais turned down, but I love that casting directors are going after him for such stereotypical British parts just because of his nationality. I’m sure that Gervais has had to turn down his fair share of chimney sweep roles too.
Bradford Evans had to work super hard to dig up all these quotes from Ricky Gervais because Gervais is a very private guy who is averse to discussing himself in public. This column is much easier to write when the subject is someone who’s more outspoken.