Stephen Merchant on his new HBO series and ‘Movie 43′

Love is pain! "Movie 43" hits theaters on January 25th.

Stephen Merchant has built quite the career behind the camera, writing and directing alongside creative partner Ricky Gervais for series like “The Office,” “Extras” and “Life’s Too Short,” but he always relishes a chance to get in front of the camera. Luckily director Peter Farrelly, who cast Merchant in 2011′s “Hall Pass,” had Merchant in mind for a segment in his raunchy comedy “Movie 43.”

I gather it didn’t take much convincing to get you to work with Peter again?
Yeah, basically Peter said, “Do you want to be in a sketch where you’re on a blind date with Halle Berry?” I think I probably said yes before he’d finished the word “Berry.” That might have been the best offer I’ve ever had. (laughs)

They’re trying to keep details of the movie under wraps, but how much of the craziness that you get up to in this are you allowed to talk about?

Do you know, I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about. Basically it’s Halle and I on a blind date, and she introduces the idea of Truth or Dare, so our dares start quite modestly and kind of escalate in absurdity and comic grotesqueness.

It’s odd to think of either of you needing to go on a blind date.
Well, I do actually say to her in the sketch, “I’m surprised that she’s on a blind date.” I think people can accept that I’m on a blind date. I agree that it’s mad that she is, but there you are. (laughs)

Peter tells me he predicts “Movie 43″ will get a 6 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
I mean, it’d be lucky if it gets a 6, I’d have thought. I’m constantly amazed by the disparity between critical appreciation of things and audiences. I have no idea anymore what an audience will respond to and what a critic will respond to. I’ll go see a movie that’s been critically applauded and I’ll hate it, or you know, I’ll go see something which they loathed and which kills me. So I no longer have any idea what either the critics or an audience wants to see.

You’ve pretty successfully made the jump from writing to acting, starting with “Extras.” Was that always part of the plan?
It was always my plan. I mean, I always felt like I was a performer. It was never an intention not to perform. When we did “The Office,” neither of us were experienced performers, and it seemed kind of foolhardy for us both to try and be in front of the camera and also writing it and also directing it. But I think Ricky and I always knew that I was a performer and it was sort of in our armory, and so when I was in “Extras,” people were quite surprised, like this was a novelty. I just don’t think people tend to think of me as an actor, so I don’t tend to get offered much acting stuff.

Is there anything you’ve been doing to change that perception?

Well, not really, but I’m doing this sitcom for HBO [called "Hello Ladies"], which is me as a would-be ladies man in Los Angeles failing to seduce women and failing to be part of the beautiful world, and I’m doing that later in the year. So I hope people will see me performing in that because it’s the first time I get to be a three-dimensional character rather than a sort of comic idiot. I’m still an idiot, but I’m slightly more human, I think, in it.


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