A Minute With: Stephen Merchant on dreaming and despairing in L.A

Thu Sep 26, 2013 11:16am EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Stephen Merchant, the gangly and bespectacled comedian best known for creating with Ricky Gervais the British and U.S. TV sitcoms "The Office," steps in front of the camera with his warped sense of reality in the HBO comedy "Hello Ladies."

The eight-episode series, which debuts on Sunday, is Merchant's first turn in a leading role on U.S. television. The 38-year-old Briton plays Stuart, a loser who is looking for love in Los Angeles.

The Emmy winner spoke to Reuters about how the show originated from his stand-up routine, the Hollywood dream machine and how his unusual height helps drive his humor.

Q: Did you believe your stand-up show could be a sitcom?

A: It wasn't a plan I had, and once they (HBO) brought that up, my mind started wandering, and they suggested to me the idea of him being in Los Angeles. That sort of appealed to me because I like the idea that Stuart is a fantasist in a way, who has bought into L.A. as this world of glamour, beautiful people and VIP parties behind red velvet ropes, and having dreamed in the suburbs of England about that fantasy life, trying to get access to it, and, of course, failing as so many people do.

Q: Stuart is a foreigner in Los Angeles, like yourself. Does foreignness help propel your comedy writing?

A: He's kind of a foreigner everywhere. I feel this in many ways: I'm too tall and I'm a little too pale and you know, I've always felt a little bit like an alien. But also I think it magnifies the disjuncture between his fantasy of what life could be and the reality. For some reason, that's very pronounced in somewhere like Los Angeles because of this disparity between the glamour and the beauty and normal people is very distinct.

Something that interests me as well is the idea of loneliness and the way that L.A. in particular is a very lonely city because everyone is in their cars and there's no real hub. But also this idea that the grass is always greener, this notion that, particularly in the Internet age, we are led to believe that the world is open to us and we can travel and we can experience things and it's there for the taking. The reality is, that it's not always the case.   Continued...

Stephen Merchant, cast member, executive producer and director of HBO's series "Hello Ladies" takes part in a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association Cable TV Summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California in this July 25, 2013 file photograph. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files