Gervais plays a widower with a grudge against the world in ‘After Life’
Tony is a guy firmly stuck in the second stage of grief: anger. And for that the world will pay.
In “After Life,” which begins streaming Friday, March 8, on Netflix, Ricky Gervais (“The Invention of Lying,” the U.K. version of “The Office”) is creator, writer and star of this dramedy that follows the journey of Tony, a small-town English journalist whose idyllic life is rocked to its core by the cancer death of his wife, best friend and love of his life, Lisa (Kerry Godliman, “Derek”). Though she still appears to him in videos made while she was undergoing treatment, they only serve to underscore the gaping void now in his life.
Initially suicidal, this otherwise nice guy resolves to live long enough to punish the world by saying and doing whatever he wants. So if someone is a jerk, he’ll let them know in no uncertain terms – and in Gervais’ typically acerbic fashion.
That’s seen in the opening episode, when Tony is confronted in an alleyway by two young toughs demanding money. At this point, Tony doesn’t care if he lives or dies, so he basically tells them where to go and punches one in the face. They go scurrying and he feels an extraordinary freedom brought on by a loss of fear.
“He’s sort of like a verbal vigilante and a bit more,” Gervais explains. “And you know, when he gets mugged and he fights back, he would never have done that when his wife was alive. And so I want the audience to vicariously live through his liberty in a sense. Because you know, we hand over our money to a mugger because we might have a baby in a stroller. And he thinks, ‘I don’t care what happens to me.’ He thinks it’s a superpower.”
Of course, Tony’s family and friends – among them brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden, “Plebs”) and pal Lenny (Tony Way, “Edge of Tomorrow”) – aren’t thrilled with this newfound superpower and would just as soon have the old Tony back. But Tony is mired in his grief and self-pity, getting drunk, trying heroin and striking up an unlikely friendship with Daphne (Roisin Conaty, “GameFace”), a prostitute with a dry wit who turns out to be the only person who really gets him.
“Because she doesn’t judge ...,” Gervais says. “She speaks her mind and she knows what he’s going through . ... And then she was funny and she was smarter than he thought because, you know, he says, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ She said, ‘You’re only asking me that because of what I do.’ ”
In the end, the grieving process runs as long as it runs and it can’t be hurried or forced. Ultimately it is up to Tony to want to get better.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, so sometimes you need to talk to yourself a little bit,” Gervais says. “You know, you have to go, ‘Come on. Come on.’ Even his brother-inlaw, he seems a bit wet and wimpy and a bit of a fussy sort of bore but he’s doing the right thing. He’s trying to save this guy he once knew who’s a nice guy and he bends over backwards (to shrug) off stuff. So yeah, you’re lucky if you’ve got people that care about you.”
Ricky Gervais stars in “After Life,” premiering Friday on Netflix.