LOWELL, Mass.—-- The scene being filmed called for Ricky Gervais to clear up the question of whether or not he was the Messiah.
Despite the weighty confusion, the British comedian looked every bit himself -- barrel-waisted, sheepish and wearing a dark suit -- as he stood on the stoop of an apartment building in this Industrial Revolution-era city northwest of Boston.
Though "The Invention of Lying," which opens Oct. 2, is technically not a comedic period piece, it stars Gervais (of "The Office" and "Extras" fame) as a significant historical figure -- a man who discovers the ability to lie in a world where humankind has evolved without producing a single fibber or serial fabricator.
On the one hand, the repercussions of this deceitless world are chilling. Without lying, there is no art, no literature, no music. Most importantly for this movie, films are not willful entertainments; instead, they're lectures, spoken by actors who read dry, provable facts to a camera.
Gervais' character, Mark, is one such lecture writer, and when we meet him he's down in the dumps. He's out of favor at work, where he's mocked by his (brutally honest, of course) secretary ( Tina Fey). Meanwhile, his big crush ( Jennifer Garner) is (to be honest) way out of his league.
Then Gervais utters a lie, a small one, and soon he's like Bill Murray with his deja vu all over again in "Groundhog Day" -- both elated and plagued by the God-like status his special talent confers upon him.
Unlike his more daredevil fellow Brit Sacha Baron Cohen, Gervais allows himself, in his comedy, to wade into true sentiment. As much as making people laugh at David Brent in "The Office" or Andy Millman in HBO's "Extras," Gervais believes the audience has to care what will happen to the characters.
And so it is in "The Invention of Lying," where Gervais sees his character as influenced not just by Woody Allen in "Sleeper" but also by Jack Lemmon in "The Apartment." An Everyman, acting normally in a world that's otherwise gone strange.
"What you want [the audience] to do, once they get it, is forget about it," Gervais was saying during a lunch break from filming. "Once they know 'The Office' is a fake documentary, forget about it. Follow the drama, and if they know it and they've understood, they never have to question it again. We have to make sure that jokes don't keep happening. Then people are just watching everything, thinking, 'Is that a joke?' They've just got to relax."
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