Dave Itzkoff in the NYT Magazine:
In a onetime mess hall on a decommissioned Royal Air Force base outside London, Ricky Gervais was directing the 4-foot-6 star of a low-budget re-enactment of “The Passion of the Christ” on how to play the Crucifixion for more laughs.
“You’re threatening them,” Gervais said to Dean Whatton, a dirtied-up actor dressed in a loincloth and a crown of thorns and playing the role of “Little Jesus.” Gervais was helping him with his line reading: “ ‘You wait until Sunday. This is not a good Friday.’ ”
“Cool, cool,” Whatton replied from his cross — but in his next take he flubbed his dialogue and apologized for getting tongue-tied. Gervais forgave Little Jesus for the transgression. “That’s what happens when you’re crucified,” he shouted back at Whatton. “You’re all over the place.”
Gervais was filming his new comedy series, “Life’s Too Short,” created with his writing and directing partner, Stephen Merchant. The show stars Warwick Davis, a 3-foot-6 actor perhaps best known for playing Wicket the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi.” “Life’s Too Short,” which was shown on Britain’s BBC Two at the end of 2011 and will make its U.S. debut Feb. 19 on HBO, is framed as a documentary about Davis, and in the episode I watched being filmed, featured several comedic re-creations of films, cast with little people: “Brokeback Mountain” performed by two short actors in cowboy costumes, or a fastidious homage to Sharon Stone’s interrogation scene from “Basic Instinct,” played by an actress whose feet did not reach the ground as she sat in her chair.
Gervais’s first TV series, also created with Merchant, was the original, can-you-believe-it’s-10-years-old incarnation of “The Office,” a now-legendary BBC comedy. “The Office” commandeered a documentary-style format from American pioneers like Christopher Guest and Albert Brooks and mined laughs from a fictional workplace and its mundane employees, including Gervais, who played a relentlessly ingratiating manager named David Brent. When “The Office” became a worldwide hit — including the U.S. version of the show, which until recently starred Steve Carell — it gave Gervais the resources, the clout and the good will to do more or less whatever he wants for the rest of his career. So far the things he has chosen to do include a second comedy series, “Extras”; a podcast; a handful of not-widely-seen movies; several stand-up tours; and two outings as the host of the Golden Globe Awards, with a third tour of duty coming on Sunday, Jan. 15.