Did you ever make plans with someone, only to learn there was something better going on that you’d rather do?
Were you ever supposed to be somewhere, but arrived ridiculously late because you were watching TV or playing Xbox?
If you’re a good person, you probably are up front and just come out and tell the truth in any of the situations above, but even the best people know why sometimes lying is the easiest way to avoid hurting feelings. Even everyday fibs, those little attempts to cushion the blow and protect friends and loved ones from hurt feelings, are nowhere to be found in the world without lies created for The Invention of Lying, the feature film directorial debut by Ricky Gervais in his first collaboration with co-director and co-writer Matthew Robinson.
Now, a day trip to Massachusetts might not sound like the most exciting or memorable trip ComingSoon.net has ever taken, but when we learned it was to visit the set Ricky’s new movie, it was impossible to say “no.” Considering how few have had the chance to see the creator and star of “The Office” (the original BBC version) and “Extras” at work, this was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Although Gervais had been blogging about the film for most of the twelve-week shoot in Lowell, Massachusetts, not a lot was known about the film besides the basic premise and the cast. The movie takes place in a world where no one has figured out how to lie, except Gervais’ character Mark, a screenwriter who figures out how to lie and starts to use it to his advantage in life. Besides Gervais, it stars Rob Lowe and Jennifer Garner, surrounded by a veritable comedy supergroup including the likes of Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Louis C.K., Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor and Christopher Guest. Our visit took place at the tail end of last summer when the movie was still called “This Side of the Truth.” At the time, Gervais’ starring vehicle Ghost Town, written and directed by David Koepp, was still months away from its premiere and the sequel to Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum, in which Gervais played Stiller’s boss, the museum curator, was nearly a year away. Gervais also hadn’t performed the stand-up shows that would be filmed for the HBO special, “Out of England.”
After taking an early morning shuttle from New York to Boston, we were picked up at Logan Airport by an incredibly green van driver, who seemed quite confused and unsure of where to take us. We learned that we were not going to Lowell, but to a location in Andover. In fact, we were going to the upscale Andover Inn, located on the campus of Phillips Academy, which we learned later was the alma matter for President George W. Bush. As we arrived, we were briefly introduced to Ricky Gervais, who described the restaurant where they were shooting as a cross between “fancy” meets “Gordon Ramsey” or “Rancy” for short. Sadly, Ricky himself wasn’t going to be in the scene shooting that day, so he could focus more on getting the performances.
Joining us on this trip was Streeter Seidel from College Humor, a veritable celebrity in his own right, who at point was asked to pose for a picture with a co-ed from the neighboring school. Normally, these set visits include eight to ten other journalists, but since it was just two of us, it was a far more laid-back and casual affair than normal, so much so that the unit publicist suggested we could just grab whomever we wanted to talk to when they looked available. That plan didn’t last very long because neither of us wanted to bother anyone while they were working, but we did talk briefly with Rob Lowe before he was called back to the set. Little did we know that we’d spend the rest of the day trying to get Lowe to talk to us.
The extended scene they were filming that day was an extremely honest first date between Jennifer Garner’s Anna and Rob Lowe’s Brad, the main rival for Ricky Gervais’ love interest, which gave us a really good idea of the tone and dialogue of the piece. The two of them walk into the upscale establishment with both the hostess and the waiter remarking about what a great-looking couple they make and that they probably would have great babies together. After a little small talk, Brad orders for the both of them, ordering Anna a salad because he doesn’t want her to get fat. Anna then gets a phone call from her mother, and she tells her mother about the guy she’s dating. Brad then takes Anna’s cell phone and starts talking just as honestly with her mother, admitting that not only did he plan to have sex with her later but that he had a “coupon” for sex. (You can see parts of this scene in the first trailer for the movie.)
For the most part, we watched them shoot this scene over and over from different angles and distances, long shot to close-up, and in between takes, we talked to whomever became available. We spent ten minutes with Garner, who tried valiantly to keep the top of her low-cut black dress from slipping down as she spoke to us before heading back to work herself. After shooting a few more takes, we spoke to co-director Matt Robinson as streams of background actors were marched outside for their lunch, and during the next break, we had a chance to spend a short amount of time with Gervais outside the restaurant, him lounging on the grass as he answered questions. (You can read all of these interviews below.)
They finished filming in a few more hours, but we still hadn’t had a chance to talk to Rob Lowe for more than a couple minutes, and we just couldn’t find the right time. Being that it was Lowe’s last day, they presented a big cake to him, after which Lowe headed outside to shake some hands and sign autographs for the kids watching across the street. Just as he got into his Escalade to go back to base camp, the grey clouds broke open pouring torrents of rain all over everyone, and he was gone so quickly we were left wondering whether we’d just gotten blown off for our interview. Instead, we got in another van and followed Lowe to base camp where we had a chance to talk to him for ten minutes before he was taken to the airport to head back to L.A. After the interview, he scrambled through the rain to get to his SUV back to the airport. We weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to do since it was pouring gallons of rain at this point, but Rob’s manager made it clear, saying “We’re done” and kicking us out of the trailer into the pouring rain as we waited for a van to bring us back to the set. Once we were back at the Andover Inn, we had another 20 minutes with Gervais, this time as he sat in a cushy lounge chair fit for a king. Afterwards, we had a chance to grab some lunch from the catering tent, now almost empty, the cast and crew having returned to their hotel rooms, trailers or parts unknown. It was a fun day, but other than watching the one scene, we actually learned the most about the direction of the movie by talking to Gervais, Robinson, Lowe and Garner, all of those interviews which you can read below:
Either way, it looks like our one-day immersion into this new world created by Gervais and Robinson will be one that Gervais’ fans will want to discover for themselves when Warner Bros. releases The Invention of Lying here in the States on October 2nd.