Interview extra

Kerry Godliman, DerekJanuary 18, 2013

Kerry Godliman, Derek

Kerry Godliman plays Hannah, a care home manager, in a six-part comedy drama. The show, which had a pilot episode last year, has caused some debate because it features comedian Ricky Gervais as Derek, an employee who seems to have learning difficulties. Kerry tells TV Choice more…

It’s never really explained whether Derek has learning difficulties or not. Is it important to leave the character undiagnosed?
I don’t know. There is a point in the series where that’s addressed. There’s a moment when someone does try to put a label on him, and it does kind of raise the question of whether it is important.

Ricky — who is also the writer and director — explained that last year’s pilot episode wasn’t as controversial as it sounded, and he certainly wasn’t mocking the disabled. Did any of that media coverage bother you?
It’s an annoying distraction, because then it just ends up being about that, and then people aren’t approaching it from a neutral starting point. What I find interesting — and I think this may be true of all Ricky’s work — is that everybody feels they have to have a very fixed opinion on it. It’s as if a law has been passed, with people thinking, ‘I have to have a stance on how I feel about Derek.’ Which I don’t think is true of all comedy.

The show is quite a unique mixture of things — from gross-out humour to downbeat observations — but would you say it’s predominantly about kindness?
It does seem to have been. When Ricky was talking about the pilot, he was saying that’s what it is. Derek is a warm, loving and caring man, and that is what the show is celebrating. And all the people in the home really genuinely love each other, and care for each other. It is unusual, you’re right. It is genuinely not like anything I’ve seen before. And I think that’s something to celebrate. To come up with a project that original, and that unique, is quite impressive.

Did you do any specific research for the role?
I did. I went to a home in Peckham. It was really helpful and the staff were really generous with their time. And I sat down with a senior carer, and I had a lot of questions for her.

Then, when we got on set, I kept on saying that Hannah should be carrying some files. At first, Ricky was like, 'Yeah, all right.' I did keep on going on about it, and in the end, he was like, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, stop going on about files. You’re obsessed with files!’ and I did think, ‘Yeah, okay, maybe I have become obsessed with files.’

Ricky Gervais and Karl PilkingtonWe’ve often seen Ricky teasing Karl in an An Idiot Abroad. So what are they like when they’re working together?
They’re still like that. Ricky loves winding him up. Yeah, that relationship and the banter is pretty authentic. They do it a lot. But they’re good mates, and it’s really nice to hang out with them. They really enjoy each other’s company a lot.

Also, Ricky has a reputation for playing practical jokes on set. Did he do any while filming Derek?
Not to me, but there was one incident that ended with him farting in Karl’s face. There were loads of wrestling bits between Derek and Dougie. And at one point, Ricky was in a prime position. So that was brilliant. Karl was utterly appalled. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?

C4, Wednesday

David Collins

Read more from your favourite stars