Ricky Gervais on Throwing Away $1 Billion

Ricky Gervais.
Ricky Gervais. Lorenzo Agius / Contour-Getty Images

What’s the biggest mistake of my career? Hmmm ...

OK, put your hands down. I’m trying to pretend it’s a difficult question because I haven’t made any, not because there are too many to choose from.

Now let me see. Stopping The Office at its peak after 12 episodes and a Christmas special? Nah. Enough is enough.

Maybe it was making the first Hollywood family rom-com that suggested the existence of God was a lie? Ooh ... I know ... what about insulting the most powerful people in my industry at the Golden Globes, in front of a world audience of more than 200 million people? No. I’d have to rate that as a highlight, to be honest.

My hesitance in pinpointing my biggest mistake isn’t that I think it’s been a perfect career, but rather that I find it difficult to regret anything I meant to do.

So maybe we should follow the common adage that you don’t regret the things you did as much as the things you didn’t. That’s much easier for me, as I’ve done so little.

Here’s one: I was on holiday with my girlfriend Jane in about 1999 in Hungary (yeah, I know, odd choice, but money was tight). We visited this huge Victorian museum one day, and as I was walking round I had an idea for a movie in which all the exhibits came to life and started running amok. The lions, the cavemen, the mummies, even the statues. I thought it would make a great fantasy horror film. Huge effects, an amazing spectacle. When we got back to our hotel room, I started writing the screenplay. I wrote a few lines before we went out and had dinner. The next day I thought I should do some more work on it but decided it was too much trouble.

That was the last I ever thought of it until Ben Stiller called me and asked me to be in his new movie, Night at the Museum. It was a fun little cameo. I think the movie and its sequel grossed more than $1 billion. See, that’s the thing—mostly my sloth has been mistaken for choosiness or even integrity. But in this case it could mean I’m just a lazy fool sometimes.

What did I learn from this mistake? Nothing at all. But later I made The Office. It was the first thing I ever tried my hardest at. And I obviously reaped rewards. But I wouldn’t be any less proud of The Office if it hadn’t been successful all over the world and won BAFTAs and Emmys and Golden Globes. The real lesson I learned was that trying your hardest is the reward in itself. That and getting final edit. If it turns out exactly how you meant it to, then nothing else matters.


1983 While a student in college, forms a pop group called Seona Dancing. They have one hit—in the Philippines.

1999 Comes up with an idea similar to Night at the Museum, but doesn’t follow through.

2001 The Office debuts in England and becomes a worldwide phenomenon (and inspires a U.S. version with Steve Carell).

2005 Mocks the movie industry with his HBO series Extras.

2012 Returns as the host of the Golden Globes in January.