Ricky Gervais has come a long way since playing nightmarish boss David Brent in The Office.

After becoming famous for Brent's social faux pas and terrible dancing, he's become a comedic force to be reckoned with around the world. The Office is one of the most successful British exports of all time and he has a number of awards to add to his name to prove it.

These days he mingles with Hollywood heavyweights like Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller and Samuel L Jackson, but you won't see the 47-year-old losing sight of his Reading roots.

"I've only been in this business for seven years and I still pinch myself, particularly with how well The Office did and the people we got to work in Extras," he says.

"I mean, that's still weird to me that even Robert De Niro has heard of me, let alone wants to fly to England for a day. It's very strange."

Ricky insists he won't lose himself to fame and fortune.

"I still know why I'm doing it. I do it for the creative process, and only that. This (press) is fun, and awards shows are fun, and the money's good - actually, it's brilliant - but I do it because something in you has to do it. And I think you've got to remember that, otherwise it will be weird."

He adds, laughing: "You'll see me next year - I'll be about nine stone and big white teeth, Simon Cowell's teeth!"

Now the actor-writer-director is taking on his first leading Hollywood role in supernatural comedy Ghost Town, following cameo appearances in Stardust and Night At The Museum.

"I never thought my first film would not be written by me or Stephen Merchant (frequent collaborator on The Office and Extras)," he admits.

"But quite simply I'd been offered hundreds of scripts over the last few years, and this is simply the best script I've read in that time. I just thought, it's perfect. It jumped off the page. It was very me.

"It looked fun, it ticked a lot of boxes - it was shooting in New York, it was funny and it was sweet."

Ghost Town sees Ricky play a dentist who has the ability to communicate with ghosts after a near-death experience. He openly admits he's not a believer in real life.

"I don't believe in ghosts or fairies or ghouls or ESP or crystals or any of those things," he says.

"My favourite films are It's A Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife, you know, films about angels. I can suspend my disbelief for long enough and I don't think it ruins the romance or the art of a piece. Actually, I've seen lots of ghosts and they're always dressed as 70s cops and 40s nurses."

Another first for Ricky, described as the "master of the comedy of the uncomfortable", is playing the romantic hero, although he says his character is not a conventional male lead.

"My fear was people thinking that I'm taking myself seriously so it was important that the romantic element was different and awkward, and I just didn't want that ending where the music swells up and I get the girl in the traditional way, because it would be nauseating," he explains.

"People would go, 'Who does he think he is? Look at him'. I don't need to be George Clooney or Brad Pitt. I've got the bone structure, it's just well-hidden."

He may not be Brad, but Ricky has his own Angelina in TV producer and author Jane Fallon, whom he has been with for 26 years. The couple met while they were studying at university, and have homes in London and New York.

Coming from a comedy background, Ricky reveals that he's still getting used to acting.

"Acting is frustrating and awkward," he says.

"I was worried about getting it wrong. I try to sit down wherever I can. If I do a scene where I have to open the door, I'm going to be up and down all day. So I ask if I can just say, 'Come in'? It's just little things like that that helps."

Even so, he's hoping to be offered more roles in the future.

"I'm not really an actor for hire, I'm a comedian," he says, smiling.

"You've always got to make sure you're the best person for the job really. If they want an actor who looks good and can stand in their lines, every actor's better than me at that."

Ricky, whose next project is directing Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe and Jonah Hill in This Side Of The Truth, says his dream role would be playing a villain.

"I would love to play really crazily bad, the worst person ever, that would be funny," he reveals.

"Like Hannibal Lecter but with less moral conscience. I would love to play someone who's pure evil, but who laughs at it as well - a villain who giggles. I want to do a remake of Ironside. That would be my perfect film. I'd be really good, grumpy and I can be evil as well. And he's on a commode as well so I won't have to get up."


Ricky started off doing stand-up comedy, contributing to ITV's The Sketch Show and Channel 4's Comedy Lab.

In his final year as a student at UCL, he formed pop duo Seona Dancing with Bill Macrae. They released two singles but both failed to break into the Top 40.

Ricky has won many awards, including two Golden Globes and an Emmy. He also received an honorary award at the Rose d'Or ceremony in April for his "exceptional contribution to the global entertainment business".

He had a role in the Grand Theft Auto IV game, appearing as a comedian in a comedy club. He also wrote and starred in an episode of The Simpsons, which became the highest-rating show in Sky One's history.

He was considered for a role in Mission: Impossible III, but it didn't happen. He told Jonathan Ross that "it was a bigger part than I first thought".

Ghost Town is released in UK cinemas on Friday October 24.