Ricky Gervais, creator and star of the BBC's mockumentary TV series The Office, has published his first book—and it's for children. Flanimals, illustrated by Rob Steen, parades 35 imaginary creatures with odd names and describes their even odder behavior patterns. The book topped several bestseller charts in the U.K., and Putnam will publish it stateside.
PW: What was the original idea behind the Flanimals concept? And where does the "flan" in "flanimals" come from?
Ricky Gervais: It was just me making up stupid creatures to make my nephew laugh, and I just carried on doing it. I've made up new ones now and again, but the basis of the book was done 25 years ago. And in England if you say something is "a load of flannel," that means you're lying, you're talking rubbish.
PW: Your catalogue of Flanimals implies a close familiarity with biology's system of classification. Do you have a background in science?
RG: I've always been fascinated with science, with evolution, with genetics. There's nothing more incredible than the diversity of life. The big challenge to me was to come up with something that was even more creative and interesting than real life.
I went the surrealism route, and made the life cycles of these creatures impossible. Sometimes I'd just be riffing, and pretty soon we had an entire world. It's really fun to play with the genre, as if they were totally real creatures that just evolved somewhere else. Like any spoof, the straighter you play it, the funnier it is.
PW: How did you come up with the classifications for all the Flanimals?
RG: I had fun deconstructing the Latin names. There's a lot of word play. That's all on a secondary level, for adults to find. It's really for kids, but there is fun for adults.
PW: Do you have a favorite Flanimal?
RG: Maybe the Clumge Ambler, he's quite sad. I quite like tragic things. Like the
Underblenge, which can't move from the rock it was born on.
PW: Are there any similarities to the various Flanimals and the characters in The Office?
RG: Only in the idea of the futility of life. Like the Glonk, which does absolutely nothing and dies. That's quite nice, there's quite an analogy there.
PW: What is your next project?
RG: I've got a new series called The Extrasthat's in pre-production, and it starts filming in March [the show, set in a green room, is about supporting actors]. That's my next big TV project. I'm waiting for the reviews that call it "the disappointing followup to The Office."
PW: We hear there's talk of a film version of Flanimals, and that you're also at work on a sequel.
RG: We've had bids from a lot of film people but haven't signed anything yet. Flanimals 2will be even more advanced, and there will be more about the evolution of these creatures.
I want to do a whole evolutionary ladder of the Flanimal kingdom. It's like 150 years ago there might be this Victorian scientist who spent his entire life creating an evolutionary chart of the most extraordinary detail. That's what I want to do, but the difference between Darwin and me is I'm doing it because it's a laugh. This will not add to the human race in any way.