The Extra Special Interview


By Bill Keith

You have your fair share of famous folks on Extras. How do you select the guest stars?
For the first season, whenever we read in a magazine article that had a Hollywood A-lister saying, 'Oh my favorite show is a thing called The Office,' we'd think, 'Oh, we'll cash those chips in one day,' and we did. For the second season, I was confident enough to cold call people and I felt invincible. I thought everyone was going to say yes and they did.

But you also have a great range to the level of celebrity and notoriety of your guests.
Sometimes it's not just good enough to have an A-lister because we know everything about them and it's banal. They've got to have something about them, because it's not just an acting role. We do love the baggage. In fact some of the best appearances haven't been A-listers, they've been people who've maybe fallen off the good fortune bus.

Like George Michael in this finale.
Yeah, well, he's an A-lister. The good thing about George Michael is that no one can really hurt him; he's above it. He goes and chats around saying 'I was picking up blokes in the woods, what you going to do about it? What's the problem?' He's not going to apologize for it, nor should he, of course. But they don't know what to do with George Michael.

But you do.
Yeah, we talk about it. We have a laugh about it.

David Bowie's appearance was fantastic. He riffs out an ode to Andy called "Chubby Little Loser." How did the writing of that go down?
I sent him the lyrics and he put the music to it. The first time I heard the music was the day of filming. I can't believe how good it came out. He gave us 'ber Bowie, too. When he starts with 'Pathetic little fat one's bloody laughing,' it's the way he does it that's just so...Bowie. I called him and I go 'Did you get the lyrics?' I was like, 'I'd like it to sound retro, something like Life on Mars,' and he went, 'Oh yeah, I'll just knock out another Life on Mars for you.' It was just great.

It seems like Ian McKellen had more fun than anyone directing Andy in a dreadful gay romance play that he is wonderfully ill-suited for.
It's lovely to play that role of a man caught between two worlds. Andy doesn't want his homophobic friends to think he's gay but he wants to be part of this society where he's quite comfortable with it. So he's living that lie. That's a real staple of British comedy -- someone with pretension trying to change their spots.

So is there any chance of a full staging of A Month Of Summers, the play within the show?
My favorite part of that episode was watching myself running out onstage in that white tennis outfit. It was meant to be like one of those coming of age movies starring someone like Rupert Everett, where they always end up in a tuxedo with their jacket off on the beach. Just pretentious shit, bollocks like that.