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The Invention of Lying is the Greatest Movie Ever Made*

*He may have been lying the whole time, but we talk anyway to cowriter/director Matthew Robinson about how The Invention of Lying became a Ricky Gervais project.

The Invention of Lying

Fact: Ricky Gervais is a genius. The Office, his 2001 BBC series created with Stephen Merchant, is simply one of the best television series of all time (cue Kanye West: OF ALL TIME!!!), spawning offshoots around the world. It rightfully made him one of the leading lights of comedy, and his television follow-up Extras, subsequent stand-up, radio podcasts, children's books, and even last year's underrated flick Ghost Town, have only solidified his reputation as one of the funniest men alive. His writing-directing debut, The Invention of Lying, has received solid reviews across the board, as the wonderfully rich premise—what if, in a world without lying, one man started to lie—leads to some satirical and surprising results.

Here's the thing, however: although The Invention of Lying may be sold as a Gervais project/vehicle, it's a actually a collaboration between the comedian and his co-writer and co-director Matthew Robinson. And the story of how they came to work together should be as much of a star-making legend as Lana Turner being spotted at Schwab's Pharmacy. However, unlike that legendary case, for Robinson the starmaking was a little less instantaneous: "Producer Lynda Obst got Gervais an early draft of the script 2 1/2 years ago. He took to it and wanted to work together. It was one of the greatest days of my life. He didn't plan on working with me on the script, but he kept me around. It just happened organically."

Robinson, who had been a working screenwriter (also a member of the comedic rap group The Trilambs; funnily enough, Lying star Jonah Hill was an intern for their manager)—whose stuff hadn't been produced—for the past ten years, was now in the position of co-writing and co-directing the American comedy debut of Gervais. It all started with a classic TV show: "It came from watching too many Twilight Zone episodes. I had what I thought was a really great Twilight Zone episode idea and tweaked it and played around with the idea." According to the director, he had Gervais in mind when he wrote: "The second series of Extras was just starting to play over here. I was watching it while I was writing and falling into his rhythms and speech patterns and timing. I couldn't stop seeing him in the part, and I channeled Gervais when I was writing with no hope or chance of him ever seeing it. It was just serendipitous."

(Which, in its spirit, isn't much different from the movie: Gervais' character Mark Bellison, who has the ability to lie, ends up making the world bend to his will. Almost—to cite a terrible book—like The Secret. When I mentioned that to Robinson, his reply was, "I'm writing a new cult book called Serendipity. I'll make a lot of money off it." Ha!)

 The Invention of Lying

When Gervais came onto the project, he and Robinson worked together on revisions: "Ricky's big agenda was that he wanted to add a really great Billy Wilder, The Apartment-style love story to it. Wilder, in general, was a big influence on the film, along with Albert Brooks' Modern Romance and Defending Your Life, and Groundhog Day, too."

The film was shot in Lowell, Massachusetts, standing in for a "Norman Rockwell, East Coast, nameless town," said Robinson. "It looks like we shot it on a backlot. It's an interesting, eclectic town—they definitely struggle economically—filled with really wonderful people. One of the upsides of economically struggling towns is that they can't afford to tear down the buildings, so Lowell still has these 75-year-old buildings with good character." Gervais and Robinson got a starry cast for the flick—Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, and cameos both obvious and surprising (nice Boston accent, Ed Norton!)—and according to the writer, "a lot of people wanted to be part of Ricky's first foray into writing and directing an American film."

On set, there was a certain amount of improvisation, and some of the funniest lines came from Garner: "A lot of stuff in the birthday certificate scene was improvised. I think she did a good job of making that character play with Gervais' character in a way she hadn't before." And while Robinson was nervous leading up to his first experience as a director, it was a "light, fun set, and I was surprised by how fun it was. [Ricky] did a really good job of making me feel like an equal and making me feel like part of the process," concluded the director. "It was a great education."

The Invention of Lying
is in theaters on Friday, October 2. Click here for tickets.



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