Stephen Merchant is taking a stab at being a leading man on a new HBO comedy that he also executive produces and directs. Hello Ladies centers on Merchant as the not-typical leading man type trying desperately to throw himself into the romantic world here in Los Angeles. It’s a recipe for hilarious disaster for the guy who quips that “you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I was something of a nerd.”
“He’s just a loser in England, who’s even more of a loser here,” Merchant said of his character, Stuart, who wants to find a world of “glamor, sophistication, and elegance” when he makes the move across the pond.
“He probably grew up watching those shows, Moonlighting or whatever where it was the night, and it was sexy, and people [were] going to soirees overlooking the city, and he’s come here and bought a house int he Hollywood Hills, and you can see the H from the Hollywood sign, but only if you stand on the roof. It’s one of those kind of houses.”
Stuart completely “buys into the fantasy, but it never quite comes to life for him,” based in many parts off of Merchant’s own life and stand-up act about “anecdotes and failings in the relationship world.”
“I went to a wedding where I was promised that I would be at a table with a bunch of beautiful single women…It’s supposed to be a great place to meet women because they’re vulnerable. You know, weddings are very emotional for a woman, seeing a friend get married…and I got there, and I wasn’t at the table with the beautiful single women, I was on a table with some old people and a middle aged couple with a toddler. The toddler was bashing everything and screaming whilst the parents droned on and were dull and at times offensive, and eventually the child for no reason took off his shoe and just lobbed it in the air, and it landed in my soup. It splashed all of my suit. No one else was touched, just me…and the mother just said, ‘What’s he like?’ And I said ‘He’s like a cunt.’ That’s a bit strong for a wedding [but] it’s a story we [appropriated] for the show,” Merchant shared.
Where Merchant is absolutely willing to play a bit of a loser in comedy (after all, isn’t that where so much of the comedy comes from?), the show won’t be one-note with everyone struggling with basic human interaction. Merchant’s Stuart is surrounded by some friends with varying problems of their own. Kives (Kevin Weisman), for example, is a paraplegic but so charismatic he manages to pick up a woman at a bar and then convinces Stuart to carry him up her stairs so he can hook up with her. Wade (Nate Torrence) was married once, but she has left him, and now he’s stumbling through dating again. And Jessica (Christine Woods) is the attractive actress friend who doesn’t want a relationship with Stuart but maybe, just maybe can at least teach him to be more at ease with other women.
“She’s a little uncertain of where she’s going next, and we have a sort of running joke where we challenge each other any time we think the other one doesn’t know what they’re talking about it. It’s a ‘Name three of that subject’ scenario, like with jazz,” Merchant said of their dynamic.
Stuart is convinced he and his friends will be able to sleep with movie stars, and he would like to consider himself a “James Bond type,” but though he is now living in Los Angeles, Hello Ladies is not a “Hollywood show.” He’s the kind of guy who can’t get into the nightclub where all of the celebrities drink and lounge in VIP areas. He, instead, is the kind of guy that waits outside for three hours, hoping to get in. He and his friends are kind of the anti-Entourage.
“Hopefully even though it’s sort of set in Los Angeles, there are more universal themes, and it’s not really about show business. In his fantasy he would date Charlize Theron and be the father to the baby that she adopted, but it’s not really that show,” Merchant said.
Merchant admitted that much of the humor of the show comes from the dichotomy between who Stuart wants to be versus who he actually is. He’s putting on a front that he’s a player, projecting the person he aspires to be. He can’t even rely on his “exotic” accent because in Los Angeles, a British accent isn’t all that exotic at all. In life, Merchant grew up a bit awkward, certainly in part due to his height, towering over people, and that comes into play in the story, as well.
“Recently, I was at a New Year’s party, and it was 10 minutes to midnight, and I saw a woman across the room looking at me. And I thought, ‘Here we go, happy new year,’ and she looked up and me and said, ‘Are you going to be here for awhile? And I said, ‘Yes I am,’ and she said, ‘Great, because my friends have made plans to meet back at you,” Merchant said.
“I’m getting rejected by a better class of woman now [but] I don’t feel any more assured, really. I’m not the kind of gangly awkwarrd teen as I was; I’m not as hapless as I was in my 20s. I have more self-confidence, but I still feel like as we were writing the show things were happening in the dating world we could have come in and written in the show. Nothing changes, just different environments; the person who wishes he said something different in the moment still does.”
Hello Ladies premieres on September 29th 2013.
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