7 Questions with… After Life's Jo Hartley: 'Ricky Gervais' performance is superb this series. I just think he's at his best'
After Life star Jo Hartley answers seven burning questions about the show ahead of the launch of series 2 on Netflix, including what it was like working with Ricky Gervais again.
The first series was called ‘joyous, spirit-lifting television’, earning rave reviews from fans and critics.
And now comic Ricky Gervais is back with the highly-anticipated second series of After Life on Netflix, returning as grieving husband Tony, alongside an ensemble cast that includes Tony Way, Tom Basden, Ashley Jensen, Kerry Godliman and Penelope Wilton.
Another member of the cast who’s back for series 2 is This Is England and In My Skin actress Jo Hartley, 48, who plays June - the love interest of newspaper photographer Lenny (Tony Way).
Speaking exclusively to BT.com ahead of the launch, the Oldham-born actress answered seven burning questions about the show - including her response to the success of season 1, what it’s like working with Ricky Gervais, and what we can expect from June and Lenny this series...
1. What do you make of the immense success of After Life series 1 - it was the most watched comedy series on Netflix in 2019?
It’s exciting, isn’t it? You don’t really think about the outcome when you get offered the job. I got a text from Ricky one day and he said ‘I’m doing a new show, would you want to do a cameo in it?’ and I said ‘Of course’. I read the scripts and I thought they were great, I went to the read-throughs and the rehearsals and there was a good vibe, a good energy. Then I remember the first time I watched it, I had a really powerful reaction to it. It was emotional, I was laughing one minute and crying the next.
I remember texting Ricky a picture of me, I started crying and I thought ‘He’s never going to believe this’ so I text it to him and I just said ‘This is unbelievable'. Then it went out into the world and people were just so kind and lovely, and they just got it. [Ricky] was really chuffed. I think he was quite overwhelmed and moved by the outcome of the first season. It’s a beautiful feeling when people enjoy the work and the message and they respond in such a way that it’s not just entertaining but it’s helpful and it moves people.
2. Ricky Gervais’ portrayal of grief in the script was praised in series 1. Can we expect more of the same bittersweet comedy in series 2?
Yes, it’s a very grounded look at the seven stages of grief. It’s not glamorised in any way. Tony faces more challenges. There’s a new character introduced and each character has their own story - it’s a real ensemble. You see my character and my son’s character, we are in it all the way through now. I went from being in two of the episodes to all six of them.
This series was very moving, I cried very early on. I cried at the first song in episode 1! There seems to be a lot more depth to it and it’s a lot more moving. That’s what real life is like. It’s grounded in reality.
3. What can you tell us about June and Lenny’s relationship in series 2?
Lenny (Tony Way) is now shacked up with June and living in her house. Expect some nice surprises, romantic moments and some embarrassing moments too. She’s just part of the community now, she pops into the Tambury Gazette office a lot to see Lenny, it becomes a regular thing. It just evolves more, the family unit, and the memories that they share. They’re solid, it’s definitely a serious relationship.
4. What was it like filming with Tony Way again this series?
It’s a dream. He is amazing, brilliant and lovely. I love working with him, he’s very real - sometimes you don’t know when he’s acting and when he’s not. It’s just lovely, and Ethan [Lawrence] as well, who plays my son James, it was lovely to work with both of them. I got to go into the office and work with all of the cast, so that’s really nice for me. I had some scenes at home and some scenes at the office.
5. Do you share many scenes with Ricky Gervais this series, and if so what was that like?
I love working with Ricky and the gang, they’re all brilliant actors. I do love being on set and watching Ricky and the others work. There was a scene where I go in with my son and I’m talking to the gang there, then I come out of the scene and there’s a scene with Ricky and Mandeep [Dhillon] who plays Sandy, and I was just in tears watching the monitor. After they finished, I just ran in and I was crying because it was so moving.
What’s brilliant is watching Ricky, as Tony, go from teasing Lenny and June, then he’ll go into this moment where he’s reminiscing or thinking about Lisa, and it’s just really emotional. His performance is just superb. It feels like a little love letter in some way. I think he’s just at his best. It’s great to be on set with him and watch how he brings that energy up for everyone - it’s just electric. There’s a lot of laughter! Ricky’s just got this big laugh, and it’s lovely to hear it. Sometimes it puts us off and we have to do it again!
6. What can you share with us about After Life series 3?
I don’t know if there are any plans for that. I know he did say openly that he will wait and see what the public thinks of series 2. He’s talked to us a little about some things, but nothing at the moment. I think he’s just focusing on this season for now and seeing how that does. He did say that there’s a few main characters who could be the lead. He’s such a magician creatively. He’s exceptional. I think we’re all sort of in that place now where we all work really well together.
7. What would your hopes be for June and Lenny in series 3?
Maybe a holiday down the caravan... a trip to Blackpool! I’d just like to be in it, it’s changed my life work-wise and it’s just great to be with them, so whatever Ricky’s got in store for me I’m happy to do, no matter how big or small, June will be there with bells on. It would be nice to do something with Brandy [Tony's dog], but I think Brandy’s exclusive to Lisa and Tony. Maybe if Tony goes away, Lenny and June can dog-sit at the caravan!
Watch the After Life series 2 trailer
Watch all episodes of After Life series 1 and 2 on Netflix now.