7 Questions with… After Life's Tom Basden: ‘There was some stuff they couldn’t put in’

Tom Basden, who plays newspaper editor Matt in Ricky Gervais’ Netflix comedy, talks to BT TV about outrageous scenes that were cut, the hallowed dog and series three.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 11 May 2020 - 12.47pm
Netflix

Ricky Gervais’ After Life is currently topping the Netflix charts, beating competition from blockbuster movies starring Chris Hemsworth as well as global phenomenon Tiger King.

The second series of the comic’s moving sitcom about coping with grief has struck a chord with millions of viewers, exploring the fictional world of Tambury and its weird and wonderful residents.

Tom Basden in After Life Netflix
Tom Basden in After Life series two

Returning as the editor of the Tambury Gazette in series two is Tom Basden, whose character Matt is dealing with problems of his own in the new series as his marriage has fallen apart.

BT TV caught up with Basden to get some exclusives on what it was really like filming series two, the outtakes that couldn’t be included and plans for a series three.

1. How much fun did you all have making series 2?

After Life on Netflix Netflix

It’s a huge amount of fun to make this show. Particularly everything we do in the office of the local paper. We have such a great time and Ricky is constantly cracking up and making everyone laugh.

It’s a very surreal thing shooting the show, because you often forget about serious the subject matter is. A scene will suddenly take a turn where you forget what is coming and you’ll suddenly remember a whole side to the show that is quite sad and visceral.

It’s a fun and lively set, but it’s a challenge as an actor because you’re constantly going in and out of situations and characters that are very comic into things that are very meaningful and potentially quite upsetting. It’s a very rich world and it’s always changing.

2. The show is incredibly moving. Is Ricky far more sensitive than he makes out?

Ricky Gervais making After Life Netflix

I guess so. It’s a difficult question to answer. Ricky’s default position is finding the comedy in something. Finding the areas that people are sensitive about and poking them because that’s usually where the comedy is. But as you see with this show, he has an incredible knack of tapping into emotions. Almost surgically at times.

There will be a funny scene that can become moving and almost uncomfortable in how emotionally raw it can be. It can happen so quickly and in order to do that it should be apparent that he’s someone with a sensitive side who understands people, very, very intimately.

He understands what people are like and how they behave, but I think you saw that in The Office and everything else he’s made. The comedy comes out of the mouths of people who feel completely real. They are all totally recognisable. If it wasn’t for that the comedy wouldn’t be as effective or truthful.

3. What was it like filming with Paul Kaye?

Paul Kaye in After Life series 2 Netflix

It was an absolute nightmare. Paul is really, really funny.  That therapist character is so good because it’s a mixture of total ego and total self-absorption along with someone who is quite mad and saying mad things. You always feel anything could happen.

We only had one day to do all of that. Paul was shooting something else, so we did all his scenes in one day. It was a huge rollercoaster day. Most of it was Ricky falling off his deckchair while watching on the monitors.

4. Did everything make it into the final cut?

The After Life series 2 cast Netflix

Paul was so outrageous. There was some stuff that they couldn’t put it in, which was amazing and out there. It’s a lot of fun to do scenes like that with someone like Paul. He’s a force of nature.

5. After Life feels quite un-British in its observations about grief. Do you think that’s why it appeals?

Ricky Gervais and Kerry Godliman share a loving moment in a flashback in After Life season two Netflix

I think it is quite unusual to watch people talking about how they feel. And I think dramatically it’s quite unusual to hear people talking about grief. It really doesn’t lend itself to a story because there’s not much anyone can do about grief. It’s something that hits someone and you have to deal with it.

That’s where the show is very ambitious and different to everything else. It’s an attempt to look at what grief feels like and how people deal with it – even if they can’t. I think that’s what resonates with people.

When things happen like someone’s wife dying, they don’t deal it with really. They don’t get over it in the way someone in a Hollywood film would - where at the end of the 90 minutes they’re all OK. It doesn’t go away.

I think that’s what important in the second series. Tony is still grieving and dealing with it. He’s still trying to work out what his life could and should be without his wife around. I think that’s something a lot of people know very well. That is very unusual.

6. Is the dog treated like royalty on set?

Ricky Gervais on the set of After Life series 2 with Anti the dog Netflix

To be honest, the dog isn’t on set very much. It’s not like we’re all in the Green Room and the dog is in there eating some Chum.

The dog is like royalty in the sense that they have  a whole team of handlers – a real entourage. I guess there is something quite hallowed about the dog when it is there. The dog gets to do all the romantic stuff with Ricky. It licks his face and gets all the cuddles on the sofa. The dog is the Ginger Rogers to Ricky’s Fred Astaire.

7. Will there be a series three?

David Earl in After Life Netflix

I hope so. I know Ricky has thought about some more ideas for his character in the show. One of the lovely things about series two is that he’s opened up the world and given a broader sense of this community and how they all fit together.

If we do another series hopefully there will be more of an opportunity to explore those other characters and what they’re dealing with. I think there’s so much for affection for the show that people really want to see what happens to these people and Ricky’s character. And how he continues to deal with the emotions of bereavement.

It’s something as a society we don’t talk about. This show is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be like that. We can talk about these things. We can make TV shows that give people a sense of togetherness.

Watch all episodes of After Life series 1 and 2 on Netflix now.