Stephen Merchant talks ‘Ladies’

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Most US viewers know Stephen Merchant from his various associations with Ricky Gervais on the duo’s podcast and TV series “Extras” and “Life’s Too Short” among others. Sunday, Merchant steps into the spotlight with HBO’s “Hello Ladies,” a semi-autobiographical chronicling of the gangly Brit’s dating misadventures in Los Angeles borne from his stand-up act of the same name.

Of his character he says, “He’s just a loser in England who is a loser here, but even more out of his depth because, you know, his Britishness is even more pronounced. [He’s] come to [Los Angeles] thinking this is a world of glamour and sophistication and elegance, something which is alien to him.”

Recently, the 6-foot-7-inch cutup fielded questions from reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.


Q. That vision of LA, is that a common British fantasy?

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A. I think there’s a common sort of fantasy that Los Angeles is exotic and full of glamour and sort of the idea being that you probably grew up watching those shows like “Moonlighting” or whatever, where there was something about the night and it was sexy and it was people in ball gowns going to soirees that overlook the city. And he’s come here, and bought a house in the Hollywood Hills, but it’s not quite the house he wanted. And you can see the “H” of the Hollywood sign, but only if you stand on the roof. He’s sort of trying to buy into this fantasy, and it never quite comes to life for him.

Q. You make a lot of jokes about your height. Was there a time when you enjoyed being taller than anyone else?

A. I’ve never been happy about this height. I was very self-conscious at school. I was not good at basketball, despite the fact that all my classmates were at least a foot and a half shorter than me. Occasionally, I like to go to a Laker game because it’s like I’m among my people. But I’m a bit more comfortable with it now. And there’s something I’ve never been able to dramatize yet (maybe if we do a second season) where it was New Year, and I was in Trafalgar Square, and it’s just a sea of people. And I’ve been on TV a few times, and I thought, you know, I was looking pretty good. And I was maybe looking for some romantic action. It was 10 minutes to midnight, and I saw a girl across the way looking at me. And I thought, “Here we go. Happy New Year.” And she came through the crowd to me, and she looked up at me and she said, “Are you going to be here for a while?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” And she said “Great. Because my friends and I have arranged to meet back at you.” Which genuinely occurred not that long ago. So far from it being a kind of weird asset, it’s been just this strange curse.

Q. This show is played for laughs but how are you really with the ladies?


A. An absolute charmer. Really. Yeah. No. I’ve said over the years, people ask me, “Do things change when you become well known or you go on TV?” And my feeling is just I’m getting rejected by a better class of women. I don’t feel any more assured, really. It’s not like just because you get on TV your fly stops bursting open at the wrong moment. That’s who I always was, and that remains today.

Interview was edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe