Ghost stories don’t always have to be scary, and Ricky Gervais and company prove that their friendly neighborhood ghouls can not only bring the laughs but the heart.
Below are some behind-the-scenes tidbits from the ghostly comedy.
1. A bad day inspired the plot.
Writer and director David Koepp was finishing his film, Secret Window, when he needed a break from the busyness of a crowded set. While on a walk, he noticed a large, wooden tooth sign and the kernel of an idea began about an isolated dentist with the perfect profession because, as Koepp put it, “you can just shove cotton in people’s mouths when you want to shup them up.”
2. Ricky Gervais was the first cast.
When casting began, Koepp envisioned Ricky as the lead. Gervais, however, had been turning down projects in hopes of leading his own feature film written with Stephen Merchant, co-creator of The Office. But when he read the script, he knew it was too good to pass. “He had a lot to say about character, and he also had a lot to contribute in terms of funny lines,” Koepp said.
3. It was New York or bust.
The script included numerous landmarks throughout New York, such as Central Park and The Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that could not be easily replaced and, according to producers, would have killed the film if they had to be. “It’s an old city that feels like it’s got a lot of life in it and maybe a lot of former life in it,” Greg Kinner said. Thankfully, New York got the go-ahead.
4. New and old ghost rules were important.
Koepp adhered to the normal rules of ghosts, which for the non-ghoulish-expert, means (1) ghosts can walk through the physical, (2) ghosts can’t move the physical, and (3) ghosts wear whatever they died in. But the film also established a new rule that ghosts only exist as long as they have a connection to someone living. So don’t look for a ghost from anything earlier than the 1940s because you won’t see it.
5. Greg Kinner’s outfit was meaningful.
Clothes add another layer of character in Ghost Town. Gervais’ character, for instance, wears an all-white dentist uniform that symbolizes his isolation from a colorful New York. Greg Kinner’s clothing was also important. As Koepp says, “I wanted to put him in this tuxedo so that he would immediately stand out in any scene. And he also seemed, in a way, then like the movie’s host.”
6. Téa Leoni’s character was inspired by a classic screwball comedy.
Howard Hawk’s classic Bringing Up Baby features Cary Grant in one of his funniest roles as the absent-minded paleontologist, David Huxley, That character inspired Koepp who wanted Leoni’s Egyptologist character to have similar quirks. “I like academics because they often get lost in their head and that makes for an interesting character.”
7. Ricky Gervais had a bad case of the giggles.
“Not only have I got a childish sense of humor, but I’ve got a baby’s sense of humor” Gervais joked. He had an especially hard time not laughing on set, sometimes breaking into laughter at the slightest gesture. His scene with SNL-alum Kristen Wigg was an especially challenging scene as the actors had to tackle the quick-pace of dialogue, improvisation, and not breaking. “Sometimes you feel like you're going insane, because someone is going to have to get through this with a straight face,” Koepp said.