It seemed like the only thing reporters wanted to ask Stephen Merchant about Thursday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour was what it's like to be so tall.
The executive producer, director and star of HBO's new comedy series "Hello Ladies" is 6-feet-7. He towered onstage during a panel at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, alongside fellow producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky.
"It's hard for me to fit in the frame with actors in Hollywood, who I constantly find are pitifully small," said Merchant, who with Ricky Gervais wrote and directed the British version of "The Office." "But we don’t really labor the height thing."
The questions that followed continued to labor it, though. It seems that Merchant's height is key to building the incredibly awkward character of Stuart that he plays on the show. Stuart is a socially inept, miserably failing aspiring ladies' man and British ex-pat chasing the Hollywood dream and never quite catching it.
"He's just a loser in England who is a loser here," Merchant said. "There's a common fantasy that Los Angeles, in particular, is kind of exotic and sexy. And he grew up watching 'Moonlighting,' and now he's here and he bought a house in the Hollywood Hills, and he can see the 'H' of the Hollywood sign, but only if he stands on the roof. So it's that kind of place."
Despite his rising fame, Merchant insists that he is still as bad with women as he was as a gangly twentysomething. Like Woody Allen and Bill Murray, Merchant is an underdog who uses "wit to battle his way through."
He also cherry-picks unfortunate events from his personal life for use in the show. For example, the time he went to a wedding where it was promised that he would be seated at a table with a group of beautiful, single women. He instead was seated at a table with the dull parents of a misbehaved child who threw his shoe into Merchant's soup.
Then there are events that Merchant says served to inform his character's sense of being a consummate failure.
Once at the Golden Globes, Merchant walked past Pierce Brosnan, then realized his fly was open and its buttons busted. He had to borrow a safety pin from Gervais to fix it.
"Pierce Brosnan isn’t fixing his fly in the toilet with a safety pin," Merchant said. "And I think that’s the key distinction between the person I am and the person I’d like to be."
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