Ricky Gervais said he would do a third series of After Life if it was a “demanded encore”.

And so it’s no surprise the Netflix hit is back for a final run; it has had nearly 100 million views worldwide – making it the most-watched British comedy of the decade, according to a tweet shared by Gervais at the end of 2021.

But the Reading-born star – famous for The Office, Derek and Extras – didn’t even plan for a second series originally.

Glasgow Times:

“I always make sure it’s standalone, in case no-one watches it, or the network doesn’t like me anymore, or I get hit by a bus,” says the affable comedian, 60, who’s known for his dry, sometimes controversial, humour.

“Then you do a second [series] – and that’s usually it for me. But I fell in love with this. Secretly, for the first time ever, I did want to do a third, and I’m gutted that I’m not doing a fourth, really. But it’s the right decision.

“It makes so much sense to do a fourth; it’s at the top of its game, people love it, the money goes up. But I think it’s right, artistically, to end on this high.”

Glasgow Times:

After Life follows widower Tony (Gervais), whose beloved wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) died from cancer.

Through both funny and heartbreaking flashbacks, we see how amazing the couple was together, and in the present day, it’s clear that journalist Tony is still struggling to live with his grief and being left behind.

But while in the previous series he discussed being suicidal, this series feels more hopeful.

His beautiful dog Brandy continues to bring him joy and he’s become close to Emma (Ashley Jensen), who was a nurse at his late father’s care home.

We see him opening up to people (especially widow Anne, played by Dame Penelope Wilton), he’s more involved with the local community (the show is set in the small fictitious town of Tambury) and he realises that making others feel good can give him a reason to live.

Glasgow Times:

“That’s probably the biggest single change in series three to the first two; it’s infused with the idea that if you lose everything, hope is everything,” suggests Gervais, whose long-term partner is author Jane Fallon.

One of the reasons After Life has been such a success is how raw and emotional it is; seemingly out of nowhere, you’ll be a hit with a gut-wrenching moment.

After all, the subject of death and life after death is something that we often avoid.

Glasgow Times:

Has creating, writing, directing, and starring in this show made Gervais think about his own mortality more?

“I’ve always thought about it,” he muses.

“I studied science and biology. I know the circle of life. I knew that from an early age; that you live, you get old, you die and that’s it. I’ve been an atheist since I was about eight or nine. I studied philosophy, so I had to think of those things.

“I do a podcast with Sam Harris and it always gets around to mortality, death, morality, ‘what’s the point’ – all those things.

“But I don’t think of it in a morbid way; we are all going to die and there’s nothing we can do about it.

“I think it’s beautiful that life is finite.”

Glasgow Times:

A few of the quirky and outlandish characters Tony has met through his work at the Tambury Gazette come further to the fore in these six episodes (such as Brian, played by David Earl, who has some of the more vulgar jokes in the series).

Then there are the scenes with Matt (Tom Basden), who is Lisa’s caring younger brother (and also Tony’s boss, as the editor of the Tambury Gazette).

There’s a poignant exploration of how Matt’s grief was put to one side after his sister’s death because the focus was on Tony. It feels rare to see men talking about their emotions and mental health on screen in such a candid way.

Gervais thinks that’s partly the fault of broadcasters and creators, because “they’re second-guessing the audience and they go, ‘Maybe they don’t want to see this’.

“And I think that’s not true – I think people want to see themselves,” he continues. “All the feedback I’ve had was people going, ‘When I lost my partner, or my mum, I was angry like that’, and they think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s normal. It’s okay to be not okay’.

“And also, most TV comedies don’t want to go there – they don’t want to bring people down, because they think they can’t make it funny. Most heroes in dramas, you don’t see them crying, because it’s like a weakness and heroes shouldn’t have weaknesses which, again, it’s not true.”

Some of the lighter moments in the new episodes come from Tony and Matt competing against each other in various sports.

It’s Matt’s idea because he’s worried about Tony’s health, and he thinks it will help him to release some anger and emotion.

Tony is up for the challenge as he insists he will come out on top – and it’s hilarious.

“My sport is tennis; it’s all I can play now, and then I can’t walk the next day,” quips Gervais.

“But I chose sports that I could actually play, I chose racket sports, and I made sure that Tom could [play]. And it was just great, it was so much fun.”

He came up with the storyline with Basden and says that this teamwork happened with the rest of the cast too (which includes the likes of Tony Way, Diane Morgan, Joe Wilkinson and Jo Hartley).

“They don’t just turn up on the day, and I’ve written this amazing script – they’re involved.

“It’s an ensemble piece, but it’s also collaborative – I just get all the credit.”

It’s clear just how much Gervais enjoys talking about After Life, and how passionate he is about all of the characters.

Maybe, just maybe, we could be reunited with Tony in the future – perhaps a Christmas special?

“It’s so tempting,” confides Gervais. “I’d love every minute of it. Never say never.

“I love working with [this cast]. The next thing I do I’m going to hire everyone again, so it’s not over as far as that’s concerned. And that is a big issue; I love working with people I like. I don’t want to go through hell, hate everything, to win an award.”

Letting out one of his signature laughs, he adds: “I want people to love it, I want awards, I want to be paid, I want to have the best time, every day, with all my mates – that’s all I ask.”

After Life season 3 launches globally on Netflix on Friday, January 14