He and pal Bill Macrae released two singles as new-wave duo Seona Dancing in the ’80s.
“We got signed on a demo tape, released two records and they failed,” Gervais, 56, tells PEOPLE’s Editor-in-Chief Jess Cagle in the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview (streaming now on People TV). “I was dropped. That was the end of it… I was a pop star for a year.”
The British actor, now on his Humanity comedy tour, explains that his musical aspirations came from David Bowie.
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“I saw David Bowie perform ‘Heroes’ on TV when I was about 16,” Gervais recalls. “I thought, oh wow, this is amazing. I want to do that. [So] I’d learned to play guitar.”
In the end, Gervais doesn’t feel he honored his teen icon, confessing, “I ripped off David Bowie badly.”
Nearly two decades after Seona Dancing disbanded, Gervais found commercial success once The Office —which he wrote, directed and starred in — debuted in 2001.
“The Office won a BAFTA for Best Comedy, and I won the BAFTA for Best Comedy Performer . . . and I went home and I said to Jane, ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?’ ” he says, referring to his longtime partner Jane Fallon. “And she said, ‘Cause you wouldn’t have been any good at it.’ And I think it did take until I was 40 to have a voice and to know how to deal with all this and to do it for the right reasons. I think if I’d have done it at 21, it’d have been over in a year maybe.”
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The workplace sitcom went on to receive two Emmy nominations, two Golden Globes — including Gervais’ Best Performance by an Actor honor — and inspire a U.S. spinoff starring Steve Carell.
“So everything turned out great,” Gervais assures.