Cameo role in '24' is extra-special for Merchant

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The Independent Online

Stephen Merchant, the man who created Extras with Ricky Gervais, has landed a role in one of his favourite US shows - as an extra.

The comedy writer, director and actor, who played Gervais's hapless agent in Extras, will make a brief appearance in the forthcoming series of 24, the multi-award winning US-made drama starring Kiefer Sutherland.

Gervais, his writing partner and co-creator of The Office, is also said to be a keen follower of 24, but was said to be "too recognisable" to be offered a similar role. He has agreed instead to take part in a spoof scene that will be included on the DVD of the series.

Merchant's role is very limited, according to Jon Cassar, the executive producer of 24, who was quoted as saying that all Merchant does is walk up to someone at the FBI counter-terrorist unit and hand them a piece of paper. It is not known whether he has any lines to deliver.

In the first series of Extras, Gervais played an extra, Andy Millman, continually hoping for a speaking role. In the second series he has his own sitcom and Merchant memorably plays his inept agent.

Yesterday, Merchant's own agents, PFD, one of the biggest literary and showbusiness agencies in London, were unable to do more than confirm his involvement. A spokeswoman said: "I cannot tell you whether or not it is a speaking role or when it was filmed because I don't have any more information. And I cannot find out any more because Stephen Merchant is away."

Merchant also appeared briefly in the second series of The Office as "Oggy", a friend of one of the principal characters, Gareth Keenan, and he also had a cameo role in the Channel 4 comedy, Green Wing.

His cameos are in the long-standing tradition of writers and directors appearing in their own work or that of others. Alfred Hitchcock's was renowned for his regular walk-ons in his own films, while Steven Spielberg was in the The Blues Brothers.

Gervais's scene with the 24 cast was recorded as a spoof to be released with the DVD version of the next series. According to Cassar, Gervais appears as an official who becomes upset when someone else takes credit for his suggestion that a mission should be given to Jack Bauer, the agent played by Sutherland.

A spokesman for Gervais said last night: "Ricky and Stephen are both big fans of the show. They get a lot of offers and this was just one they were able to take."

Gervais appears in two new films - Night at the Museum, and For Your Consideration. He and Merchant also wrote an episode of the US version of The Office, to be broadcast next week.

Wizards of the walk-on

Alfred Hitchcock made walk-on appearances in almost all of his films. His fans made a sport of looking out for him, and he began doing it earlier in the film so as not to distract from the plot.

Many other directors have had cameos in their own films, including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Barry Levinson, Mel Brooks and M Night Shyamalan. Jonathan Demme invited Roger Corman, the man behind many classic schlock horror films, to be an extra in The Silence of the Lambs; Stephen Spielberg was a clerk in the climax of the film, The Blues Brothers; while George Lucas, of the Star Wars series, was a theme park visitor in Beverly Hills Cop III.

Madonna is one of several pop stars to take cameo roles, with a part in the James Bond movie, Die Another Day.