I confess: I find myself getting more and more emotional during particular movies. Sometimes I’ve even hidden tears: from dates, family members, friends. If I’m watching Star Wars with a male friend and he sees a tear running down my cheek when Han Solo returns at the end to help Luke destroy the Death Star, how am I going to live that down? Like that’s not going to be brought up at every possible occasion. Real men don’t get misty eyed at that stuff. I bet John Wayne never welled up watching Gone With the Wind and had to tell his buddies he had something in his eye.
I was warned that I would get emotional during the beginning of Up and I thought, “I’m going to fight it. I’m not going to be manipulated.” I was welling up within 10 minutes. It happened on a date during Toy Story 3. The boy gave up his toys and that got me. We’d only just sat down. I’d heard it was a dark movie and later, when it looks like all the toys are going to be incinerated, I genuinely thought they were going to get it. I was thinking, “I cannot believe what I’m seeing. They are going to kill off these lovable toys in a Disney movie.” I was gob-smacked. I had to lift up my 3-D glasses so I wouldn’t see the tragedy as clearly when it happened. Then when they were saved, I had to put the glasses back on to mask my tears. That’s one good thing about the movies: at least it’s dark in there.
I remember the worst occasion. I used to be a film reviewer when I was young and I was with all these critics watching The Bridges of Madison County. It really got me. Man, I love that film. If you haven’t seen it, you’re a fool. Clint Eastwood is a photographer. Meryl Streep is a housewife whose family goes off to the state fair. For some reason, Clint is taking pictures of the bridges in the area and they begin this romance. It’s very gentle and slow burning. In the end she has to make a decision: Who will she go with, Clint or her husband? I’m welling up now just thinking about it.
After it was over, all the cynical movie reviewers got up and started clattering out. To hide my tears I was saying, “I’m just going to sit here and watch the credits. I want to see who did the… uh… catering.” I had to wait all the way through to the very end until I could compose myself and then join in with their comments about how the film was sentimental claptrap. I haven’t even seen the movie since. I don’t want to revisit it, because it’s such a magic memory for me. I was so moved. To me, Bridges is like a former lover — we’ve got a lot of history between us and maybe one day we can see if the old chemistry is still there — but for now we are better off apart. I don’t think I’ve ever been as choked up since.
I don’t mind being seen as a sensitive person, but I’d also like people to think I could handle myself in a street fight. I’ve never been in a street fight and, obviously, I’m not encouraging anyone who sees me to attack me in order to test my mettle. But I do find myself watching kung fu movies thinking I could improvise something like that. I’m 6’ 7”. I’ve got long arms and long legs. I could probably defeat a couple of ne’er-do-wells. My dream would be to go to a sad movie and then have a fight afterwards. During the film I hold my date’s hand and then when we come out there are three hoodlums, like some extras from The Warriors, and they pull out flick knives, and somehow I disarm them using an empty popcorn carton. She can’t believe it, she’s overwhelmed, she starts crying and I comfort her and say “There, there… no need to cry, baby.” That would be ideal.
Stephen Merchant — actor, writer, director, Office co-creator, Golden Globe winner, and Ricky Gervais’ secret comedy weapon — branches out on his own this winter with his first U.S. standup tour, Stephen Merchant Live: Hello, Ladies…, at New York’s Town Hall on Dec. 20 and 21, Los Angeles’ Largo on Jan. 17, 18, and 19, and San Francisco’s Cobbs Comedy Club on Jan. 24.