"The difference is that there's no real veil of irony and people are saying exactly what they mean, however crazy that is," he told TV & Satellite Week magazine
"The talking heads in The Office were in juxtaposition to what you actually saw them do. So there was a certain irony to David Brent saying, 'They love me out there'.
"Derek is self-aware because he's just honest. He says what's on his mind. He's better than us. He's lovely and he's kind. Whatever he thinks and does is the nice way to go, whether that's right or wrong."
Gervais, who penned and directed the upcoming pilot without writing partner Stephen Merchant, hopes the level of raw emotion in the piece will strike a chord with viewers.
"Real life is like that. It's a comedy-drama, but then everything that's real and done with a bit of compassion is," the star continued. "I like getting close to real emotions. I've never been scared of that.
"It's just that people don't expect that sometimes when they've been having a laugh. An old people's home is already quite a melancholy place. Someone dies and Derek has to deal with it."
Explaining why he pursued the project, Gervais added: "It's an antidote to fame. I just want to do something about normal people again. It's time to do that, and it seems like recession is the norm now, like the 1980s was a blip."
Channel 4 airs Derek, which also stars Karl Pilkington, on Thursday, April 12 at 10pm.