Chris O'Dowd: on breaking Hollywood and being funny

Chris O'Dowd with Ray Romano in Get Shorty.

Chris O'Dowd with Ray Romano in Get Shorty.

Irish actor Chris O'Dowd is planning a date night.

It says a lot about his faith in the power of romance, because his last one with his British writer and television presenter wife Dawn O'Porter is memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

"We actually went on a date the night that Dawn went into labour," he tells the Sunday Star-Times less than a month after welcoming second son Valentine into the world. 

O'Dowd in the quirky sitcom Moone Boy.
Justin Downing

O'Dowd in the quirky sitcom Moone Boy.

"We were at a restaurant in West Hollywood. Because it's our second kid we didn't panic and we stayed and had dessert. They were very sweet 'cos obviously she was big and like the doorman came and walked us out and made sure that nobody bumped into her. The walk home, things progressed quite quickly."

Read more: Chris O'Dowd: friendliest man on earth

Just like O'Dowd's Hollywood career since he bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles in 2009 following the end of an eight-year relationship.

O'Dowd with Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.

O'Dowd with Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.

Within three months he'd been cast in the big budget Gulliver's Travels starring Jack Black. He met Dawn Porter (she changed her name to O'Porter after they married) at her 30th birthday party a few months later before winning moviegoers' hearts as Kristen Wiig's love interest in Bridesmaids and quickly following it up with This is 40 and Thor: The Dark World. Rounding off the stellar rise was a Tony award nomination for his Broadway debut in Of Mice And Men.

This week the star of The It Crowd and Moone Boy is returning to television in the new SoHo comedy drama Get Shorty. It's based on the Elmore Leonard book which formed the basis for the 1995 movie of the same name starring John Travolta and Danny DeVito. While the TV version is more true to the violence that permeates Leonard's work there is no super cool Chili Palmer, even though the bones of the story remain the same. This time around O'Dowd plays Miles Daly, a hitman who tries to win back his family by leaving his criminal past behind and becoming a movie producer in partnership with the reluctant Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano).

"The way I like to think about it is we are both using the same original material but it's like visiting a bar at a different time of the week," says O'Dowd. "It's kind of like going to a bar on a Saturday night and everyone is looking well, their chat-up lines are working a treat, the night is their oyster. We kind of visit the bar at 3am on a Thursday. The floor is kind of sticky, you're fighting with your girlfriend, and the bar bill is about to arrive and you can't afford to pay it. That's essentially how it feels." 

Chris O'Dowd with Richard Ayoude and Katherine Parkinson  in his breakthrough show, the IT Crowd.
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Chris O'Dowd with Richard Ayoude and Katherine Parkinson in his breakthrough show, the IT Crowd.

It's a change of pace for O'Dowd, who has never played an intimidating character.

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"For people to be physically fearful of you has never been something I've experienced so I took up boxing to try to get into the spirit of it," he says.

"You learn that the people who stand close to you and aren't afraid to be still are the people who aren't afraid to be hit, so I tried to take that into the role.

"My roles are generally more verbal and being dextrous in that way is far more important than being still or being strong. It felt like a slightly different skill. Not something that came very naturally. I find it hard just to be still, and not try to drive a scene like you do in comedy is definitely a challenge."

As for the boxing lessons, "I think they went easy on me," he says. "I think they went easy on me because I was paying them. But it's hard, hard work, but it's fun, quite disciplined. I hurt my wrist and I was saying to the boxing trainer, 'I think I must have punched too hard' and he said, 'No, it's just that you're holding on to your glove too hard,' which was very emasculating."

Not that O'Dowd need have any fears in that direction. His role in Bridesmaids led to marriage proposals from all around the world and his pride in second-time fatherhood is boyishly charming. He's taken a few weeks off to help cope with the demands of the new arrival and says, "While the baby is around, I'm on toddler duty. It's been great".

Not so great, though, are the nappy-changing responsibilities.

"Changing nappies now, you realise when the baby comes along changing (their) nappies are a piece of ****. Art (his eldest son) is way too big. He's a massive kid. It's like changing a 10 year old. It's ridiculous. We're up so early, three s***s by 8am is not helpful."

What has been helpful though is being able to keep his Irish accent for Get Shorty.

"I've done a few things with an American accent and it's been kind of fun but it's lovely not to have to think about it. It works particularly well with this which is a fish-out-of-water story," he says.

As for the challenges of making his particular brand of humour work on American audiences he says, "I've always thought that the Irish comedy voice was more aligned to the American comedy voice than the British one is. I feel like there are similarities there that don't exist between even Ireland and England. You know what it's like, these places that are quite small can actually be very different in nature. Just like the (New Zealand) North Island and the South Island are different (He hasn't been to either but says, 'I know people from both') .

"Funny is funny wherever. I think that desperation breeds humour. There is nothing funny about success."

Chris says...

When did you first realise you were funny?

Just right now. I'm the youngest of five so laughter was definitely a commodity worth having in the house. I probably wasn't even the funniest guy in the class. I don't know if I would even consider myself that funny, I think I have a good sense of humour.

Who controls the TV remote?

Honest to God, we were just joking about it last night. I don't think my wife knows how to use it. I don't remember her being a Luddite but suddenly from nowhere she is like a technophobe, so I control the remote but she probably tells me what to put on.

What do you wake up to in the morning?

Crying, generally my own, or the sounds of the cat being sick somewhere but thankfully now, because we live here (Los Angeles), we wake up to sunshine every morning.

Do you have (or had) an imaginary friend (like the one he played in Moone Boy)?

I didn't have an imaginary friend growing up but I did talk to myself a lot and I still talk to myself a lot. I'm glad that they invented headphones that also can be used as telephones and you can walk round the street talking as if you are on a call.

What TV shows do you binge watch?

I'm binge watching right now. I just watched all of The Defiant Ones which is like the HBO documentary about Dr Dre. We watched four or five episodes yesterday. There's not an awful lot you can do when you've just had a baby.

The biggest perk of fame?

You can generally get a seat in a restaurant. Pretty good.

On the clothes in Get Shorty:

I like the look. It's hard man chic. It would be fair to call it not suave. I go along with the Sam Mendes thing where there's no good or bad, it's just interesting and less interesting.

On working with Judd Apatow:

We've always had a good time and he's introduced me to circles that would have been very hard otherwise. And more than that, just watching him work and suddenly feeling not fearful about working with really talented people has been hugely helpful.

Get Shorty, 9.30pm, SoHo, August 22.

 - Sunday Star Times

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