Chris O’Dowd: From Bridesmaids to Broadway

With a new series of his sitcom Moone Boy starting Monday night, a rom-com in cinemas and a stint on the New York stage with James Franco coming up, Chris O’Dowd is in demand on both sides of the Atlantic, he tells Jay Richardson

As the youngest of five in a household  dominated by women, tormented by three sisters who would pin him down, spit in his mouth and force him to wear make-up, Chris O’Dowd escaped reality through drawing. “I used to doodle and talk to myself,” he admits. “A lot.”

Those schoolboy sketches anticipated the animated daydreaming of Moone Boy, the autobiographical sitcom set and shot in his hometown of Boyle in north-west Ireland. He plays Sean Murphy, the goofy, misguided imaginary friend of young Martin Moone.

“I feel, in a funny kind of way, that Martin has an imaginary friend because I wish I’d had one,” he smiles. “Even though ours was a very full house, he has Sean essentially because he feels like this lonely skiff in a sea of mad, violent women, these menstroid maniacs. He doesn’t have any strong male companionship. And I was very much the same.”

Ultimately though, “all that persecution paid off” for the 34-year-old, who cuts a relaxed figure in a pale blue shirt and jeans, his erstwhile scruffy beard looking trim as he lounges in a London hotel room. Since his first significant role as a stand-up comic in Annie Griffin’s 2005 film Festival, O’Dowd has been at ease in comedy written, directed and dominated by women, from his US breakthrough as the affable traffic cop in Bridesmaids, to his protective turn as the manager of an Aborigine girlband touring war-torn Vietnam in The Sapphires.

“I’m drawn to female-driven stuff and feel very comfortable with women because of my upbringing” he ventures. “Maybe there’s something they see in me too for the same reason. When women write well, it’s particularly special, the characterisations are so much richer.”

Bridesmaids bestowed international sex symbol status on the strapping, 6’4” Irishman with the self-dismissed “teddy bear” looks. But that hasn’t dissuaded him from playing “absolute arseholes”, such as venture capitalist Thomas-John in the US series Girls.

Only a “genius” like the show’s creator Lena Dunham, he maintains, could have surprised everyone by bringing the character back to triumphantly marry Jessa after his pathetic, aborted threesome attempt. Dunham gave him plenty of scope to improvise Thomas-John’s bitter rants, which were “tremendous fun. It’s not particularly in my nature to be nasty. But there’s a small part of all of us that wants to be a dick.”

Although it’s unlikely that he’ll return to Girls, “though never say never”, he plays another sleazy lothario in the salsa comedy Cuban Fury, in cinemas now. As the backstabbing Drew, attempting to shimmy Rashida Jones away from lovable loser Nick Frost, O’Dowd was surprisingly “snake-hipped” according to his co-star Kayvan Novak, which will astonish anyone who catches Moone Boy’s forthcoming Dirty Dancing homage.

“He’s being kind,” O’Dowd grins. “I did maybe three months of dance training and didn’t really use any of it. I actually felt like I was going to have an aptitude for it because I was sporty growing up and thought that hand-eye co-ordination would just translate into being a good dancer. But every day was a fresh reminder of how wrong I was. Often it was a case of making sure I was doing something with my face so that people weren’t looking below my waist.”

He had envisaged the salsa as a chance to get in shape and impress his wife, the journalist Dawn O’Porter, with whom he currently lives in LA. “But I tended to go drinking afterwards, so it didn’t really work out like that.”

The couple plan to have children as soon as his schedule relents, “because I want to be available for my kids”. He jokes that he’s slipped “anti-growth hormones” to Moone Boy’s child actors to keep them looking young enough for more series.

In reality, he feels extremely protective towards the first-time actors, “very conscious that I’ve changed their lives forever”. David Rawle, the wide-eyed 12-year-old who plays Martin, is from a matriarchal home too and they’ve grown close. “Our families are very similar,” he says. “His town is just up the road from mine.”

Rawle is currently advising him and his co-writer Nick Vincent Murphy on their Moone Boy spin-off books. “I’m sending him pages and he’s kind of editing it, which is really fun. Obviously, he’s just a kid but you can tell he’s a really lovely person, very kind, funny and smart. I know that’s going to disappear when he becomes a teenager. So I’ll enjoy it now as I’m sure he’ll be a nightmare in two years.”

Preadolescence, O’Dowd wistfully remembers, was an “incredibly spongy” time that he recalls “very vividly… I was very open to the world, before I discovered drinking. And girls. And all that.”

A third series of Moone Boy has already been shot, with O’Dowd stepping behind the camera for the first time. “It’s been a real eye-opener, showing me my future. I definitely want to write and direct a lot more and probably act a bit less as time goes on.” He anticipates future storylines embracing Britpop, “which was really big for me growing up, I was a huge Oasis fan. I definitely want to keep it going so I can write Martin being a big Blur fan and [his friend] Padraic as a big Oasis fan, with them duelling and perhaps falling out.”

The understated, BBC/HBO joint-production Family Tree that gave O’Dowd his first lead role on US television last year was criminally cancelled but he hints that there could be similar developments on the big screen soon, “a few things that will probably happen in the autumn”. He’s already shot an untitled Lance Armstrong biopic, playing the Irish journalist David Walsh. And he was delighted to perform alongside Bill Murray in the upcoming St. Vincent de Van Nuys. “A very bright, ethereal, spiritual and hilarious dude. Just goes round on a scooter. I liked him a lot.”

Rehearsals for his Broadway debut in Of Mice and Men with James Franco start in a couple of weeks. He will channel his memories of being an ungainly six-footer at the age of 11 to play the childlike Lennie, a giant oblivious to his own strength. “I’ve a few people I might base it on though,” he muses. “It’s a massive challenge to play someone mentally disabled. I’m going to have to just let it develop.”

He also pops up in his friend and former IT Crowd co-star Richard Ayoade’s The Double as a nurse. And this April he portrays a cuckolded “yokel butcher” in Calvary, the latest black comedy-drama from The Guard’s John Michael McDonagh. A dark, thoughtful film that focuses on Brendan Gleeson’s good-hearted priest, condemned to die by one of his parishioners, it’s “exactly the sort” of project that O’Dowd wants to direct himself one day. He and Murphy have written a screenplay about the Celtic Tiger property boom but he feels he’s “too young” at the moment to play the corrupt developer, “a chancer who winds up as part of the government”.

The committed manchild also wants to make a Moone Boy film, returning the series, which started as one of Sky’s Little Crackers strand of shorts, to its festive origins with a Christmas movie arriving in cinemas at the end of 2015. Before that, “the next thing I’m going to do in America is probably sell this format and do a US version”. Likening it to the Alaskan series Northern Exposure, “I’m thinking maybe Minnesota. Setting it somewhere snowy should be all kinds of fun.”

 

Series two of ‘Moone Boy’ starts tonight at 9pm on Sky1. ‘Cuban Fury’ is in cinemas now

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York