Reluctant heart-throb Chris O'Dowd chats to Declan Cashin about romantic gestures gone awry, making Moone Boy and dirty dancing
In his new movie, the dance comedy Cuban Fury, Chris O'Dowd plays a douchey office worker who competes against his schlubby colleague (Nick Frost) for the affections of their new boss (played by Rashida Jones, definitely one of the genetic "one percent") by trying to master the tricky Latin salsa.
It turns out that, in reality, the 34-year-old Roscommoner is a dab hand at impressing the ladies with big romantic gestures too – or, specifically, one lady, his wife, the author and broadcaster Dawn O'Porter.
"Dawn's a big Burt Bacharach fan," he explains when we meet in London's Marylebone Hotel. "She'd bought tickets twice to see him, but both times he cancelled.
"So for her birthday a few years back, I found where in the world he was playing, which happened to be Florida. I got tickets to go see him – plane tickets, hotel tickets, the lot. And he f*cking cancelled – on our way to the airport!
"But I managed to get it together so that, almost by the time we got back, I had bought Dawn a piano, which was sitting in her flat when she got home, with a songbook called It's Easy To Play Burt Bacharach." He pauses to smile and raise his eyebrows: "Good, huh?"
High five to you, sir. So one assumes that today – Valentine's Day: quick lads, run and buy a card! – is a big deal in their gaff?
"Personally I hate Valentine's Day, in the same way I don't like New Years Eve," he replies. It's like, "GO HAVE FUN! LOVE EACH OTHER NOW!" At the same time, as soon as you say that, it makes you sound like a dick. I've said to Dawn, 'I'd love for us to make our own Valentine's Day – every year, we should celebrate it on February 21'. And she's like, 'Yeah you'll never remember that'."
But surely being an Official, If Unlikely International Sex Symbol buys O'Dowd some leeway? He laughs and says: "That's not really true. I think people fancied the character in Bridesmaids, and I understand that – he was sensitive and a great listener.
"It was a great part but had very little to do with me. And I'll tell you why: when people come out of Cuban Fury, they are not going to say, 'Oh my god, I really fancy Chris O Dowd!' As nice as I am in Bridesmaids, I'm as horrible in this. I'm going to be so unfancied."
This isn't some faux self-deprecation either. Reminiscing about his earlier years, he says: "I was a big kid – I was six foot when I was aged 11. I was an odd-looking creature because when you grow that quickly, it's not ideal. You have bad posture and bad skin – essentially you're given a bell to ring to warn the women that you're coming."
Be that as it may, it's fair to say O'Dowd has done pretty well for himself, personally and professionally. When we met last Friday, O'Dowd was coming from California (where he and O'Porter now mostly live), he was going to be in London for a week, and then was heading back to California for a couple of days.
From there, it's on to Chicago for a couple of weeks before moving to New York until the summer in order to play the role of Lennie opposite James Franco's George in the new Broadway production of Of Mice And Men, for which O'Dowd will, today, be starting rehearsals (previews begin March 19th if you're in NYC around St Patrick's Day).
In between, O'Dowd is filming a role as dogged sports journalist David Walsh, the man who pursued Lance Armstrong (to be played by Ben Foster), in an as-yet untitled movie, plus he's finishing the edit on the third series of his delightful comedy series Moone Boy, which he also co-wrote and directed (the second series starts on Sky1 on Monday night).
O'Dowd concedes that he has been lucky, but adds: "The one thing I'd say about luck is that it will work on the first thing, but if you don't do a good job, you don't get another job. Hard work and a bit of talent will probably do that. I have been very fortunate with the opportunities that have been offered up."
One such opportunity was learning to dance, properly, as prep for Cuban Fury. Well, I say "properly" – best to let him tell it. He says: "I love to dance, genuinely. My mam tried to teach me how to jive as I was growing up. So I've got a couple of jive moves but I'd never done salsa before. And never will again.
"God, it's a hard thing to learn. I think because I was a decent footballer growing up, I thought I would have a natural aptitude for dancing – hand-eye co-ordination, being familiar with how your muscles work, and all that. But every day was a fresh reminder of how wrong I was. I'm physically dyslexic, so it's not that I'm totally incapable, but it is hard for me."
I'm meeting O'Dowd just days after the shocking death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, with whom the Boyle native starred in the 2008 comedy The Boat That Rocked. Upon hearing the sad news, O'Dowd said on Twitter that Hoffman was his "favourite actor".
"I think even if people aren't big film buffs, they can still recognise integrity, and I think that's what he stood for more than anything," O'Dowd says. "Daniel Day-Lewis said this about John C Reilly: the reason people love Philip Seymour Hoffman is that he makes everyone around him look like they're acting.
"He was the actor of our generation. I got to briefly work with him and he was just such a lovely man, really sweet – the kind of guy that will laugh at your jokes, even if they're not funny."
O'Dowd isn't a man to be left starstruck by other stars, though meeting footballers is another matter entirely. He's positively giddy as he recalls recently speaking to Tony Cascarino: "I had to get permission from him for a thing in Moone Boy. I think I got to him via the Independent, actually. So thanks!"
Cuban Fury is out today. Moone Boy starts Monday, February 17th at 9pm on Sky1.
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