Sunday 22 October 2017

Why Chris is about to burst into song

Chris O'Dowd (above left, with the series' writer-director-producer Christopher Guest) stars as a guy who has just lost his job and girlfriend and fills the void by looking into his family genealogy in Family Tree
Chris O'Dowd (above left, with the series' writer-director-producer Christopher Guest) stars as a guy who has just lost his job and girlfriend and fills the void by looking into his family genealogy in Family Tree
Chris with Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.
Chris O'Dowd. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
CHRIS O'DOWD AND RICHARD AYOADE IN THE CHANNEL 4 SITCOM THE IT CROWD
Dawn Porter (L) and Chris O'Dowd arrive at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in association with Pandora at Berkeley Square Gardens on May 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)

Joe O'Shea

For a guy who has gone from The IT Crowd to the Hollywood In-Crowd with hardly a pause for breath, Chris O'Dowd seems almost too laid-back to be true.

For a guy who has gone from The IT Crowd to the Hollywood In-Crowd with hardly a pause for breath, Chris O'Dowd seems almost too laid-back to be true.

The 33-year-old Roscommon actor, now starring in one of the hottest new sit-coms on US TV, has had the kind of rise to success that most Irish actors, no matter how talented, can only regard with murderous envy.

O'Dowd has progressed from roles in RTE dramas such as The Clinic and Showbands (in which he was billed as "Christopher O'Dowd" and featured well down the cast-list under star turn Kerry Katona) to starring in big-budget Hollywood comedies.

He has created, co-written and starred in the hit comedy Moone Boy, stars in the new HBO sit-com Family Tree in the US and has signed up for a number of new movie projects including much-buzzed about comedy The Coward.

The latest edition of prestigious culture magazine The New Yorker carries a profile of the former GAA player from Boyle marking him out as a major player.

In January, 2009, O'Dowd, still best known as the slobby computer geek in the Channel 4 cult-comedy bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.

Today, he is being feted by critics, courted by the studios and networks and can regard himself as part of the Judd Apatow Comedy Mafia.

However, O'Dowd's break in The IT Crowd almost didn't happen because of his accent.

When Graham Linehan – a co-writer on Father Ted – was involved in casting, the Roy Trenneman character was not supposed to be Irish.

However, O'Dowd was so good in auditions and such a perfect fit for slobby uber-geek Roy, the hapless IT specialist in a big London company, his accent was overlooked.

And that role, broad Roscommon accent and all, led to his biggest break to date, his US arrival in smash-hit comedy Bridesmaids.

Director Paul Feig was a big fan of The IT Crowd and was willing to change the character of Officer Rhodes, the traffic cop in Bridesmaids, to fit O'Dowd's natural accent.

"I went into the audition like everyone else did with an American accent," Chris has said of the process of landing his breakout movie role.

"But the director Paul Feig had seen The IT Crowd and so he wanted to see what it would be like in my own accent."

Bridesmaids went on to gross over $330m worldwide.

It vindicated his decision to relocate to LA and brought O'Dowd firmly into the orbit of producer and director Judd Apatow, the current Godfather of US comedy.

The move across the water also led to him meeting his wife, the British TV presenter Dawn Porter.

O'Dowd may not have traditional Hollywood pretty-boy looks. But at an athletic 6ft 4in and blessed with an easy charm that translates very well onto the big screen, he has become a sort of sex symbol.

It says something of his appeal to the ladies that he was considered the hunk in Bridesmaids, in which he starred alongside Mad Men star (and regular choice for World's Sexiest Man) Jon Hamm.

The Irish actor appears to operate best almost in stealth mode, saying of his audition for Bridesmaids: "They didn't have a clue who I was, just like most of the audience.

"And do you know what? I hope it doesn't change too much because there's a huge freedom in no one having a clue who you are.

"Creatively, when nobody knows you, there's no expectation. Nobody is waiting for you to deliver a punchline or to be funny or serious.

"Nobody knows what to expect from you so you can do anything and people will be surprised. It's really refreshing working here in the US for that reason." O'Dowd can no longer operate below the radar, he has become too well-known and successful. His big challenge now is to make the right choices in a business where one miss might be forgivable, but a couple of bad movies can spell serious trouble for a star still on the rise.

However, beneath the laid-back persona, there is a canniness that has served O'Dowd well. "I'm good at knowing when an opportunity arises and taking it. That's about it. There are more talented people out there," he says.

As he tells it, there has been an almost accidental element to his career.

O'Dowd studied politics and sociology in UCD with the ambition of becoming a political speech writer. But he didn't finish his degree, opting instead to study drama in London.

He got the acting bug after accompanying a friend to a drama class, on a whim, and finding that it was something that came naturally to him.

O'Dowd is very much in demand in the US and also on this side of the Atlantic.

It was confirmed this week that there will be a one-off special of The IT Crowd, a sort of farewell episode. However, while the success of Moone Boy is also likely to continue – with Sky eager to order as many episodes as possible – his real future lies on the other side of the Atlantic, where the A-List beckons.

He could also surprise us with a diversion into big screen musicals (or maybe not so unexpected after his recent performance in The Sapphires).

He is a fan of the Broadway adaptation of Irish Oscar winning movie Once and he "likes the idea of modern musicals".

"I've been developing a story about a character that decides that to get rid of his terrible speech impediment he's going to sing his way through life," he said.

"It's the only thing that works for him. There is something about that idea I really do like."

Musicals, big budget comedies or serious drama. O'Dowd is fast approaching the point where he can take his pick.

Irish Independent

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