From Boyle to Broadway: Chris O'Dowd on his career and "Of Mice and Men"


The actor has been busy since Bridesmaids, and it’s made him eager to return to his roots as an actor and Roscommoner.

From the beginning of our conversation, Chris O’Dowd is enthusiastic. I only have my first two words out before he says, “Yes!” My first two words, “Moone Boy,” are the title of O’Dowd’s autobiographical coming-of-age comedy that is back for a second season after a near two-year hiatus and O’Dowd is rightfully exclamatory. As he will explain in a few seconds, the second episode of the second season aired hours before in Ireland and the U.K. and he’s on Twitter checking the reaction. It’s good.

Immensely personal and culturally aware, “Moone Boy” may be O’Dowd’s favorite project right now because it connects him to his childhood home. In fact, many of the scenes are filmed in places he knew as an adolescent, and most of the storylines are drawn straight from his own experience growing up in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. It is of course embellished with sharp one-liners and O’Dowd, now 34, playing the imaginary friend to Martin Moone, the fictionalized version of his 12-year-old self, which he claims he never had.

But “Moone Boy” is only the beginning of our conversation and O’Dowd’s burgeoning career. This year alone, he has four films making their U.S. premiers: The Double, an adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novella directed by Richard Ayoade, a former co-star in the U.K. hit sitcom “The IT Crowd” where O’Dowd had his first major break; St. Vincent de Van Nuys, a dark comedy in which he stars along with Bill Murray; Cuban Fury, which sees him partnered with both Rashida Jones (“Parks and Rec”) and Nick Frost (Shawn of the Dead, The World’s End) and promises a parking lot dance-off; and Calvary, the second feature by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) and also starring Brendan Gleeson. Not only is O’Dowd appearing in these films, but beginning March 19, he will be on Broadway for a limited-engagement revival of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men as Lennie, a large but simple-minded migrant worker, opposite James Franco who plays George, Lennie’s short-tempered companion.

Since his appearance in Bridesmaids in 2011 as the handsome and huggable Officer Rhodes who falls for Kristen Wiig, O’Dowd has been in demand. Mostly, he takes this in stride, but recognizes the impulse to read too much into his characters as a reflection of himself. The roles he’s taken since his catapult to American fame three years ago have been mostly comedic, if bordering on melancholy. In 2012’s Friends with Kids he portrays with biting realism a husband trying to find the balance between reconnecting with his wife and enjoying alone time after the births of their children. And his performance as a washed-out cruise ship entertainer-turned-aboriginal soul-group band manager in the Australian film The Sapphires allowed him to demonstrate the full emotional range of a man struggling with his own mediocrity, using comedy as a crutch (a very funny crutch), and envisioning greater responsibility for himself.

But although he’s a funny man on screen, O’Dowd is deadly serious about his craft and the work that goes into it. In our conversation below, he talks about the genesis for “Moone Boy,” the importance of women in comedy, his ideal schedule, and why he stopped playing Gaelic football (which he’s only possibly joking about).

What made you want to go back to that time in your life when “Moone Boy” is set, or that period of transition in Ireland, the late 80s and early 90s, when you started the show a few years ago?

It was just after Bridesmaids came out and I felt like I needed to go back and do something that reconnected with home so that it didn’t get washed away in the madness.

And you studied politics and sociology at UCD.

I did!

Did that education influence the writing at all for “Moone Boy”? It’s a show about individual characters surely, but they’re often banded together or separated by their reactions to the political and cultural events at the time.

I guess so; I don’t know! I don’t know if there’s much influence from the politics side, but I am very interested in politics, and I did do an episode in the first season with the first female president being elected. And sociologically, I guess at that time in Ireland the biggest change I think is the nature of women’s roles politically and socially. I like the idea that the show has very strong female characters in it. Even though the main characters are male, the female characters are strong, independent women. So that I guess would be the only part of it.

And that comes from your own childhood growing up with your sisters and your family dynamic.

Yes, obviously it’s a very similar makeup in my family. My dad did the same thing as the dad in the show, my mum did the same thing, I had three sisters, so it is pretty autobiographical.

There’s a scene in the first season where Martin becomes an altar boy because they’re the cool kids at Mass, but then it turns out they’re actually involved in some light embezzlement, shall we say. Were you similarly part of an altar boy mafia?