Bridesmaids is the surprise early hit of the summer. Co-starring Chris O’Dowd as an Irish cop, the Irish actor steals the show. He talks to CAHIR O’DOHERTY about the huge surprise of finding himself front and center of this new comedy blockbuster.
CHRIS O’Dowd, 31, is already known to millions as Roy, the hapless tech support guy in the hit comedy series The IT Crowd (written by Father Ted genius comedy writer Graham Linehan).
To O’Dowd’s fans in Ireland and the U.K. he’s already a household name, but when he stepped into the rehearsal room in Los Angeles to read for his role as Officer Rhodes, an Irish-born traffic cop working in the U.S. in the new hit comedy Bridesmaids, almost no one else at the table knew who he was.
“They didn’t have a clue who I was, just like most of the audience still don’t, you know?” O’Dowd tells the Irish Voice. “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.”
The Boyle, Co. Roscommon native adds he’s only being slightly flippant.
“Creatively, when nobody knows you, there’s no expectation. Nobody is waiting for you to deliver a punch line or to be funny or serious,” O’Dowd feels.
“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 U.S. for that reason.”
O’Dowd was in Hollywood speaking to the Irish Voice by telephone, and like most Irishmen abroad the weather is the first thing he’s noticed. “Today it’s lovely and sunny. I like that part about being in LA.”
But what about the fact that critics have been feting him all week for his breakout turn as Officer Rhodes in Bridesmaids?
“It’s been very exciting hasn’t it?” he laughs, but you hear the self-deprecation in his voice. He sounds like someone who can’t quite believe his luck and has no intention of letting it go to his head.
In person and onscreen O’Dowd is slightly nerdy, but that’s part of his particular appeal, and he’s undeniably handsome too in a roguish way that’s irresistible to many. There’s that obvious Irish accent and then there’s the charm and smarts that go with it.
The big surprise of Bridesmaids, which earned excellent critical reviews and made more than $26 million at the U.S. box office last weekend, is that they let an Irish actor play a U.S. cop with O’Dowd’s accent. How did it come about?
“I went in to the audition like everyone else did with an American accent, 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,” he says.
“They just liked it. They didn’t want to make it a formulaic story. So my accent was part of the whole thing in the movie where everything is a bit askew.”
By the end of Bridesmaids O’Dowd has quietly but completely eclipsed the lantern jawed Jon Hamm in the hunk stakes. That takes some doing. Hamm is certainly gorgeous, but frankly O’Dowd looks good too and is way more fun on top of it -- and for any smart girl, including the film’s star and co-writer, Kristen Wiig, who plays the lovelorn Annie, that’s ultimately the clincher.
In fact O’Dowd and Wiig generate so much chemistry you’ll start casting them together in edgy independent romantic comedies before the credits roll. Her nerviness and sarcasm find their match in his charm and smarts. It’s a classic Hollywood pairing if the studios have the wit to see it.
O’Dowd plays the guy that you fall for when you finally work out he was perfect for you all along. But was he inspired by relationships from his own life?
“I’ve often been the a**hole in relationships, as I’m sure most of us have,” O’Dowd confesses. “But I’ve often been the other guy too, the one who’s a little bit too keen and the other one isn’t into you.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow, but like that there’s no telling in love, you don’t listen to anyone when you feel like you’ve found someone that works. Bridesmaids is nice in that respect. In Rhodes’s relationship you can see his side of it.”
O’Dowd says he was attracted to the role because he liked the idea of playing a romantic interest who watches and waits on the sidelines for the heroine to come to her senses. It’s the kind of role, he freely admits, that is usually played by a woman.
“I liked the idea because you don’t see it often. It’s such a male orientated industry and male characters are generally written as dynamic incredible men, with these silly women running after them,” says O’Dowd.
“That’s not what happens in real life, so it was really nice to play that to level things out. To show male characters who can be weak or overly sweet or clueless as anyone is great.”
Is comedy more of a challenge than straight up drama, though?
“Yeah, just because the results are so readable. Drama is a subjective thing, people can enjoy it or not enjoy it for different reasons. But in comedy if people don’t laugh you haven’t done well, there’s kind of no way around it,” he says.
“It’s either funny or not funny, and generally you know yourself. I’ve very rarely done a part that I was thought was funny where people came out and said ‘Do you know what? I didn’t find that funny.’
“You kind of know yourself. It’s hard in that respect, because there are a thousand wrong ways and only one right way.”
O’Dowd has also been open about his interest in starring in a musical -- either onstage or onscreen -- and he makes no secret of his admiration for Glen Hansard’s Irish Oscar winning film Once.
“I do like the idea of modern musicals (in film). 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. It’s the only thing that works for him. There is something about that idea I really do like.”
Meanwhile, though, is he getting used to the accolades for Bridesmaids? Will all the praise ever go to his head?
“I don’t think about it in those terms, because that’s too much to take in. It’s good to know it’s going well,” O’Dowd says of his career.
“Luckily I never get too caught up in that stuff whether it’s bad or good. I always try and remember that it’s never as good as people say or as bad as people say. Hopefully things will go well from here on in, but until they do everything is normal.”
Is it because he’s Irish and the Irish don’t have much patience with showoffs?
“I think that’s true. It’s because actors over here can be treated like heroes. There’s almost a beautification of people with successful film careers,” he feels.
“People in Ireland find all that a little bit silly. So Irish actors who are doing well never take themselves too seriously because they know it is just a little bit silly. I have a constant look like I’m about to be thrown from the donkey’s back.”
O’Dowd’s next big film is Friends With Kids which he filmed in New York City in February with a bunch of the same people from Bridesmaids (including Wiig and John Hamm). It’s a film about thirtysomethings navigating life and love in New York and it’ll probably be out by the end of the year, so he’s keeping busy. But busy these days still includes regular trips to Ireland.
“I get over a good bit, and I find more and more that I’m going over for religious festivals,” he says.
“I’ll be going over for my godson’s Confirmation at the end of the month. My sisters have all been engaging in a baby making competition over the last four or five years. It’s a cacophony of christenings I’ve been treated to over the last half decade. I’ll have my work cut out.”