MOONE AND BE­YOND

Things are go­ing well for Chris O’Dowd, the Roscom­mon boy who ad­mits that he drifted al­most by ac­ci­dent into act­ing. From a half-hearted ca­reer in mi­nor GAA, to a lack­lus­tre col­lege ca­reer that saw Amy Hu­ber­man’s mother drive him to ex­ams, he’s now mak­ing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - BORN STAR -

If any­one has spent time stand­ing in goal on a muddy GAA pitch, it prob­a­bly hasn't oc­curred to you that ne t-mind­ing is the ideal prepa­ra­tion for Hol­ly­wood star­dom. But ac tor Chris O'Dowd, who spent his youth be­tween the sticks for Boyle GAA Club, Boyle Celtic FC and Roscom­mon, cer­tainly thinks so. “You don't be­come a goal­keeper un­less you en­joy the whole sur­round­ings of pres­sure and lazi­ness. It is very much like be­ing an ac­tor — it's the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of huge pres­sure and then mas­sive lazi­ness, with large pe­ri­ods of in­ac­tiv­ity.”

The gan­gly Boyle man is cer­tainly play­ing a blinder in his cho­sen ca­reer. TV suc­cess play­ing Roy Tren­ne­man in cult com­edy, The IT Crowd, led to strato­spheric achieve­ment in Hol­ly­wood, with star turns in movies such as Brides­maids, The Sap­phires and Gul­liver's Trav­els.

The safest hands in Boyle is in­cred­i­bly dis­arm­ing in per­son, be­ing re­ally chatty and open. Dressed in a flo­ral shirt and cord jacket, he has the look of a sec­ond-tier co­me­dian rather than a mem­ber of Hol­ly­wood roy­alty. Just off the plane, he or­ders a pint as we be­gin our chat. “I just re­alised that I didn't bring a feck­ing iPhone charger. Dis­as­ter!” he says.

Once a power source has been lo­cated, he tells me what he's been up to. The 34-year-old is here to pro­mote the sec­ond se­ries of his Sky 1 com­edy se­ries, Moone Boy, which hits our screens next month. It's this project — based on his 1990s up­bring­ing in Roscom­mon — which is the most dear to him. Win­ning an award for Moone Boy was the proud­est mo­ment of his ca­reer so far.

“I was very proud when the show won an Ifta last year. We al­ways wanted to make a show for a fam­ily, and we won for Best En­ter­tain­ment Show against The Voice and those weekend en­ter­tain­ment shows. I kind of love that.”

Chris gives off the im­pres­sion that he just drifts into things — whe ther it ’s goal­keep­ing or act­ing — but when he does fo­cus on some­thing, he im­me­di­ately makes a big im­pres­sion.

“I was a mid­fielder, un­der-14 and un­der-16, for the county, and then I started drink­ing and kind of lost in­ter­est, but was still in­ter­ested enough to play. When I got around to mi­nor, with the Leav­ing Cert, and drink­ing, I be­came a goal­keeper, be­cause you didn't have to be re­ally fit and tall­ness helped.”

His ca­reer high­light was turn­ing out as goalie for Roscom­mon against Mayo in the 1997 Con­nacht Mi­nor fi­nal, which earned him a star turn on The Sun­day Game. He also main­tains that act­ing was some­thing he just drifted into as an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity while study­ing in UCD.

“I hadn't that much of an in­ter­est in it, to be hon­est. I had done some school mu­si­cals, but, at that stage, I think I wanted to be a lawyer and re­alised I prob­a­bly wasn't bright enough, and was into law be­cause I re­ally liked the show LA Law. Later, I re­alised, af­ter look­ing into a le­gal ca­reer, that it was re­ally bor­ing and the only bit I re­ally liked was the LA bit. So I did that.”

Chris be­came friends with Amy Hu­ber­man while they were both study­ing in UCD, and it sounds like Amy's mum took pity on the way­ward Roscom­mon lad in those days. “I re­mem­ber Amy's mum bring­ing me to my ex­ams in the car,” he laughs.

“I think I got drunk and twisted my an­kle, so she drove me to all my ex­ams — and I still man­aged to fail most of them! I never grad­u­ated. I got a place, at that stage, in act­ing school in Lon­don, and didn't have that much of an in­ter­est.”

O'Dowd at­tended the pres­ti­gious Lamda drama school in Lon­don — man­ag­ing not to grad­u­ate from there, ei­ther — but, by that stage, his ca­reer was be­gin­ning to take off. “I got a bit of work at the start. I was work­ing in build­ing sites, bar work, as well as tele­sales and all that, and then I did this film about pri­ests. Even though it didn't make any im­pact as a film — it was called Con­spir­acy of Si­lence — and Hugh Bon­neville from Down­ton Abbey was in it.

“Hugh very kindly set me up with his agent af­ter­wards, even though I had only met him a cou­ple of times on the shoot.”

Even though he was Lon­don-based, his first big break as an ac­tor was in Ire­land back in 2003. “Then The Clinic hap­pened, which was the first reg­u­lar job where I didn't have to have another job. I re­ally en­joyed it.

“Be­ing with Amy was loads of fun, and Norma Shea­han and Ais­ling O'Sul­li­van. I learnt more from Ais­ling than any other ac­tor I have acted with. She's ter­rific,” he says.

“I learnt an aw­ful lot, par­tic­u­larly how to work quickly, as we'd be shoot­ing 10 pages a day with very few takes. It was very high qual­ity for most of it and I re­ally en­joyed it,” adds Chris.

His big English break came in 2006, when he was cast in Gra­ham Line­han's new sit­com, The IT Crowd. “When they were au­di­tion­ing, I just wanted to get in the room as I was a huge fan of Gra­ham's. I think he was al­most specif­i­cally look­ing for not an Ir­ish guy. He'd done so much with that, and it took a bit of con­vinc­ing, but it worked out great.”

Does he ever have a feel­ing be­fore he does a project that some­thing is des­tined for suc­cess or fail­ure?

“I had a feel­ing be­fore we started The IT Crowd that it was go­ing to go great be­cause

it's Gra­ham Line­han and Ash Atalla, who did

The Of­fice. And then we did our first se­ries — which didn't go amaz­ing — and I thought, ‘Oh, shit. I'm go­ing to be the guy in the first Gra­ham Line­han sit­com that didn't work!’ That was wor­ry­ing, but the show got bet­ter and we got bet­ter, and I'm very proud of it.”

For all his la­conic charm, Chris is ac­tu­ally very fo­cused on his ca­reer, and it strikes me that he was con­stantly push­ing him­self to the next level, rather than wait­ing around for things to hap­pen. This is cer­tainly what pro­pelled him af­ter The IT Crowd.

“Then I started do­ing a cou­ple of Bri­tish films that weren't great,” he says. “Then I felt, ‘I don't know what the next move is here and don't feel like I'm pro­gress­ing.’ There were a lot of side­ways steps here. I was re­ally en­joy­ing it, but felt I wasn't get­ting bet­ter and the projects weren't get­ting any bet­ter.”

So what kept him go­ing when he felt he was in a rut? “Lack of other op­tions. I'm not qual­i­fied to do any­thing else! I've never fin­ished a course I've started. I also love act­ing and felt that I'd be good at it, but there is that mo­ment where you say, ‘What am I go­ing to do?’

“The IT Crowd was great, but I felt I was not get­ting the kind of op­por­tu­ni­ties that would make things much bet­ter, so I just went to LA.

“I had an agent and a man­ager from a pi­lot five years be­fore that, but hadn't done any­thing since,” says Chris.

But he felt that the stars were aligned the mo­ment he got to LA — for a num­ber of rea­sons. “It was mad. I had come out of a long-term re­la­tion­ship, and I was feel­ing very open to the world and open to op­por­tu­ni­ties. You know, those times in your life when you — for what­ever rea­son — are in a zone. ‘I'm the best ver­sion of my­self this month’, that kind of thing. The other 11 months you could be rub­bish — and it hap­pened that month when I had to be good at my job.

“I was good and so I got a few jobs, things like Gul­liver's Trav­els, which I got within three weeks of ar­riv­ing, and that kind of led to another job.” That ‘other job' was a part in the movie,

Din­ner for Schmucks, act­ing along­side Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. Now Hol­ly­wood was re­ally kick­ing off for Chris O'Dowd.

“I got the Din­ner for Schmucks thing. At that point, you're start­ing to work with peo­ple you re­ally love, like Ja­son Se­gal, Jack Black, and then Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and Zach Galifianakis. You're kind of see­ing that it's not that far, even though you're play­ing a small part. They're like you and have a sim­i­lar sen­si­bil­ity. This isn't men­tal that I'm here do­ing this.”

And then the movie Brides­maids hap­pened in 2011, when Chris landed the plum role of a cake-lov­ing cop along­side Kris­ten Wiig. “I had a real feel­ing that I wouldn't get it. When you ar­rive at th­ese au­di­tions, there's a sheet out­side and you see the other names. I said to my­self, ‘I should go home!' Hon­estly, what I went in think­ing was, be­cause it was quite a big part, ‘You're not go­ing to get it, but there might be some­thing else in the film.’”

But it turned out that the film’s di­rec­tor, Paul Feig, was a big IT Crowd fan, Chris’s au­di­tion went great and he ended up get­ting

‘I don’t get very ner­vous in au­di­tion sit­u­a­tions. I get ner­vous in other sit­u­a­tions, where I have to talk to a group of peo­ple’

the part of Of­fi­cer Nathan Rhodes. Be­sides mas­sively boost­ing his pro­file, his role in

Brides­maids means he's now free to use his Ir­ish ac­cent in movies as well. “I went into the Brides­maids au­di­tion and did it in an Amer­i­can ac­cent, and they said, ‘Don't worry, do your own.’ And the fact that the movie went well meant I will never have to worry about it again. If I had gone in and the whole au­di­ence had watched the movie, and they said, ‘What the fuck is the guy say­ing?' then that would have been prob­lem­atic. I'm al­ways ar­gu­ing to have Ir­ish ac­cents in things, and now peo­ple op­posed to this have no ar­gu­ment.”

Does he ever get ner­vous in au­di­tions or per­for­mances? “I don't get very ner­vous in au­di­tion sit­u­a­tions. I get ner­vous in other sit­u­a­tions, where I have to talk to a group of peo­ple,” he says.

Chris's par­ents are a big in­flu­ence on his life, and Moone Boy is clearly based on his Boyle childhood. They've al­ways been sup­port­ive, but his dad, Sean, can be overzeal­ous when it comes to sup­port­ing his son's bur­geon­ing movie ca­reer.

“My dad's al­ways on the ra­dio! Dad's ter­rific and he's very open with the press and ev­ery­thing, and, one day, he was be­ing in­ter­viewed by the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent, talk­ing about a job that I hadn't signed up to yet! And so I called him.

“I told him there was talk about it, but he shouldn't men­tion it un­til it was done and dusted. Then he says to me, ‘Hold on, hold on. I can't talk, Chris . . . I'm just on the ra­dio.’ Then I thought, ‘Just leave him to it!’”

His dad's job, when Chris was a kid, had

a piv­otal role in the first se­ries of Moone Boy. “My dad was a printer and used to do the elec­tion posters. I had such a vis­ceral mem­ory of the faces of the politi­cians all over the house, be­cause he had run out of places to dry the posters.

“It was a very sur­real thing. I had the sin­is­ter looks of Padraig Flynn ev­ery­where in the house grow­ing up!”

Moone Boy was a spin off from Sky 1's Lit­tle Crack­ers com­edy-drama shorts, which saw well-known names recre­ate episodes from their own child­hoods. O'Dowd had writ­ten a one-off episode called Cap­tur­ing Santa, which Sky liked, and they de­vel­oped the

Moone Boy se­ries from that in 2012. “I did the short with my friend from col­lege, Nick [Vin­cent Mur­phy]. It was about my fam­ily. When we did the show, it went re­ally well and we had a good time do­ing it. Sky were happy with it. I think what they wanted was for me to play the dad in a sit­com and I wasn't in­ter­ested in do­ing that, and I also loved the world I had cre­ated in the short.”

But Chris over­looked one cru­cial fac­tor. If they couldn't find the right kid for the ti­tle role, it would be Moone with­out the boy. “Be­cause we saw so many kids that weren't great. And we're like, ‘I don't know if the show works.’ And then we found David on some ran­dom day in Athlone.

“We had a re­ally great cast­ing di­rec­tor, who just went down the coun­try, be­cause I didn't want any Dublin kids. David had done bits of the­atre and stuff, but had never been on cam­era be­fore, which was kind of the per­fect thing, and he was great at learn­ing lines.”

David plays Martin Moone, the youngest child of a fam­ily liv­ing in ru­ral Ire­land. Chris plays Sean, who is Martin's imag­i­nary friend. “David's par­ents are lovely, too. I met him ear­lier on to­day,” Chris says. “I was try­ing to do some sort of joke to him, and he says to me, ‘Is this go­ing any­where?' He’s still only 12 — that's just too de­vel­oped!”

“David has three older sis­ters, which I had as well. We have a very sim­i­lar up­bring­ing. They're very help­ful. One of them does all his lines with him ev­ery night,” he adds.

Chris is a self-con­fessed con­trol freak, and he is his own worst critic about

Moone Boy. “When I'd watch the first se­ries of the show, I'd kind of gig­gle along with it, but I don't know if it's get­ting the big belly laughs that I wanted.

“I can be a night­mare: ‘What the fuck is all this?’ ‘Can we cut all of this?’ I am pretty hard on the show. It's just to make sure that it is go­ing some­where,” he says. What can we ex­pect in the new se­ries of

Moone Boy then? “The big thing that we wanted to al­ter a bit was to get out­side. I re­ally like Se­ries One, but it's very in­te­rior. I think it was great at set­ting up the char­ac­ters, but, when you think of your childhood, you think of the sum­mer and be­ing out­side. It felt right that they should go on more adventures.” Moone Boy Se­ries Two sounds like

Huck­le­berry Finn on the Shan­non, with laughs. “We have a cou­ple of episodes out­side,” Chris ex­plains. “They build a river raft and stuff, and go out and meet a weird man on an is­land, and then there's a golf­ing episode. I also wanted to make the jokes big­ger, with big­ger set pieces.”

There's also a very funny Italia 90 episode, which I had a sneak pre­view of, and it's well worth a look.

A third se­ries of Moone Boy has also been filmed, and that's due for broad­cast be­fore the end of the year. “I di­rected the third se­ries and I want to see how it feels,” says Chris. “I would be very sur­prised if this was the end. Who knows? Maybe Christ­mas spe­cials, a film, the books.”

O'Dowd and his Moone Boy col­lab­o­ra­tor, Nick Vin­cent Mur­phy, agreed a six-fig­ure deal in Novem­ber to write two chil­dren's books based on the show.

“There will be lots of jokes, and we hope that par­ents will want to steal the books from their chil­dren to read them, too,” says Chris.

There are other de­vel­op­ments, too. The first Moone Boy se­ries is now be­ing broad­cast on the Amer­i­can online stream­ing ser­vice, Hulu, and they are also in dis­cus­sion about US for­mat rights. “I'll write the first cou­ple of episodes, but I'm not con­vinced that it would work. I think the way to go with th­ese things is to make a whole new show.”

As well as his suc­cess­ful on-screen telly and movie ap­pear­ances, Chris also has a thriv­ing ca­reer do­ing voice overs for an­i­mated movies and TV car­toons. He had a star turn in the re­cent movie, Epic, as a snail called Grub who could swal­low his eyes. Was that fun to do?

“In a funny kind of a way, it is fun, but it's quite reg­i­mented — more so than I thought it would be. The ma­te­rial is fun, but, when you haven't seen any of the art­work, it's kind of com­pli­cated and I don't re­ally know what's go­ing on. And, be­cause I'm a con­trol freak, that's not ideal.

“I was shoot­ing Moone Boy while I was do­ing Epic, and so there came a point where they needed me to do stuff and I couldn't do it, so they flew to Spid­dal and recorded some of it in the TG4 stu­dio, which was ter­rific,” Chris adds. He also stars in the kids’ TV ver­sion of

Mon­sters v Aliens. “I am Doc­tor Cock­roach,” says Chris. “It's the same sort of process, but a lot more stuff be­cause it's a TV se­ries, and I've done about 30 scripts so far. I have a lot of lines, say­ing things like, ‘I don't know what we're do­ing!'“

Chris has been hap­pily mar­ried to writer and TV pre­sen­ter Dawn Porter since Au­gust 2012. Rather than tak­ing her hubby's name, she meshed their sur­names, and now goes by the sur­name O'Porter. They live in Ber­mond­sey, in south Lon­don, with a dog named Po­tato and a cat called Lilu.

“Yeah, south Lon­don is home, and she's lov­ing it,” says Chris. “We go down to Boyle a lot and fly into Knock, but she hasn't been in Dublin that much. I got a text re­cently, when she was on a trip to Dublin, say­ing, ‘I've just fell in love in Dublin', which was nice, be­cause I'd like to force her to live here at some stage.”

Does he have any plans to move back to Ire­land? “Not yet. We're hav­ing a great time, and we'll be in Amer­ica a bit more this year. We’re go­ing where the op­por­tu­ni­ties are for a while, and then move on to the next stage.”

What­ever the next stage is, I'm sure we'll hear it first — from Chris's dad!

‘I had a real feel­ing that I wouldn’t get the part’ — O’Dowd with ‘Brides­maids’ co-star, Kris­ten Wiig, at the Baf­tas in 2012

‘We have a very sim­i­lar up­bring­ing’ — O’Dowd with ‘Moone Boy’ co-star David Rawle at the Iftas in 2013

‘I’d like to force her to live here at some stage’ — O’Dowd with his wife, Dawn O’Porter, at the Iftas in 2013

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