From The IT Crowd to the real-life ‘it crowd’, Chris O’Dowd is now hot Hollywood property. He chats to Shereen Low about his acclaimed new film, The Sapphires
Chris O’Dowd realised he’d become a bona fide star when he received the royal seal of approval from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“I met William and Kate recently and they had watched Bridesmaids a week after they got married,” he reveals.
There is even photographic evidence of the encounter, featuring the Irish actor-writer and his new wife, TV presenter Dawn Porter, with the royal couple – and, naturally, it takes pride of place at his parents’ home.
“There’s a picture in my mum’s house that somebody gave me at my wedding, of myself and Dawn talking to Kate. I had clearly told a big joke that they are laughing at – it’s a good one,” he says proudly. “It’s right as you walk in through the door. Kate is blown up to 8ftx10ft. It seems excessive!”
The 33-year-old, who first gained recognition as computer geek Roy Trenneman in Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd, started to find fame across the pond through appearances in Dinner For Schmucks and Gulliver’s Travels. But it was his portrayal of affable cop and principle heartthrob Nathan Rhodes in smash hit comedy Bridesmaids that really got him noticed.
“It has definitely opened doors for me. Obviously it’s very helpful, because most people wouldn’t have seen me otherwise,” he says in his rounded Irish brogue.
And yet, the Sligo-born, Boyle-raised actor is not comfortable with his growing sex symbol tag. But he obviously but doesn’t mind being described as a “reluctant heartthrob”.
“I wear that status like a hair vest. It’s very fleeting and it’s been fun but I can’t be dealing with all that nonsense, simply because it’s not real,” he says.
It’s largely thanks to being spotted in Bridesmaids that O’Dowd was cast in the role of band manager Dave Lovelace by Wayne Blair, in his directorial debut The Sapphires.
Based on the stage production of the same name, the musical drama set in 1968 traces the journey of Aboriginal girl group The Sapphires, played by Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Deborah Mailman and Shari Sebbens.
“I like to think I was the first choice, after the first six people turned it down,” quips the naturally charming and funny O’Dowd.
“I’m big in the indigenous communities, you know? I like the idea that I’ve got a very niche market. Indigenous Australia, that’s probably my future.”
The Sapphires, which got a 10-minute standing ovation when it premièred at the Cannes Film Festival, has been a resounding success in Australia (it was the highest-earning Australian film on its opening weekend) and was well received when it screened at the 56th BFI London Film Festival recently. Stateside, distribution rights have been snapped up by Hollywood heavyweight The Weinstein Company.
“I think it tells a reasonably unknown story to a wide audience and I’m proud that we managed to create a film where people who have been oppressed are celebrated,” says O’Dowd. “These are joyous, sexy, strong, sassy and beautiful women, and these stories are not told as often as they should be.”
As Lovelace, the actor belts out soul tracks such as The Temptations’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).
“I’m big into soul music and, coincidentally at the time, I had been listening to a lot of soul and gospel – a lot of early Sam Cooke, Al Green and that sort of stuff,” he says.
While he didn’t have to take any singing lessons, O’Dowd did, however, have to learn how to play the piano.
“I didn’t have a clue how to do it beforehand, so I had to learn it pretty quickly. And far from the romance of the ballrooms in the 1960s, I was teaching myself while I was working on another job at the time,” he recalls.
“So I was flying back and forth between Sydney and LA, teaching myself how to play the piano on an iPad app, which didn’t really feel in keeping with the beautiful nature of soul music from Detroit,” he laughs.
With four musical females on set – Mauboy is a former Australian Idol finalist – the set was filled with song.
“Jess sings all the time, so she would start singing and everyone would join in. It was like we were in an episode of High School Musical. We sang a lot of Beyoncé, but I let them do the moves.”
Having grown up with three older sisters, O’Dowd didn’t mind being outnumbered. “Four beautiful women is my go-to place. I grew up with a house full of women so I felt very comfortable,” he says with a grin.
“They were like a little family, and I felt at different times like their younger brother, older brother, their uncle and their drunk cousin. But I had a great time with them all. They’re just the loveliest women.”
Like his IT Crowd co-star Richard Ayoade, the Irish star has branched out into films but hasn’t forgotten his TV roots. He recently starred in BBC series The Crimson Petal And The White and has a recurring role in new US sitcom Girls.
He also created and wrote celebrated new Sky TV series Moone Boy, which has been given the green light for a second series.
“I really enjoy writing and would love to do a lot more of that,” he says.
“In a perfect world, I’d spend half my time behind the camera and half in front of it, so I’ll do what I can to make that happen.”
As for his future big-screen outings, he’s soon to appear tussling with Megan Fox in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up sequel This Is 40, and taking on Nick Frost on the dance floor in salsa dance-themed comedy Cuban Fury.
Off-screen, O’Dowd married Porter in August, and happily reveals that he’s enjoying life as a husband, although he’s yet to fulfil one of his most important initial duties.
“I love it. It’s great,” he says, “though we still have to find time for a honeymoon!”
The Sapphires opens in cinemas on November 7