With his smash hit UK TV series Moone Boy now available in the US via Hulu, Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd cements his place as the hardest-working man in show biz. We spoke to Chris about his roughly 4,000 ongoing TV and film projects, and subjected him to the same 10 questions we always ask everyone.
Moone Boy is semi-autobiographical, and you play the imaginary friend of a young boy growing up in a big Irish family. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child?
I didn’t, unfortunately, and I wrote this show just to have that opportunity. I grew up in a house where there were seven of us and we just really didn’t have room for an imaginary friend in our little bungalow.
Do you come from a dysfunctional family?
Not at all, I think it’s the most functional family. I think it’s a family of misfits that work together perfectly, like a scrambled egg sandwich.
And how does your family feel about the show?
They have never seen it and they never will.
They probably don’t even know you’re an actor…
I told them that I went to law school and I haven’t heard from them since. No, they love it, they really do. Everybody comes across really well, I think, in the show. And we shot a lot of it in my hometown in the west of Ireland, and some of it in my mother’s house. So they all feel very connected to it. It’s terrific.
In addition to creating and starring in it, you also write and produce Moone Boy. Is this show like your baby?
Yeah, I spend probably nine months a year working on it, so it has the normal gestation period of an infant, and it’s very personal, obviously. And I’m actually directing the series as well because I was just around all the time and it seemed to make sense.
American audiences sometimes don’t get the subtleties of U.K.-style humor. What is it about Moone Boy that makes it so relatable to all audiences?
Well, I think it’s very universal in its themes, which I think helps. It’s essentially about a family, where the youngest kid is an idiot, and he has an imaginary friend. And I think that’s most families, so I think that helps. The world is very specific, but I think by that old news maxim (and I didn’t just try to get “maxim” in there for advertising purposes), which is: every new story is a local story somewhere. And I think that is true of television. Every family is specific to where it’s from. Generally comedies that to try and make themselves incredibly universal and loved by everybody are generally liked by loads and loathed by most.
You have been quoted as saying that you think women are not offered enough good roles or good opportunities as writers in the comedy world. Do you think that has begun to shift a bit since Bridesmaids? Is that part of what drew you to that movie?
Definitely. To be honest, throughout my career, it’s just been my experience that I seem to work with a lot of female directors, definitely a lot more than the normal percentage of female directors that are out there, and I always enjoy it, because I think the characters are awesome and written better. But I do think things are shifting, it certainly seems that way, and I certainly hope so, with the likes of Kristin [Wiig] and Annie Mumolo, Lena Dunham, and [Friends with Kids director/star] Jennie Westfeldt, all of whom I worked with in the last 18 months. There’s so many amazing women out there, as soon as we get a shift in what male-to-female producers and executives are out there, I think it will come along even quicker.
Speaking of Bridesmaids, do you know of any real Irish-born police officers in Milwaukee?
I know at least a dozen.
I thought that number would be higher. Your role as Thomas-John in Girls was one of the more serious characters you’ve played; he had a bad temper and a bit of a dark side.
Yeah, he was pretty troubled.
Was that something that attracted you to the role, or was it working with Lena Dunham? Something else?
I had only met Lena kind of briefly before, to be honest. So I kind of just thought it was great writing more than anything else. And yeah, I thought it would be a very fun counterpoint to other things I was doing at the time. And obviously I thought I was doing just one episode, which was the episode where I try and have a threesome with the two girls. And we kind of had some fun on it, so Lena asked me to come back and do some more. And I remember at the time saying, “I don’t know if he could come back, he’s such a weirdo, what would you have him do?” and she said, “I’m going to have him marry one of the girls.” And I don’t know if anybody else could’ve made it work, but she certainly did.
I know that on Girls there’s a fair amount of on-the-spot improvising; Judd Apatow, who directed you in This is 40, encourages that, as do the SNL alums; and now you’re working on Family Tree with Christopher Guest, the king of improv. Do you have any formal background in improv comedy?
I don’t really have a big improv background, but it is something that, over the last five or six years, I do a lot of, and to be honest it’s probably where I feel the most comfortable. Obviously the Christopher Guest show is entirely improvised, so there is no [scripted] dialogue, and yeah, Judd and Lena were always up for throwing in stuff, so that’s great. Great scripts are the best, but the opportunity to improvise is also terrific.
You also recently starred in a movie called Frankie Go Boom in which Ron Perlman plays a transsexual. Did you even have to read that script, or was “Ron Perlman plays a transsexual” all you really needed to hear?
I think we’ve all been waiting for that moment. To be honest, I was surprised that he hadn’t done it before, because his physicality lends itself so well to fishnets. And I don’t like to go to work unless I know I’m going to get aroused.
How does a kid from Boyle, Ireland, end up in show biz? What were some of your comedy influences?
God, that’s a good question, I don’t really know. I came to comedy much later. I went to drama school and was like a Shakespearean actor for a couple years. But in terms of like the small town…we had one celebrity when I was growing up. Very old, a woman called Maureen O’Sullivan and she was the first Jane in Tarzan. And I remember when I was around 7 or 8, she came back from living in Hollywood all of her life, and she was in her 70s, and they threw her a parade. And as a 7-year-old I must’ve thought, “Wow, she must’ve done something special to get a parade. I want a parade. What do I have to do to get a parade?” And my life’s been basically a journey to get a parade.
Are there specific shows or movies or comedians that shaped your sense of humor?
I grew up really on American sitcoms, much more than British. I remember watching Cheers – that was really big for me. I remember watching that with my dad. And The Wonder Years, and Roseanne. And I think The Wonder Years and Roseanne definitely are huge touchstones for Moone Boy; obviously it’s a very different place in the world, but tonally there are some similarities there. I used to love how on Roseanne, it was the only real family on television at the time. I’ve always loved that.
That’s interesting, because I might have thought that type of working-class Middle America family might be difficult to fully relate to outside of the U.S.
I don’t think so. The thing is that everywhere else in the world there’s a working class. But for some reason, mostly on American television, they forget about them. Everybody drives their two Mercedes, and nobody seems to be struggling for money at any stage. Everybody in Friends, they live in this 2,000-foot apartment, but they work at a coffee house. You know, where I love Roseanne is that it’s kind of more typical of the way that people in Ireland lived than any kind of upper class English or American show.
You’ve been at this since long before Bridesmaids. What was the worst job you ever had to take before you made it?
Oh my God, so many terrible jobs, both in and out of the industry. When I came to London first, I worked on building sites, and I worked in call centers, and as a kitchen porter. Just loads of horrible shit. And then when I was starting off, I did some really bad commercials. And I did a commercial one time for McDonalds, and I had to eat a Big Mac in the commercial, and I found out that what they do is, they don’t cook the burgers for the commercials, because if they cook them they shrink. So what they do is they microwave them and then they paint them with a kind of gravy. So it’s a raw burger, and I had to eat 42 of them. I would chew them, but I could spit them out, so I would chew it and then I would have a spit bucket, and I would spit it into the bucket. At the end of the day I took a picture of the spit bucket full of burger, and that’s a picture that’s above a desk in my office now to make sure that I always work hard.
If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you might be?
A tree surgeon or a dog trainer. Or a house husband.
House husband, I think that’s probably the money job to have.
Yeah, I would love to be a house husband.
You actually played Maxim’s creator, Felix Dennis, in a movie called The Hippie Hippie Shake. Did you get to meet him?
Yes. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but he’s a very charismatic man. I really liked him, he was a lot of fun.
Can you tell us anything about the new Thor movie, and your role in it?
I can tell you two big things: One, my role is small; and two, I have no idea what the movie’s about. That’s your article opener. I’d put that on the cover!
AND NOW, CHRIS O’DOWD ANSWERS THE SAME 10 QUESTIONS WE ALWAYS ASK EVERYONE!
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
Oh God, I apologize so many times a day. I forgot to flush.
What’s your favorite curse word or phrase?
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
Oh, this week or last week. We were in Glastonbury last weekend and I had to go straight to work, and that was a struggle.
What was your first car?
I only learned how to drive like three years ago, so my first car is a car I still own, and it’s a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, 1969. It’s a piece of shit. It’s been in the garage more than it’s been near my house.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
Yeah, I do, actually, I have a few. But I still have a scar running across my middle finger on my right hand, which I’m looking at right now, from when my sister used to chase me around the kitchen with a knife.
Did she get punished for that for a long time?
She got sent to jail. She did some time. [Laughing] No, I don’t think she did. I’m sure it was my fault.
Do you have a party trick?
I can blow smoke out of my own arse.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
What’s the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
Oh God, wow, that’s a good question. It’s been a while… You’re allowed to squeeze nipples.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day I would…
If I ruled the world for one day, I would have a lot of time to masturbate.
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