Hollywood heartthrobs tend to fall out of a mould that guarantees physical perfection, yet Chris O'Dowd has gatecrashed the big-screen A-list without subscribing to the traditional criteria.
Armed with his trademark shaggy beard and his charming personality, this somewhat dishevelled 32-year-old became an overnight sensation thanks to his starring role in the smash-hit movie Bridesmaids last year, after many years of aborted attempts to hit the big time both in the UK and the US. Today, he's a recurring guest on the hit HBO series Girls, appearing as a venture capitalist.
Spending half an hour in the company of this affable Irishman confirms that his engaging on-screen persona is not merely invented for public consumption, as he sat down with The National for a chat that had us giggling from start to finish.
Can you quite believe the success that has come your way in the last year?
Everything seems to have happened so quickly in the last year and it's been hard to comprehend because I went to the audition for Bridesmaids thinking I had no chance of getting it. You know, I just thought: "Ah well, I have nothing better to do," but it all fell into place for me. Let's be honest, no one knew who I was before Bridesmaids, but at least it meant there were not too many big expectations on my performance.
So how did you manage to land the role in such a big movie?
The Bridesmaids director Paul Feig liked a TV show I did in England called The IT Crowd and that helped me, but I had no right to get the role, really. You know, I bought a one-way ticket to LA in 2009 and thought I'd have a go at acting, but I never dreamed it would work out like this.
What did you plan to do with your career when you were growing up in Ireland?
The truth was I wasn't too good at many things and that much was proved when I decided to go to Dublin and do a politics degree. It wasn't for me once I started the course, so I never finished it as a result, but I did a few plays around that time and decided acting was something I'd explore a little bit more.
The advice you were given when you left drama school in London led to quite a colourful start to your acting career. Tell us about that.
Ah, you mean the dog-biting story. I was told by someone that I needed to do something in every audition to stand out and came up with a plan; pretend I had been bitten by a dog on the way to the meeting and feign a painful injury. The dog bite story became more graphic by the week and the idea was that the people doing the casting would sit back at the end of the day and say: "You know what? I like the guy who had been bitten by a dog."
A great plan Chris, but the tone of your voice suggests it didn't pay of.
No, it wasn't successful and the whole thing came tumbling down one day when I started the dog-biting routine at an audition and the folks there turned to me and said: "What a coincidence. You were bitten by a dog the last time we saw you." It turned out I had auditioned for a different role with the same casting directors a few months earlier. The ill-fated dog-biting story routine was abandoned after that.
So there was no dog-biting antics when you auditioned for the role in Bridesmaids?
No. We did some improvisation for an hour in the audition, which is probably something I'm pretty good at. It all seemed to go down well and then I got the call to say I had the job, which was amazing. In many ways, Kristen [Wiig] is the funny one in the movie, but it has certainly opened a lot of doors for me on the comedy front.
Describe the transformation that has occurred in your life since appearing in Bridesmaids.
Well, everything has changed for the better. The best part of it is, my career has taken off because I was a part of a movie I loved as much as the many millions who watched it. If my big break had come in an action movie I didn't care too much for, it wouldn't have meant quite so much, but it came in a film that I'm so proud of and will never grow tired of taking about.
You proposed to your girlfriend (the TV presenter Dawn Porter) last year. Tell us about the moment when you popped the question.
Well, I'm a traditional kind of guy, so I asked her family for permission and then we were walking down a beach in Guernsey [an island just south of the UK] the day after Christmas last year and I asked her to turn around and take a picture of me. When she did that, I was down on one knee with the engagement ring thrust in her direction. We celebrated by eating some shepherd's pie in a pub.
Does she mind all the female attention coming your way now?
It's strange because I was known for The IT Crowd in the UK for a long time, which was a show watched by young guys. Then Bridesmaids came out and women discovered who I was and it was quite a revelation. I think Dawn takes it as a compliment, as it means her decision to be with me doesn't seem quite so stupid now.
Would you like to have kids someday?
My sisters have been indulging in baby-making over the last few years, so maybe I'll join in with that at some point. I've lost count of the amount of christenings I've been to in the last few years. Dawn will have a say in this issue as well, of course. Potato [the couple's beloved dog] is keeping us company for now.
You have two big movies coming out this year. What can you tell us about them?
This is 40 is a spin-off to Knocked Up and I play a record company guy, who is quite a pompous, pretentious guy with a strange moustache. The problem is he can't get a woman and all his bitterness flows from that. Then there is Friends with Kids, which was great fun to make. Some of the same guys from Bridesmaids are involved and it was fantastic to work with them again.
Finally, Chris, can we expect to see a Bridesmaids 2 sooner rather than later?
Everyone asks about this and the honest answer is I don't know. My concern about second movies is they do not live up to the standards of the first and we would certainly have to do a great job to better Bridesmaids. Maybe it will happen, but nothing is in the pipeline just yet.
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