Irish eyes are smiling
Chris O'Dowd with Deborah Mailman, front, and the rest of the group. Picture: Supplied.

Chris O'Dowd isn't exactly what you call an overnight sensation but things certainly changed quickly for the actor after he landed a role in the romantic comedy Bridesmaids.

"The very simple answer is that suddenly women knew who I was," O'Dowd laughs, his warm Irish accent instantly recognisable down the phone from his home in London.

"When I was in The IT Crowd, blokes would come up to me in the street or at the pub and their girlfriends, who clearly had no idea who I was, would take a picture of me with them. That changed immediately after Bridesmaids came out. Suddenly it was the boyfriend taking the photo."

O'Dowd had been around for a long time before Bridesmaids stormed the box office last year, making more than $288 million worldwide.

As well as starring as Roy in the hit TV comedy series about an IT support centre and in various British shows, he has also appeared on the big screen in films such as The Boat That Rocked, Gulliver's Travels and Dinner for Schmucks.

Yet it is his role as the lovable cop in Judd Apatow's hit comedy that has turned the 32-year-old into one of Hollywood's leading men - not to mention unlikely sex symbol.

"Yes, my fiancee is quite happy about that," laughs O'Dowd, who proposed to his partner, British TV presenter and comedian Dawn Porter last Boxing Day.

"For a long time she was probably unsure and then at last she could say 'See, all my friends thought I was crazy being with you but now it makes sense'."

Of course, it wasn't just the women who came knocking after the success of Bridesmaids. O'Dowd was flooded with scripts from Hollywood studios, although he says he made a conscious decision to choose a role completely different to his last.

And they don't get any more diverse than The Sapphires, the new Australian musical in which O'Dowd stars alongside Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell as the manager of an Aboriginal singing quartet sent to Vietnam to entertain the troops. The film may centre on the four girls but O'Dowd almost steals the show with another down-to-earth and thoroughly endearing performance as the knockabout Dave Lovelace.

"After Bridesmaids came out, it would have been very easy to get stuck in a rom-com rut," he says. "A lot of scripts coming through were of that ilk but not as good. Even though it was an exciting time it was kind of dangerous career-wise.

"This just jumped out at me as something that felt very different and I was excited about getting away from the madness of the Bridesmaids stuff and going over and making a little film in Aussie."

The Sapphires, based on the play by Tony Briggs and directed by Wayne Blair, was filmed in New South Wales and Victoria, giving O'Dowd a chance to spend time with his sister, brother-in-law and their three children in Melbourne. It also enabled him to show off his own musical chops, although he laughs when I tell him how impressed I was by his voice.

"I come from a very music-friendly family," O'Dowd says. "When I was a young kid, I think even before I was born, my dad used to take money from singing with a guitar in pubs and I had an uncle who was a musician so there was always a guitar in the house and late- night drinking and singing sessions.

"I guess that all totally escaped me until this film where I went and learnt how to play the piano a bit. I think having a fantastic voice is probably three levels more than I deserve but I can hold a tune and sound like I mean it, and that's kind of all I needed to do."

O'Dowd describes the experience of filming The Sapphires as a glorious one and admits the similarities between the Irish and Australian senses of humour made for a lot of fun on set.

"We all take the piss about the same things, which is great," he laughs.

Indeed he formed such a close bond with his co-stars he has asked Mauboy to perform at his wedding this month to Porter, although given his schedule it's unlikely the newlyweds will have much of a honeymoon.

O'Dowd has just finished filming the first season of his TV series, Moone Boy, a semi-autobiographical story about a 12-year-old growing up in the west of Ireland in 1990 with an imaginary friend.

The actor chose a local boy to play the lead and while some of the series was filmed in a studio in Dublin, much was shot in his home town (Boyle, County Roscommon) - and even in his own house.

"I come from a small town so I kind of know everybody there," he says. "The whole experience was terrific. People would turn up with boxes of sweets for the crew and hairdressers going out of town would leave the key for the production manager in case anyone wanted to wash their hair. It was gorgeous."

O'Dowd will film the second series of Moone Boy immediately after his wedding and then Calvary, a black comedy starring fellow Irishman Brendan Gleeson (The Guard).

He is currently filming Cuban Fury, a comedy starring Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) about a former salsa prodigy who attempts a comeback years after his career was ruined by a rival dancer. "It was one of those things that I felt I would have a natural aptitude for and day by day I have been proved wrong," he laughs when I ask how his dancing compares to his singing.

However, before we get the chance to see O'Dowd work his magic on the dance floor he will be back on the big screen in the much-anticipated This Is 40, a follow-up to director Apatow's 2007 film, Knocked Up - which is due for release in February.

He admits the similarities between the films he's doing and his own life are "totally weird".

"I am essentially going through a period where the stuff I am doing is in tune to what's going on in my own life, whether it's Bridesmaids, which I'm up to my balls in at the moment, or kids' stuff, which is hopefully around the corner."

The Sapphires is now screening.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West