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November 23rd, 2010

When LF met CHRIS O’DOWD

By Dan Collacott & Imran Mirza

Chris O’Dowd established himself as a household name by playing laid back IT technician and lovable geek Roy Trenneman in hit sitcom IT Crowd. Born in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland - the charismatic actor has recently starred in The Boat that Rocked and Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel. At the end of the year he will be seen staring in big budget Jack Black led epic Gulliver’s Travels, we caught up with the charismatic actor to talk about all things IT Crowd and his career so far.

Would you say you were anything like your characters, Roy or Ray [from Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel]?

Probably somewhere in between. I’m much more of a pragmatist than both – I’m not quite as grumpy as Roy, but not as positive as Ray.

Do you prefer straight acting or do you prefer comedy acting?

I like both … I never imagined I would become a comic actor, it just kinda worked out like that, so it’s surprising but in no way disappointing as I’m really enjoying it. I like the fact that people are laughing at my characters so I like that I’m not terrible at making that happen.

I actually thought that you started out as a stand up?

I think that’s fair, there are so many [who start that way], particularly from sitcoms so there’s nothing negative about that.

I think it proves how brilliant an actor you are – there aren’t that many people that can do it, but you can make people laugh with an expression, and that’s a rare thing.

Thank you very much.

So what was it like working with Graham Linehan?

Great, he’s a lovely man and a very funny writer and I’ve really enjoyed my time with him.

Was there a lot of corpsing on the set of The IT Crowd?

There was an episode last year. I find Richard [Ayoade] the funniest guy to work with, and he had to deliver some kind of a speech. I can’t remember if it was a storytelling speech, but it was something he was doing, and I started laughing and we were doing it in front of a live audience. Eventually, I had to leave the set and he had to do the rest of the scene to a pillow.  He told me it was the finest performance he’d ever seen me give

What I find generally with corpsing, is the first couple of times it happens, everyone finds it funny, but after take 6 or 7 when you just can’t stop yourself anymore, and it’s becoming more and more frustrating, you end up the only one that’s laughing.

I spoke to Katherine [Jen Barber] previously and she did say that Richard was the worst when it comes to exploding with laughter.

Oh yeah.  He’s really a talented and lovely guy.

When you started The IT Crowd, the characters seemed very displaced but it evolved very quickly?

Yeah, I think we were all very intimidated by it all, particularly Katherine and I.  I’ve known Katherine for a number of years. We didn’t really find our voice until the end of season 1 and the start of the second one, and I think it’s got better and funnier as it went on, once we got more comfortable.

I think it was a slow burner.

Right, I think it came into its own near the end of Season 1 and the start of Season 2, people really started to notice it and really enjoyed it, and I think it got better.

I think because of Linehan’s credentials, Channel 4 really gave the show a chance?

Well, I think the figures were always good, so I don’t think there was ever an issue after the first season, at the same time I think we were given more leeway.  More than anything, I think they were less worried about having to be involved to make it brilliant or whatever, because I think at Channel 4, no one’s going to know more about comedy that Graham Linehan.

Absolutely.  So far, what’s your favourite episode?

I love the disabled episode [‘The Work Outing’, Series 2 Episode 1], I find that always makes me laugh.  I’m not even in the shot, but the one that always makes me laugh is when Katherine finds me in the wheelchair, we have a little conversation, and she’s thinking ‘what the hell is going on here?’ and then she turns around and Moss is serving behind the bar.  I think that’s a very funny moment.

I love the bit where you’re slowly going up in the lift of the van full of disabled people on the outing.

Oh, that’s great.  That’s a credit to how brilliant Graham is because I remember when we were shooting that and I remember saying to him, ‘Graham, that feels really slow, I think people are going to get bored of it’but he said ‘No’ and I said ‘Alright man, it’s your show’.

So how did you get involved with ‘The Boat That Rocked’?

Well, I think the Richard Curtis was a fan of the sitcom, so he got us all in to look at maybe doing something, then I read for the part a couple of times, and then I got it, that was it really.  The script was really, really fun, and obviously I like Richard Curtis.  There was so many of the cast that I was really excited to work with so it was a no-brainer.

What was Richard himself like to work with?

He’s a really sweet man.  I guess he’s so successful at this stage, he’s the boss on set.

What were the cast like? I read somewhere that you said Philip Seymour Hoffman would carry his Oscar around with him and dress it in little clothes?

Everyone got on very well.  With the whole big ego thing, there definitely wasn’t any of that.  I think whenever you work with people in comedy, the very moment someone would become egotistical, they would just be cut down with humour so you can’t really be a prima donna.

So who have you enjoyed working with the most?

Well, I was really excited to work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, he’s one of my favourite actors.  I also love working with Nick Frost as well, he’s so funny.  And Richard Ayoade. I’ve been really lucky, I work with people I really, really like.  I’m working with Jack Black as well.  If there’s one person I definitely want to work with again it would be Mike Leigh, the director.  I did a small bit in a film of his three or four years ago [‘Vera Drake’], and I found him very invigorating.

How did the opportunity for ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ present itself?

I went in like any other jobbing actor, I knew they were still looking for people for the part, and I knew there were much bigger actors than me, and I thought I could do something funny with it, and I did a really good audition.  Then I went back and I worked with Jack on a screen test and that went well, and that was kind of it.  You just go in and try and knock it out of the park when you’re in the room.

So how did you get involved with Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel?

It was a couple of years ago, and I was till on the hunt for work and trying to get a bit of experience, and I really liked the conversational nature of the script, although it was a sci-fi comedy.

For those who’ve not yet seen it can you give us a little overview of the plot?

It’s about three guys, one of whom is obsessed with time travel, and he gets fired at the start of the film from his job at a theme park, so they go to the pub to drown their sorrows, and they end up stumbling along a time leak. As the night goes on, they keep drinking, and they are going forward and back in time without ever leaving the pub.  They’re not actually sure if it’s happened or whether they’ve drunk too much, and then they’re saved by a glorious and beautiful American time traveller [Anna Faris].

She is very beautiful, what was it like working with her?

I think she’s a really terrific comic actress, and I’ve always liked her stuff, and what she’s doing now is great as well.

It’s been described as a cross between ‘Shawn of the Dead’ and ‘Doctor Who’ – are you a fan of either, do you like zombie films and science fiction?

I do, I lean more towards zombie films than science fiction, I never really got into Doctor Who.

It’s very much like ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ – it’s almost an absurdest kind of comedy.

Yeah, it’s also so low key, like we manage to break into the space-time continuum, but we don’t manage to get out of the doors of a pub.

We mentioned zombie films, I’m a big fan of the Romero films myself, so can I ask you what your favourite zombie film is?

I like ‘Dawn of the Dead’.

Remake or original?

The original, I haven’t even seen the remake.

I’m not really a remake person, but I have to see the Zack Snyder remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is quite impressive, and that’s the only horror film I think I’d ever say that about.

Oh, I’ll have to check it out. ’28 Days’ later as well, I thought was well done.

Were you a fan of the sequel?

I don’t think I saw that.

I wouldn’t.

I think I started to watch it but gave up.

Gulliver’s Travels trailer: http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/gullivers-travels/trailer

Like the IT Crowd? Then read our interviews with Katherine Parkinson and Matt Berry!


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