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O'Dowd goes off-script ; This week on TV Your complete guide to what's on the box

July 13, 2013


With the likes of The IT Crowd, Moone Boy and Bridesmaids under his belt, Irishman Chris O'Dowd's proving to be a tour de force in the comedy world. But being funny can be tough, he tells SUSAN GRIFFIN

IT might sound absurd, but there's a strong chance funny man Chris O'Dowd is related to Boy George, aka George O'Dowd.

Same taste in facial hair, same love for attractive men and same surname, says O'Dowd, who's only half joking.

The Irish actor mentioned the possibility of them being cousins when they met. He seemed perfectly happy with that, so we're going to each other's houses for Christmas to see how it goes, he deadpans.

The subject of genealogy has cropped up as it's the basis of his new comedy series Family Tree. It's about a guy called Tom Chadwick who's left by his lady, loses his job, and he's having a bit of an identity crisis, explains the 33-year-old.

Out of the blue he discovers he's been left a box of nonsense in his great aunt's will. He looks into this box for clues as to who he is and where he's from and stumbles across a cacophony of weirdos as the series progresses.

The eight-part comedy, which follows Tom's journey to California to meet his newly-discovered relatives, was co-written and directed by Christopher Guest, the man behind rock spoof This Is Spinal Tap.

And like the iconic 1984 movie, Family Tree is an improvisational, documentary-style comedy.

Chris [Guest] is simply a genius. I'm a big fan of his stuff, says O'Dowd of the American film-maker. I was one of those who had Spinal Tap on a loop in college.

For that reason, the actor admits he felt a mixture of emotions. He's very warm and incredibly funny but it's also intimidating to work with the king of improvisation.

The chance to work without a script was a big draw. I love a bit of improvisation, and I thought it'd be a challenge, he says - and it was.

It's hard to be funny and naturalistic and informative and move the plot along at the same time.

Viewers soon discover that his character Tom has a pretty muddled past, with an Irish mum and English dad who split when he and his sister were young.

Tom ended up living in Ireland with his mother, while his sister Bea grew up in England with their father. I feel sure they flipped a coin to see who took which child, says O'Dowd.

His sister is played by Nina Conti (daughter of actor Tom Conti), who's also a ventriloquist.

In the show she coincidentally has a hand puppet as a coping mechanism for a childhood trauma called Monkey, or Monk.

Monk says a lot of outrageous things but we just treat him like part of the family, essentially as if he's a young kid.

Given the actors were filming off the cuff, there were times when they were guilty of corpsing.

In a weird way, you don't want to laugh during the scene because, as tempting as it is, it ruins it, says O'Dowd.

And while it's great creating comedy for everyone who's there working on the show, it's much better to create it for the three million people watching at home.

There will indeed be many tuning in to watch his latest project, as O'Dowd's built up quite a following since he came to prominence in 2006 in Channel 4's The IT Crowd.

He's now forging a successful film career following his scene- stealing turn in 2011's Bridesmaids and this autumn will appear on the big screen in Thor 2 alongside Natalie Portman (She was very nice) and Chris Hemsworth (He's a very sweet guy).

Later on in the year, there will also be an hour-long special of The IT Crowd, which he finished filming a month ago.

We haven't done it for a few years but it felt like we'd never been away, says O'Dowd.

Everybody's aged pretty badly frankly, especially Richard [Ayoade, his co-star]. He's pretty bald now and he had quite a distinctive haircut so it looks odd. But still sexy because he's got the sexy voice, he says, teasingly. In truth Ayoade still has an afro and his character Moss sounds ever the geek.

It might be three years since he last played angry IT lad Roy but it didn't take O'Dowd long to get back into character.

It's just bad posture really and a mistrust of people, and I've been developing both over the last few years so that helped, he jokes, before revealing this could be the final time the group unite. It was lovely to say hello to the characters again - but also to say goodbye to them. I think we've probably done it now and I'd be surprised if we did any more.

. ? Family Tree begins on BBC2 on Tuesday at 10pm

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