News Column

Who do you think you are, Chris? ; Film extra

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 funnyman 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-yearold.

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 cowritten 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 would 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.

At least it didn't require him to learn any lines. That's so boring, says O'Dowd. But you have to be very focused all the time, which really got in the way of my drinking.

Viewers soon discover 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), 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.

After coming to prominence in 2006 in Channel 4's The IT Crowd, O'Dowd is 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 and Chris Hemsworth.

It was great to be on a big movie where the food's good, he says.

I'm starting to choose projects more and more based on catering, and the catering was exquisite.

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, he jokes. ? .M: Family Tree begins on BBC2 on Tuesday.

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