After his breakout performance in Bridesmaids, Irish actor Chris O’Dowd hopes to engage more gay fans this spring with his Broadway debut as oafish simpleton Lennie in Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck’s 1937 play about Depression-era migrant workers — even if they’re mostly there to see James Franco.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: You’ve spoken about how your role in Bridesmaids as Officer Rhodes, Kristen Wiig’s love interest, positioned you to women as a heartthrob for the first time. Have you also seen a spike in interest from gay men?
Chris O'Dowd: From time to time, when I’m feeling my lowest, you guys pipe up and make my day on Twitter. Maybe it was the uniform — and hey, I’m turned on by the Irish accent myself. Regardless, thanks for coming along for the ride.
Starring opposite James Franco in Of Mice and Men certainly won’t hurt your appeal.
I have heard that he’s particularly enjoyed in the gay community, which I can understand for loads of reasons. He’s a lovely actor and my God, he’s a good-looking person. His cheekbones are heartbreakers. But I think the gay audience will also respond to the play because it’s really about two guys on the run from expectations that everyone has of them.
Did you already know James?
No, I didn’t know him, but we have a lot of mutual friends in the comedy world. I’ve always enjoyed watching his stuff, and I’d heard great things about him. The first time I met him was at the photo shoot for the Of Mice and Men poster, and we got along brilliantly.
The show’s success hinges on your chemistry. Do you anticipate a lot of barhopping and boozy male bonding during the run?
I certainly hope so. That’s the reason I’m doing it.
The revival also stars Leighton Meester. Were you a Gossip Girl fan?
To my discredit, I haven’t seen much of it. I don’t know if I can watch a show where everyone is as beautiful as that. It makes me feel very insecure.
Before blowing up in America, you made a career of playing awkward misfits.
Yeah, I’m drawn to the outliers of society. I’ve always felt a bit like that myself, like many people who do arts and comedy. I grew up with three older sisters who would beat me up. When you’re a boy around a bunch of incredibly strong, independent women, you’re basically made to feel like having a penis is wrong.
You created the comedy Moone Boy, which is shown in the U.S. on Hulu, based on your own upbringing in Ireland. In one episode, Martin, the 12-year-old protagonist, inadvertently wears makeup to school, where his classmates think he’s expressing his sexuality. What inspired that?
My sisters would put makeup on me when I was asleep and send me to school. At their cruelest, they would do a good, subtle job, so people would look at me strangely, thinking something was not quite right, and then finally realize that I was wearing blusher.
Martin also deals with bullies. Were you bullied as a kid?
Yeah, to an extent, by the bigger boys. You never look back on those moments and laugh, but you always look back and feel like they shaped you into the person you are.
Any upcoming LGBT storylines on Moone Boy?
We’ve got a lot of good stuff with Martin’s best friend, Padraic, leading him slightly in the direction that he’s clearly gay but he just doesn’t know it yet.
What was your earliest exposure to gay people?
At the age of 10 or 11, I remember having a friend I suspected was probably gay and watching him have to deal with it in the west of Ireland, which was still behind the times. I come from a very artsy family, which was much more open. My sister was in art school at the time and had a gay roommate, so I knew that world a little more than most people my age did. Now, of course, I have loads of gay friends.
Are you friends with the gay one from the boy band Westlife?
Mark Feehily, isn’t it? [Laughs] I do know a couple of those guys, but I don’t know Mark too well. I’ve maybe met him once.
Sorry, that’s the first gay Irish celebrity that came to mind.
Oh, we’ve got a few. Like the guy from Dracula, Jonathan Rhys Meyers? He’s gay, isn’t he?
Ask his girlfriend. You also starred as a man investigating his lineage in the HBO series Family Tree. Any gay branches on your tree?
I may be related to George O’Dowd, better known as Boy George. I found out my great-grandfather was a bigamist, and it looks like he had a second family in Birmingham, England, where George’s family is from. I mentioned it to him once and he loved the idea that we might be cousins.
Your first film was Conspiracy of Silence, a 2003 drama about the aftermath of a gay, HIV-positive Catholic priest’s suicide.
That’s true. I believe I played a very supportive friend at the Irish seminary where, amid scandal, a student had been ostracized by the Catholic church. Check it out.
Although you haven’t played a gay role onscreen, you shared an epic same-sex kiss with costar Richard Ayoade on the hit British sitcom The IT Crowd.
My God, he was aggressive. After years of sexual tension building towards it, I was expecting tenderness, something intimate, and he just pinned me like a human rag doll. It was a lot of fun.
The IT Crowd gang reluctantly takes in a performance of the fictional show Gay! A Gay Musical in my favorite episode, in which your character declares, “I’m very comfortable with my sexuality, I just don’t want to be slapped in the face with their sexuality.” Do you think gay viewers got the joke?
Yeah, I think it went down pretty well, because it was really a damnation of bad camp musicals more than anything else. I mean, it was a gay musical called Gay!
Was it the gayest spectacle you’ve ever witnessed?
Maybe. Actually, I used to go out with a girl who was a barmaid at a gay bar in Dublin, and we’d go to something they had called Sunday Ass Brunch Bingo, which was hosted by a drag queen. That might be the gayest.
Your character in This Is 40 is mistaken for gay because of his facial hair. Has that ever happened to you?
No, I’m too slobbish looking. Maybe if I took better care of myself. And my mustache is a straight man’s mustache.
The Advocate, April/May 2014 issue; extended online version.