When I walk into the conference room at Epix's New York City headquarters to interview the prolific actor Chris O'Dowd, he's sat himself in a chair in the furthest corner of the room, feet away from the table. I tell him he looks like he has a plan "Oh, I do," he says, ominously and Irishly.
As someone who grew up mostly on a diet of weird British television, it's an honor to be interviewing the 40-year-old actor, who got his big break on the U.K. sitcom The IT Crowd, a show my high school peers revered and one that maintains a healthy fanbase in America, too. Since then, O'Dowd's been in a lot of stuff you've probably seen—think Bridesmaids, This Is 40 and The Cloverfield Paradox—even if he's not always The Guy.
He is, however, very much The Guy in Epix's series Get Shorty, based on the book of the same name, which itself was once adapted as a movie with John Travolta and Danny DeVito. The series bears little resemblance to that flashy movie, and O'Dowd tells me he purposefully didn't watch it until after the show's first season wrapped. "The film is very polished," he says. "It's like a bar on Friday night when you've got your good clothes on and you're flirting and the music's nice. Our show is that same bar, but it's 3 a.m. on a Tuesday and someone's cleaning up spilled pints."
The show is a bit of a departure for the lad from Ireland who cut his teeth on irreverent comedy. O'Dowd's Miles is intense, occasionally terrifying, and really quite large. GQ spoke with the actor about the show, working with Ray Romano (yeah, he's in it, too), and his small, small role in a big, big movie franchise.
GQ: How are you, Chris?
Chris O'Dowd: Great form. Great form, feeling good. Feeling alive. Feeling like I'm in the autumn of my youth.
This show shares a name with the book and the movie, but it's entirely removed from that world except for the most basic, basic premise.
I think that's fair. I think in its spirit, it's much closer to the book than the movie. A lot of Elmore Leonard's work I think has that kind of dark, dusty feel to it. Particularly Get Shorty, but it is very much its own beast. The first episode establishes that we were something of a mob who tried their best to take over Hollywood, but given the modern connotations to that, we make it more of a drug cartel than an Italian crime family, which I think makes sense.
And especially since you're, you know, Irish.
That's true, but it's a Latino drug mob. I actually don't know at what point the Irish thing became a thing. There was something nice about him being such a fish out of water. He's not necessarily connected to the family. You don't want him to be too close to them because you want him to be in peril.
Miles's relationship with Rick (Ray Romano) feels like The Producers sometimes.
Oh. I love the idea of doing songs. Right? Yeah, that would be great. A musical episode. I don't know if we could get away with that.
Well, Shameless did some weird shit. Maybe one day.
There is scope to be very creative with the show because of the industry that it portrays. I mean, I'm working with Ray and he uses desperation so well in his work, as well as anybody I've seen. He's so adept at conveying fear without feeling needy. So maybe it does have something of a Producers quality because when you're watching them, there's something inevitable about their failure.
That's the formula for any good ongoing crime story, isn't it? No matter what, things are going to get worse.
I think that's exactly right. Otherwise, it's just like an '80s movie with Michael J. Fox or something where it's like, "I can't wait for everything to work out great for these guys!" It'd be a shame, because they're murderers.
When I first heard about the show, with the best will in the world, you don't strike me as the first person on my casting list for a Las Vegas heavy. I think your eyes are too kind.
I was, to be honest, fairly skeptical going in because I had the same concerns you did. But I had been looking for something to stretch myself on the page. I'd come off the back of doing a couple of comedies and I thought it would be fun to play a character who's physical. I don't play a lot of physical characters, and that is actually more part of my personality in real life than I would probably care to admit. A huge part of my life growing up was as this large presence in a room. I was quite awkward.
In terms of getting ready to do it, I just took up boxing, which I used to do a lot. And then what I found, particularly in the first season is, I just don't need to do anything. I think in comedy, you're desperate to be noticed in a way because you're trying to get laughs and in this, I felt like the less I do, the darker it feels.
Mick's a bit of a planner, but not necessarily a fixer in the way that Ray Donovan is.
No, but he maybe fancies himself as that kind of type. I think genuinely he's an artist stuck in the body of a heavy. As we would say in my country, he has notions of himself where he's ambitious, artistically. But he doesn't necessarily have the mind for it. And he certainly doesn't have the composition to make that work.
I related to my own father, who was, I'd say, a very artsy kind of guy growing up. He should have gone to art school. But he was the youngest of four kids and ended up cutting sheet metal instead. So everybody else would go to college, because that's what you did. And so I'm certainly familiar with that conflict, although I haven't had to live it myself.
Was there ever a consideration you'd play this with an American accent? You've gotten work over here for quite some time but I rarely hear you try it.
I don't know. I think Miles was always going to be Irish when I was cast. I don't do it a lot. I did it in Girls, and then a movie with Andie McDowell last year. I have a very simple rule, which is: unless there is a very real reason not to be, I want to play Irish characters. Because I've traveled around an awful lot and we're everywhere. And we're oddly not represented. Like, we are represented in terms of there's loads of fucking actors, but they're all playing, you know, Americans and whatnot. And then from a selfish level it's just one less thing to worry about.
I think it's Bridesmaids where they actually mentioned your Irish-ness in the context of being a rural Ohio cop.
I love the way that we dealt with in Bridesmaids where we kind of just didn't. I think Kristen [Wiig] says something like, "Can you be a cop in this country?" And I say, "Well, you can't unless you're really big and strong."
Between you and Brendan Gleason and Liam Neeson, I was thinking there must be like an Irish Guild of American cop actors.
Yeah, and Cillian Murphy is our baddie. I was just thinking about the other day, actually. There's so much extraordinary Irish talent around at the moment. Andrew Scott on Fleabag was wonderful. Sharon Horgan is so great, and Derry Girls.
I love Derry Girls. I love the vulgarity of it. I feel like it's happening in a few shows like Big Mouth as well. I've got a lot of friends who have said that finally someone's making shows about how disgusting girls are at that age, too.
Yes, that's exactly right. Because they are. They're gross.
Gross boys have had their moment for so long,
So long, and they will continue to have it.
Speaking of, The IT Crowd has really stuck around, huh?
It comes up a lot and I'm always surprised by it. It must be on Netflix or something now because people ask me about it all the time.
I will say, I became more of aware of it living here than I did when I was in England.
That's wild. I love that it's had this resurgence. It's almost like a cartoon, right? And people find that very engaging I feel lovely that it's a reference point, and I feel very proud of those.
And everyone's thrived since! Richard Ayoade's a big-time director, now. Matt Berry's doing Disenchanted—
Yeah, Katherine Parkinson's on a bunch of great shows. And then Noel Fielding is presenting Great British Bake Off!
Which they call the Great British Baking Show here.
Oh, they do?
Makes it sound less exciting, don't you think? I actually think it's a much less American renaming.
Maybe they wanted to make it sound more quaint.
It's interesting how this very esoteric comedy, with a Channel Four (which aired The IT Crowd, Peep Show, and many others in the U.K.) kind of a sensibility, has translated so well.
Fucking Jesse Armstrong? Unbelievable.
Who's probably, what, the most well-regarded TV writer in the world right now?
That's fair, I think.
You're also immortalized forever in the biggest movie franchise of all time as a guy who's bad at dating. How do you feel about that?
What one is that?
Oh right. With the hammer. I feel great. That's the clip they'll show on my In Memoriam, I'm sure. Great film. He did all the... he had the big hammer and everything. Yeah, yep. Haven't seen it.
I'm sure your character has a Wikipedia entry somewhere on one of those Marvel fan sites though, you know? They document everything.
I would have thought so. I've been promised by Kevin Feige that the guy that I am comes back quite strong and lasers Thor.
Look, my agent said, "Listen, you've got a day off in two days and we've been asked to go and do this movie where you have a date with Natalie Portman." And I said sure. The show I was making wasn't paying any money, really, so it was a few quid on the side, right? Yeah. But you know those movies mean a huge amount to so many people and I do respect that.
And you're a part of it!
I would go so far as to say an integral part. Page 20 of the Marvel Universe. There I am. Yeah.
Do you think you could possibly name that character?
Are you serious?
No. I don't know. Kenneth Bateman. These are definitely totally wrong. Hang on, give me one more guess. David Robertson. [Notices the publicist on his phone] Are you looking it up?
Publicist: Yeah. So far you're wrong. He doesn't have a last name.
I'm gonna say... Glenn?
Publicist: There's a Shakespeare play about him.
Oh, Richard! Yes. Just Richard.
I am very sorry for that detour. I promise I will do my best to get people to watch Get Shorty
Thank you. I wish, I wish, I wish it was more out there. I think that we're just drowning in content and it's just it's sometimes hard to get your head above the parapet, but in terms of my job all I have to try and do is make a show that I'm proud of. I feel like we've done that and then it's somebody else's issue, right?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Originally Appeared on GQ