Chris O'Dowd delivers another off-kilter comedic performance in the infectious dramedy "The Sapphires," a fact-based musical that has all the makings of a sleeper hit. The Irish-born newlywed ("Bridesmaids," TV's "Girls") plays a down-and-out Australian music promoter who stumbles across three country-western-singing Aboriginal women at a backwater talent contest. He recognizes their ability, rebrands them as a soul-music girl band, and sends them on the road for an all-expenses-paid tour to entertain the troops in Vietnam (cue bombs bursting in air).
Sure, there's a bit of formula, and an extra measure of feel-good, but this underdog story set in the aftermath of Australia's Stolen Generation hits home with heart and humor.
Thelma Adams: "The Sapphires" is one of my favorite kinds of films: I had tears on my cheeks but I was laughing — and my toes were tapping. It was an aerobic workout.
Chris O'Dowd: There are loads of films about oppression and the suppression of indigenous communities, and they can be quite melancholic. I like that we make that into a joyous experience. Sure, we can talk about such important issues as the Stolen Generation in Australia, but also get great tunes and good gags in there.
TA: Fact versus fiction: What are the biggest differences between the movie and the actual man and band?
CO: I think that my character was much more handsome in real life — a handsome, charming person. I just kind of ruined it with my big white face. Loads of things are truthful, but I don't think my character is one of them. My guy is an amalgamation of people that they knew.
TA: Where are "The Sapphires" now, over 40 years later?
CO: They moved on from that life. Tony [Briggs] is the co-writer and a son of one the original singers. He was just talking with his mother in his kitchen about paying electricity bills and his mother said, "That kind of reminds me of that time we were in Vietnam with the girls." And then she said something like, "Oh, I used to be in this girl band in the '60s." There was something amazingly humble about those women, and it shines through in the film.
TA: You play the piano and sing in "The Sapphires." Are you musical?
CO: No — I've got a couple of karaoke tunes in me, but nothing structured. I can play a couple of songs in the movie. I was shooting "The Sapphires" in Australia and "This is 40" in Hollywood at the same time. While I was flying from Sydney to L.A. every 10 days, and vice versa, I tried to teach myself piano via an iPad app during the plane journeys. It's not how the Four Tops learned
TA: So you've got that cuddly charmer thing going — you tapped into it in "Bridesmaids." How close is that to the real you?
CO: I just can't help it. I keep trying to suppress it. Occasionally, it gets kicked to the curb by the drunken ways of the Paddy in me.
TA: And now you're a married man. How's it going after you tweeted that scantily clad picture of your bride, Dawn Porter?
CO: It's been great. I've been really enjoying it.
TA: I guess she's forgiven you for tweeting that photo of her getting ready with her bridesmaids.
CO: She's an amazing woman and I feel very fortunate. I like it when she tries to do my accent because it sounds like a Lucky Charms commercial.
TA: I hope your actual marriage is more successful than your short-lived fiasco on "Girls," where you play the not-so-Mr. Nice Guy, Thomas-John.
CO: I'm in New York right now, where "Girls" is such a phenomenon. It's unusual for people to come out of the blue and say, "You're an a-hole," and walk off. I shout out after them, "Thanks for watching!"
TA: Really? Did that happen? You were anti-stalked?
CO: Yes. Someone has done that, I knew what she meant. It was funny. It's an unusual moment. The character is kind of the antithesis of the "Bridesmaids" cop, and it is kind of fun to do that…
TA: Lena Dunham has gotten a lot of attention lately for her many nude scenes. I saw that you told Conan O'Brien that "I don't get to do nude scenes a lot" and you blamed it on your big torso and pasty, pale skin.
CO: People just don't want to see me naked. It's a real disappointment, because I'm more than willing. I get to these stages in these films, and I say, "This would be a great scene. I want to take my top off." And then the filmmakers say, "We don't want people throwing up their popcorn at your flubby white abs."
TA: Maybe you'll still get another chance. Do you think there will be a "Bridesmaids" reunion?
CO: I wouldn't have thought so, but you should ask them.
TA: Well, you may be too busy, since you're getting your own TV show, "Family Tree." It answers the question I posed to Jane Lynch: When is Christopher Guest doing another movie? He isn't. He's doing this HBO series. When does it premiere?
CO: The 14th of May. We shot the first series, and there were a few of the Guest troupe: Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, and Chris himself. Michael McKean plays my dad…
TA: I have trouble fixing on my favorite Guest film. I think I love "A Mighty Wind" the most because, like "The Sapphires," the humor comes out of real emotions. Do you have a favorite?
CO: The one I've seen the most would be "This Is Spinal Tap." I was one of those students who had that on in my dorm room on a loop. And then there's "Waiting for Guffman."
TA: What's it like working with the great Guest?
CO: Chris makes me laugh a lot. But it's subtle and deadpan — not jokes, exactly. He has a way about him, like when you're in the breakfast queue and you're behind him and you say, "Oh, hey, Chris!" and he looks away from you like he just heard a car alarm in the opposite direction.
TA: There's a pub game I saw you play on "The Graham Norton Show" on BBC America with Ewan McGregor, called Would You Rather? Would you play a round?
CO: Would you rather have an ear growing out of your toe, or a toe growing out of your ear?
TA: That's a tough choice — at least with a toe growing out of your ear, you could wear a hat and you wouldn't always be hearing footsteps.
CO: It's a difficult one. Let's hope it remains hypothetical.
"The Sapphires" opens in limited release on Friday.
Watch Chris O'Down in the trailer for 'The Sapphires':