Chris O’Dowd was, by his own account, an oddball child. For starters, he was six foot by the age of 11, towering over teachers and peers at his school in the Irish market town of Boyle. Then there were his older sisters, an exhausting trio whose constant chattering taught O’Dowd the blissful benefits of his own company. “I talked to myself a lot,” he says in his soft Irish drawl. “I still do… I really looked like I should have had a bell on my back and a sign saying, ‘Watch out for the idiot’”.
Fast-forward 23 years and a lot has changed. Since first appearing in The IT Crowd, O’Dowd has become a bankable star on both sides of the Atlantic. Having cornered the market for shambolic yet lovable leading men, his CV combines blockbuster romcom Bridesmaids with roles in Lena Dunham’s Girls and BBC2 comedy Family Tree. He has not, however, forgotten his roots.
Moone Boy, a self-penned sitcom about a whimsical Irish boy and his imaginary 30-something friend Sean (played by O’Dowd himself) is a semi-autobiographical ode to his adolescent awkwardness. After its debut series scooped an International Emmy last year (the box set of which is available on-demand), the sitcom is back for a second run, following 12-year old Martin Moone (David Rawle) as he faces secondary school and its many social challenges — most notably, girls.
“Because of my sisters I was very in touch with my feminine side,” explains O’Dowd. “I had loads of female friends but, growing up, I quickly fell into the friend trap. I was friends with loads of girls and kissed none.”
It’s a misfortune shared by Martin. As the Dirty Dancing soundtrack strikes up at his first school disco, he finds himself alone on the dance floor surrounded by hormonal, lip-locking couples. He has a choice: retreat ashamedly into the shadows or re-create Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s sensual final dance, iconic lift and all. With Sean as his Jennifer, he opts for the latter.
“I was a huge Dirty Dancing fan,” says O’Dowd. “I watched it loads with my sisters. Then I married a girl [TV presenter Dawn O’Porter] who’s so obsessed with it she made a documentary about it.”
Since moving to Los Angeles, O’Dowd’s connection to the film has become more personal. “The writer of the film [Eleanor Bergstein] is a friend,” he says, unfazed by his new-found status among Hollywood royalty. “She was at our wedding. She knows about the scene and is touched it’s made such an impact on me.”
O’Dowd claims the lift sequence, which sees young Martin spin Sean — all 6ft 4in of him — above his head, was a breeze. “That’s just Martin lifting a 200lb man.” With a bit of prodding, he crumbles. “OK, it was in a harness and it goes into parts of your nether regions you don’t necessarily want it to.”
There is a knowing charm to Moone Boy, which has already filmed a third season, derived from the unconventional relationship between its two main characters. It’s a dynamic that has prompted the happily married star of today to reflect on what he’d tell his younger self if he could. “I’d tell him not to worry. They kiss you in the end.”
Season one episode one of Moone Boy is available until 2 March