Eight years after the final season of the British sitcom The IT Crowd, Chris O’Dowd still gets regular requests to recite his catchphrase as an exasperated computer technician: “Hello, I.T., have you tried turning it on and off again?”
The Irish actor doesn’t mind. “It was my first big job, so I feel very warm toward it,” says O’Dowd, of the BBC show, which ran from 2006 to 2010.
Just please note that there’s new stuff, like Get Shorty, which returns to Epix for a second season on August 12. Loosely based on the 1990 Elmore Leonard novel (and 1995 film) of the same name, O’Dowd stars as Miles Daly, a violent mobster who seeks the help of a movie producer (played by Ray Romano) to launch a Hollywood career. There’s also a film, Juliet, Naked (opening August 17), based on a novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy). In that he plays Rose Byrne’s neglectful boyfriend Duncan, a rather obnoxious fellow preoccupied with a forgotten indie rock star (Ethan Hawke).
“Duncan seemed very familiar to a lot of people that I know,” says the 38-year-old with a laugh. “And, okay, at times, myself. Slightly emotionally stunted, obsessed with a period in his life where he felt he was hip. He’s one of those guys who thinks you are what you like, which is increasingly part of our culture.”
O’Dowd spoke to Newsweek about his new projects. (The interview has been condensed.)
Have you ever obsessed over a musician or celebrity, as Duncan does in Juliet Naked?
Not to that extent. But as a child there was no part of my wall that didn’t have Liverpool paraphernalia on it. [Liverpool Football Club is one of England’s top soccer teams.] I haven’t gone as far as getting a tattoo or anything, but I’m sure it’s around the corner. If all my other adult relationships collapse, maybe I will return to that adolescent obsession.
In my early twenties, I was also slightly obsessed with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s New York theater company, LAByrinth. I managed to get enough money together to fly from London to New York to see the latest play he directed, Our Lady of 121st Street —a very extravagant thing to do when I was just barely affording my rent. I got [Hoffman] to sign my Playbill. Years later I worked with him on the film Pirate Radio. I tried not to play my hand too early, and waited until after we hung out a bit to tell him. He was very gracious!
How does it feel to play the guy torturing and cheating on Rose Byrne?
[Laughs.] God, torture seems harsh! Once you get to know her, it’s difficult to be the one who’s not treating her well, because she’s an extraordinarily charming, smart woman. But I have to admit, it was a great boost for my ego—that I can look elsewhere than Rose Byrne means I must be doing OK!
You’ve now played the likable guy who gets the girl in Bridesmaids, and the unlikable guy who gets dumped in Juliet, Naked. Which rom-com position do you prefer to be in?
It’s tricky. Obviously, the Bridesmaids guy is more charming, but [Duncan] is probably more fun to play. It’s nice to pretend to be an asshole. You’re not worried about people liking you, which is how we spend so much of our lives. You can take off the pressure.
You have another Nick Hornby project coming up next year, State of the Union.
I’m starting to feel more and more like Nick Hornby’s muse. I think he enjoys telling his own dirty little secrets through me. [Laughs.] This one is just ten shorts about a couple—me and Rosamund Pike—the ten minutes before we go into couples’ counseling every week. Nick’s great, and so smart. He’s obsessed with crosswords. And he’s a big soccer fan, so we bond over that.
What’s in store for Miles in season two of Get Shorty?
He’s spiraling: His wife has left him, he doesn’t know how to behave, he starts taking Adderall. Everything goes out of control and he ends up spending a lot of time on his own. I can say that things get physical when I break into the house of Amy Adams’s agent [the actress does not appear in the series]. This season also gets into the male responsibility of trying to keep your family safe. Then throw in ego—feeling that the art that you are making is more important than everybody else’s safety.
You’ve recently started your only family. [O’Dowd is married to Scottish writer Dawn Porter, who changed her last name to O’Porter after they wed; they have two sons.] Can you relate?
The responsibility of it, for sure. Both men and women, we’re always trying to balance that idea: “How am I going to be happy in my work while not also ruining the rest of my life?”
Do people still come up to you on the street and ask you to recite your IT Crowd catchphrase?
[Laughs.] All the time. But do you know what, I kind of love it? It’s nice, particularly in the States. Maybe it’s because it’s on Netflix now, but people are much more familiar with it at this point than they were when it was on TV.
If someone approached you for an IT Crowd reboot, would you be in?
No, I’ve done it. Somebody told me that they’re going to do another U.S. remake. I wish them luck. [Laughs.] I think that Graham [Linehan, the original creator] is doing it, so this one could have a chance. A cameo might be nice.