In Harvey Weinstein’s sleeper-hit Cannes pickup The Sapphires, Bridesmaids star Chris O’Dowd plays an Irishman in the Australian outback who puts together a soul-singing girl group of Aboriginal sisters and cousins, then takes them to Vietnam to perform for the troops. It’s a tour de force comic performance for O’Dowd, who plays piano, sings, and seems in general like he’d make a really good boyfriend. He’s a multi-talent! (So much so that Christopher Guest has scooped up O’Dowd for his next project.) And he’s pretty good company, as we discovered when we caught up with him right after the movie’s premiere, after he and his co-stars had danced down the steps of the Palais to the strains of “Soul Man.”
You guys got a big standing ovation.
Yeah, a very intense and extraordinary experience. I’ve never been to Cannes, so coming here with a film that’s kind of … uh, this was just a little film that we did in Australia and now we’re here. This all feels very surreal at the moment, but really fun.
I didn’t know you were musically inclined.
Well, I’m not, really, but I learned a bit of piano for the film, so we got to do that, which was fun. I mean, I love that area of music [late-sixties soul], so as soon as I read it, I was just instantly drawn to it. That’s the music that I listen to all the time. So that was fun. I have to say, all of those scenes where the girls are doing their songs, they’re the best bits. For me, I just loved being there. Also, it meant I had very little to do, which is very fun.
Did you know you’d be required to sing?
Yeah, I mean, I can sing a little bit. I come from a musical kind of family. They say every Irishman has a song in him, and I think I proved it’s just one.
Did you sign onto this before Bridesmaids?
No, it was weird. It was two weeks after Bridesmaids came out and the film had been doing quite well. So there were a lot of offers kicking around. But they were all, to be honest, just bad versions of Bridesmaids. You know, kind of silly rom-coms and badly written things. So I was very conscious of, “Okay, I have to go and do something very, very different. Otherwise I’m gonna get really stuck in a rut here.” So a musical in Australia just seemed to fit the bill.
Although it’s not that far removed. You are still charming and get the girl.
Oh, that always has to happen.
It’s written that it must be so in all of your contracts.
[Laughs.] But I think it’s kind of less important to the story. You know, in the same way that Bridesmaids isn’t about me getting the girl. It’s about female relationships.
So is this one in a lot of ways. Is it your goal to only do movies about women and not about you?
You don’t want to be the star.
No, I don’t have shoulders broad enough for it.
So you’re not into being a star or they don’t want you?
I don’t think they want me. [Laughs.] I think if you want to do that movie, you have to look like Gerard Butler.
But you are the crush object of many women I know.
I don’t know if it’s a crush thing so much as the characters that I play are really good boyfriend material. But generally what they want in movies is fuck material. I don’t fall into that category.
It’s funny, I told an Englishman that I was going to see your movie today, and he hadn’t seen Bridesmaids, but when I told him that the guy from The IT Crowd had turned into a romantic lead in movies, he was shocked. He was like, “He must have cleaned up a lot since The IT Crowd, because I cannot imagine that.”
Ha! I get that a lot.
I thought you looked fine in The IT Crowd.
No! I looked rough in that. But deliberately! He was a geek, you know.
I loved that you and the girls exited tonight’s premiere screening by dancing to “Soul Man” down the steps of the Palais.
We did! And it was not necessarily planned. The music just took over, and the adrenaline. And some of the Champagne. I have to say, the guy from — I don’t know the guy’s name, but the head of the festival [Editor’s note: Thierry Frémaux] — he was so funny in a very, like, French way. When we were coming in, they were playing “Soul Man” and I was just so excited, so I was dancing a little bit, and he says, “Stop that! This is Cannes!”
What about when you danced at the end?
He didn’t care so much then.
What did Harvey Weinstein say?
He was just very happy, I think. Harvey being Harvey, he was like, “The changes that I made worked really well, I thought.” [Laughs.] He’s been very sweet. I think he took a promo of the film and just went for it. I feel stupid for saying it, but he’s got such great taste that you just have to go with it. He’s been so behind it. It’s been great, man. It’s great, having somebody behind it like that. You want people to see a film when you like it.
Guy approaches: Hey, sorry for interrupting. Big fan. What do I have to do to make a movie with you?
O’Dowd: Oh, I don’t know. Make me an offer. ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
Guy: Dammit, I don’t have one million dollars.
O’Dowd: Thank you so much.
Guy: I’m a producer.
O’Dowd: I appreciate it. Let’s have a drink in a while. [As he leaves.] I didn’t catch his name. Oh well.
And what’s your plan for the rest of the night?
I don’t know. I’ve got my fiancée here [British TV presenter and comedian Dawn Porter, whom he met through Facebook], so I’m just gonna, you know, make love.
Ha, can I put that in the article?
Yes. Please do.