When Epix was planning a fresh, episodic take on "Get Shorty," novelist Elmore Leonard's classic collision of the mob and Hollywood, that takes a somewhat darker, grittier turn than the famous 1995 film starring John Travolta, the show needed a leading man who handle both the serious and the sillier aspects.
The solution: Get Chris O'Dowd.
Best known for his winning turns in films like "Bridesmaids," "This Is 40," and "St. Vincent," TV appearances like his recurring stint on "Girls" and the Irish sitcom "Moone Boy," which he created, wrote, produced, directed and starred in, O'Dowd has deftly straddled comedy and drama before. But his role as Miles Daly, a low-level mob enforcer with a lyrical love of cinema who finds himself pursuing his Hollywood dreams with a script penned by one of his bosses' debtors, taps all of his inherent likability and his potentially dangerous side at once.
O'Dowd joined Moviefone to reflect on his own adventures navigating the sometimes perilous pathways of the showbiz world, as well as revealing the unlikely way he recently found himself -- and his dog -- going Hollywood.
Moviefone: I love this project for you because it's the light and the dark, and I think that you do both very well. Is that something that you were looking for? Something that you still got to be funny but that gave you a little bit more of a dramatic bite?
Chris O'Dowd: I think that's probably right, for a long-term thing. I could happily go into something that was pure dark or pure comedy if it were a movie. I just couldn't have gone and done a sitcom, or I couldn't really have gone on to a dark show forever.
I've always been intimidated by doing American TV because it's such a long commitment, so it has to be something that I feel like it can use all your little skills, but also it's something that people haven't seen you do before. So it took a lot of moxie -- it did!
I didn't ever think that that combination of things would come in a "hard man" character, because that's not something I've ever been drawn to or that people see me as. But it's kind of interesting doing it. It's tricky to be still. And not always looking for the funniest version of a line is actually something that I've had to learn.
Now that you're getting your handle on it, are your instincts telling you to go for the funny, but for this it's like, "No -- dial it back. Dial it back."
It's fun to watch it back. While I'm doing it at the moment, while in the scene, it feels ... it's hard. It's like being at the buffet table and not taking anything.
You're working with Ray Romano, another guy who has done that exact same balancing act lately. What have you been able to pick up from seeing somebody who can be as funny as Ray is but also knows when to veer away from it and into the dramatic?
Genuinely, I think that Ray is a probably much more naturally funny guy than I am anyway. He's got a lovely quality to him. He picks his moments and he can afford, in his role, to be the guy to also do the button on the scene and it plays a lot better than if I were to do it. But you can see him pick his moments and he's very present in all the moments.
I've always found that working with comedy people anyway, because they're always looking for the funniest version of a line, they're very much there all the time because they're hoping to get a cue for a gag. But it means that they're always very available emotionally in the scene, and he's great at that. He never switches off.
I love the "Get Shorty" philosophy of how, for some people, Hollywood is an easy thing to crack, because they see it as a scam they can play. Whereas more than half the people that come to Hollywood tell you, "It's so hard. It's such a struggle." What was your experience like when you first got here? Did it feel hard or did you feel like, "I think I understand this system"?
I thought it was fairly straightforward when I got here. One of the things that drew me to the character was "Oh, bluntness works well here." Not entirely bullsh*tting people all the time is actually quite an attractive commodity.
You go on an awful lot of general meetings, and I never tried to behave like a slick operator, really. I generally told stories about dates I've been going on and it seemed to work well. And I didn't come here looking for work. I came here because I got a job for the first time. I had auditioned for a pilot for the BBC and learned, when I got called for it in L.A., that it was actually for NBC, so I came here by accident, and to work. So I didn't need anything off anybody, which is a great way to come to LA. And then when you're suddenly in that position, people want things from you, which changes the power dynamic entirely.
But I've always found L.A. can be quite brutal but it's interesting and straightforward. Honesty actually goes further than people would imagine it does, because it's so unusual.
Tell me a little bit about culture shock: the Hollywood/L.A. way of doing things that truly mystified you when you got here, and then the things that you now catch yourself doing, going, "That's so L.A. And I'm so L.A."
Oh, f*ck! Yeah. I left my dog in to get his a** squeezed the other day. You know this thing that they do? I'd never heard about it in my life. But, apparently, dogs have to get their glands ... and my wife's like, "The dog needs to get his glands done, his a** glands done at the parlor," or whatever. That's the most f*cking L.A. thing I've ever heard!
Other culture shock stuff I'm always surprised by: all the party stuff is always kind of weird to me. It's never a thing that I've gotten into. Goodie bags that cost more than my first car, all of that -- or even my last car.
I don't find it as odd a place as a lot of people, I think. Even though it's very different from where I grew up, people are people. There's a lot more lawyers here so there's a lot more sh*t talk. And there's way too many lawyers making creative decisions, which is how you end up with the movie business in the toilet. So there's a lot of people creating jobs for themselves because they want to live here, and so there is some of that. Once you see that, then it's kind of like you're in "The Matrix."
Have you bumped up against any of the shady figures in Los Angeles? The guys that your character would be associated with?
Well, a lot of the studio execs who would do anything for success, [but] not so much. I've been fairly well sheltered. But I've certainly encountered my very fair share of bullsh*tters.
And I guess Miles works as a character because he's able to cut through and to recognize it because he's used to being lied to in his own profession by people who always owe his boss money and will have it next week.
"Get Shorty" airs Sundays on Epix.