Chris O’Dowd: I Saw Him First

The following is a guest post.

I’m sure we’ve all taken notice of promising new actors before they made a name for themselves. They might have been a bright spot in an otherwise rubbish TV show or a scene stealer in an already reputable film. You detected their inherent talent, their star quality if you will, and followed their fledgling career with interest.

Then after a while, your talent spotting instincts are proven correct and your actor hits the big time. The trending begins – everyone’s talking about them, writing about them, and casting them in mainstream Hollywood blockbusters.

When this happens, I tend to get a bit possessive. Of course I’m happy that they’re successful, proud even, that I spotted that “something special”. But for me there’s also an underlying level of annoyance when other people start laying claim. “Have you seen that new actor, so and so? Wasn’t he sweet in that funny, raunchy comedy about those bridesmaids?” At this point, I’m usually grumbling under my breath, “I’ve been watching him for years!” Such has been my experience with the career of Mr. Chris O’Dowd.

Sure, he’s the “it” guy now. Not your cookie-cutter Hollywood hunk, O’Dowd is a goofy, lanky Irishman with close set eyes and a penchant for facial hair. Yet he’s getting supporting roles in Judd Apatow films and guest starring roles in award-winning hipster dramedies. Seeing as I’ve already endured Lena Dunham’s Small Furniture, I’ll pass on watching Chris’ turn in Girls, but as a long-term fan, there are a few recent and upcoming projects I’m quite excited to see.

Chris has a highly anticipated new HBO/BBC2 sitcom which began airing last night. Written and directed by mockumentary legend, Christopher Guest, Family Tree stars O’Dowd as Tom, a man who has recently lost his job and his girl. With the aid of a box of clues he inherited from a mysterious great aunt, Tom hopes to learn about his ancestry and, in the process, find out who he really is.

In addition, the hit BBC sitcom, Moone Boy, co-written by and co-starring O’Dowd, will make its American TV premier on Hulu this July. This semiautobiographical series follows the adventures of Martin Moone, a young Irish boy trying to survive the challenges of his awkward pre-teen years and his quirky, female-dominated family. He finds coping easier with the help of his imaginary friend, Sean Murphy played by Chris, of course.

Before the career boosting Bridesmaids brought Chris such international attention, he had given his best on plenty of less than exceptional television shows. For example, he played Brandon, a shy, socially inept medical practice accountant in the Irish drama, The Clinic. Brandon was endearing, but the series had little to do with medicine and bordered on soap opera.

He tried his hand at costume drama in the mini-series The Crimson Petal and the White wherein he portrayed a rich but troubled Victorian industrialist who took a strong-willed mistress named Sugar and proceeded to do everything in his power to break her. I missed his Irish accent, hated his transformation into a callous snob and felt quite uncomfortable with his gritty nude scenes.

Chris also played Lindsey Carol, an insecure London radio DJ whose aspirations to be cool inevitably fall flat. FM was a fairly amusing sitcom with a novel format – actual professional bands appearing and performing as themselves. The best part of any given episode though was the on-air banter:

But not so long ago, Chris O’Dowd was best known in the UK for being the IT guy. Sporting an endless wardrobe of graphic tees, he played the role of slacker/geek Roy, a member of Reynholm Industries computer department staff on The IT Crowd. Famous for his tech support mantra, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”, Roy was not totally without people skills, but often found himself in situations that required more social acumen than he possessed. Case in point, hysterical ex-girlfriends in public settings:

For fans of this modern cult classic, the decision by creator Graham Linehan to end the sitcom after four series was sad news indeed. Linehan claimed he just wasn’t feeling excited about the show anymore, but I have my suspicions that a cast in high demand, particularly O’Dowd, played a part in the decision as well. Happily, it has just been announced that within a month a one-off IT Crowd special will be taped and probably will be broadcast at Christmas time.

Chris O’Dowd’s wider fame seems to be a good thing so far. His IT Crowd days are almost over, but he’s still making quirky TV sitcoms such as the ones I mentioned above. As for movies, he’s choosing a varied array of projects from indie films like The Sapphires to blockbusters like Thor: The Dark World to voiceover work in the animated feature, Epic.

I suppose those of us who knew him BB (Before Bridesmaids) need to trust his choices and give Chris our blessing. But anytime I see him onscreen in the future, I know I will inevitably flashback to an image of Roy sprawled on the floor of a handicapped designated bathroom, scrambling to find an excuse for being in there in the first place.


Carmen is an American wife and mother of two college students who live away from home. With her yellow lab Malcolm by her side, she watches and writes about British television for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK I Learned from the BBC. Read more of Carmen’s posts here.


  1. Michela says

    I can totally sympathise with what you say: some of my favourite actors or writer are starting to get famous as they very well deserve, but jealousy is always on the way… not like “I saw them first” but “Oh, now they are good, aren’t they? Where were you all when he/she was brilliant but not well-known?”
    I saw Chris O’Dowd first in Crimson Petal and the White and even though his character is my least favourite I think he did a very good job in it. Then I saw “FAQ about time travel”, and he was very funny and cute (I know, it’s not really a judgement on his performance, but that’s what I felt watching the film!).
    Thanks for your article, I got really curious about his previous works, maybe I’ll watch some (or all!).

  2. Kate says

    Have you seen “The Sapphires”? I thought he was fabulous and really suited his role. Well worth an evenings viewing.

  3. says

    Thank you!!!! Feel completely the same way! Someone at work was talking about him in relations to Bridemaids, and I totally had the same reaction. As far as I am concerned, the man is Roy – end of story! 😉

    (He also played a DJ in The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio.)

  4. Carmen says

    I’ve not seen The Sapphires due to my own laziness. It was only playing at the art house theater about 45 minutes from my house and I kept putting it off until it was gone. Guess I’ll have to wait for the DVD.

  5. Carmen says

    I find this happens to me a lot because I follow so many British performers and there’s often a lag before people discover them here in the States. It was the same for James McAvoy, Martin Freeman, and even Miranda Hart. Until she was on Call the Midwife, most people had never heard of her. Now a lot of people talk about her and in fact have asked me if I knew she had a sitcom – which I watched years ago.

    Back to Chris, I’ve been looking for FAQ about Time Travel for some time but have never found it anywhere:(