Chris O’Dowd remembers heading home with his wife after seeing a preview screening of Bridesmaids. In that comedy, he plays Patrol Officer Nathan Rhodes, who winds up giving unlucky-in-love Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) a new outlook on life and romance. “We were in London on the bus on the way home, and [my wife] was just so quiet,” Chris, 43, told Closer during the TCA Winter Press Tour. “She said, ‘I just can’t believe it.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ She said, ‘That’s the best film I’ve ever seen — and you’re in it!’ She was just so happy.” His wife was also right: Bridesmaids became a big sleeper hit in 2011. 

Bridesmaids put Chris on the map for American audiences, but he’s been working steadily since he starred in the BBC comedy The IT Crowd for five seasons beginning in 2006. In recent years, Chris has split his time between film, theater and television. Next up, he stars in the new comedy series The Big Door Prize, scheduled to premiere on Apple TV+ this spring. 

Did you want to become an actor when you were growing up in Boyle, Ireland?

No, never had the intention to do it. I did a school musical — a couple of songs in Grease. I remembered the sensation of being backstage before going on. You think that it’s just nervousness about going out in front of people, but it’s not. It’s an energy. I think there was something to that for me. But I went to university to become a political speechwriter. I ended up doing some theater and became obsessed with it.

The adrenaline you feel from performing can be addictive.

I was a big football guy, right? Gaelic football. This is a sport that is just played in Ireland, kind of like rugby. I was a goalkeeper. And I remember, there’s a similar sensation that sometimes I feel on stage that I did when I was playing football, where everything just slows down a tiny bit.

Chris and Kristen
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Were your family supportive of your goals?

There were no other actors, but I come from a very arty family. My dad was a sign writer who wanted to be an artist but he had to raise a family. Two of my elder sisters ended up going to art school — so it wasn’t a complete curveball. They really were supportive. I don’t know if they thought it was going to work, but they didn’t stand in the way. When I got into a drama school, which was hard to get into, I took that as some kind of a sign. As for my family, I think when you’re the youngest of five, they’re like, “It’s not our problem anymore.”

When did you first realize you were funny?

When I realized those were the only jobs I was getting! But you start getting those roles and you really enjoy it.

What do you consider your big break?

The IT Crowd was a big deal. Thanks to it I could give up my other jobs in bars and construction — all the things I was doing to make ends meet. And then Bridesmaids was a big deal because it opened me up to this whole new audience.

What do you remember about filming Bridesmaids?

My favorite memories are just sitting in the cop car with Kristen for hours, just making [stuff] up. We had such freedom, and there were a lot of big improv days. I remember just so much laughter on that set because it was a very, very funny group of people.

The premise of your upcoming show, The Big Door Prize, is that there is a machine that can tell anyone their true potential. What do you think it would tell you?

I hope it would tell me I could be the world’s eldest professional athlete. That would give me some ambition.

What drew you to your character, Dusty?

I have played a lot of characters who are man-children or have some kind of arrested development. They may be absolutely charming, but they’re not really grown-ups. This guy is probably more of my own mental age bracket — which is approaching midlife with an abundance of fear. He feels he is happy. That’s an interesting place to start the character and then watch it diminish.

The show explores how people make sacrifices to reach their potential. Did you make sacrifices for your career?

Well, I’ve emigrated twice [to London, then Los Angeles]. That’s the greatest sacrifice when you leave a lot of people behind. You miss them. 

Where is home for you?

Home will always be Ireland. We are here for the school term. And then we’re in London and Ireland the rest of the time. 

You’re married to British writer Dawn O’Porter. What is your secret to a happy marriage?

I don’t know. In a lot of ways our careers blend quite well. When we have downtime, they’re properly down. And the kids are just the center of it all. It’s really fun watching them experience the world.

Chris O'Dowd
Joanne Davidson/Shutterstock

They’re still in grade school, but do you detect anyone catching the acting bug? 

I think my son is going to be in the school musical. He just turned 8. I didn’t see that for him, so it’s interesting that he brought it up. And then the youngest one, it’s like he’s been a stand-up comedian right out of the box. Very funny kid.

What do you like to do together?

We like to go down to Ojai and hang out in an orchard or go to the beach. We have sort of a hub house — it’s always full of people and food and play. We’re throwing a party next week, and maybe it’s in the spirit of The Big Door Prize, but we have a tarot card reader coming.

What do you like to spend money and splurge on?

I like nice whiskey. I have a few favorites like Redbreast and Ardbeg. I’m actually not very flashy, but there is one other thing: I like really comfortable underwear. Other than that, not much.

What’s on your bucket list?

Oh, loads! I really want to go and see Yellowstone and Grand Canyon and all the national parks. I’m getting really outdoorsy in my middle age.