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Interview: Chris O'Dowd

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Chris O'Dowd is starring in new BBC Two comedy Family Tree. Here he talks about the show, his character Tom, and his own genealogy - including a possible connection to another O'Dowd, better known as Boy George...

What is Family Tree about?

Family Tree is a comedy about a guy who has been left somewhat bereft after losing both his job and his partner. Out of the blue he discovers he has been left a box of magic goodies by a dead relative that he can’t remember ever meeting but it does pique his interest and he goes looking into his past roots. He already has quite a muddled past with an Irish mum and an English dad who split when he was young so he ended up living in Ireland with his mother while his sister Bea grew up in England with their father. So he doesn’t really know who he is. In search of his own identity, he begins looking into his family tree.

What can you tell us about your character Tom Chadwick?

He is handsome, a strong great-looking guy and fit! He is utterly clueless, fairly sensitive, confused and not at all an extrovert but he should be fun to be around.

Where is Tom in his life when we meet him in the story?

He’s just lost his job and been made redundant; he worked at the Central London Accident Investigation Management whose job it is to decide whose fault it is when somebody crashes their car. He works with models almost like one of those kid’s maps with schools on it and things. The company realise that computers can do it but he doesn’t know how to use computers so the company goes downhill and he gets made redundant. He has a bit of a redundancy package that will last him maybe a year but alongside being made redundant we find out that his girlfriend leaves him. So he’s chirpy! He is having a tricky time and therefore embraces the opportunity to find out stuff and is very excited to throw himself into something new – more so than he would have been previously. It is a distraction from the mundane and of crying alone in the bath.

What’s his relationship like with his sister, Bea?

We are both very different people and we have our hang-ups. Bea’s manifests itself in the shape of a puppet called Monk. We are both equally confused by our up-bringing. Their parents got divorced when Tom and Bea were around nine or ten and the English father and Irish mother took a kid each and I feel sure they flipped a coin to see who took which child. Tom and Bea have a fairly good relationship and she’s much less interested in the whole family tree thing.

What was it about this project that attracted you?

I’d like to say I’m a big fan of Christopher Guest but truthfully I haven’t seen any of his stuff yet, I just keep hearing that people really like it! I was probably one of those students that had This Is Spinal Tap on in the background, so I could probably quote all of it. Chris is simply a genius. I love a bit of improvisation and because this is an improvisation piece I thought it would be a challenge. One of the big draws of his project was that I hate learning lines - it’s so boring and it felt like this would be different – there isn’t anything else like it on TV at the moment so I was interested in it because of that.

Have you ever looked into your genealogy?

A little bit, especially as my parents get older and before they die I want to know more. I found out that my great grandfather was a bigamist and a travelling salesman. We found out after his death, I never met him, it was before my time but he had a second family in Birmingham and O’Dowd is quite an uncommon name. This is pure conjecture but one strand of O’Dowds that came from Birmingham also spawned George O’Dowd who people probably know better as Boy George. So we could be cousins.

What are the challenges of making comedy funny?

There is a constant battle between keeping people engaged and keeping people laughing that is tricky. I think and hope it will be interesting and enjoyable to watch. In a way it is like throwing a can of paint at the wall and seeing what sticks but hopefully the paint will be funny.




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