Chris O’Dowd on What Drew Him to ‘Get Shorty’ and Working with Ray Romano
Inspired by the best-selling novel by Elmore Leonard, the Epix series Get Shorty follows Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd), a hitman from Nevada who attempts to leave his criminal past behind and win back his estranged family by becoming a movie producer in Hollywood. With what he thinks is a great script in hand, and with the help of washed up producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano) and his criminal associate Louis (Sean Bridgers), Miles realizes that success in Hollywood might not be impossible.
While at the Epix portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, actor Chris O’Dowd talked about the appeal of getting to play the heavy, how he prepared to play someone so intimidating, why he’d be okay if this leads to him getting offered everything that Liam Neeson turns down, how much fun he has working with co-star Ray Romano, where things could go next, if they get future seasons, and that he’ll be doing a comedy while he’s waiting to hear about the status of the show.
Collider: What was the appeal of Get Shorty and this character?
CHRIS O’DOWD: What was a big draw was the fact that I hadn’t done anything like it before. For a couple of years there, because I was running a show, and I ended up directing that show, as well, it’s been an intense time. I was writing it, shooting it and editing it, so I was not even able to consider another job, really. It was nice to come in and just be an actor on something. A guy who’s more of a heavy than normally I would get the opportunity to play was really tempting, just to test myself. The success to which it works, I don’t know. At times, I think it’s pretty good, but I found it difficult. Being still and trying to not just be funny, I found oddly hard. On the movies with Judd Apatow or on Moone Boy, you want to make it all work. To be on something like this, where they need you to sit there and look intimidating, it’s a different skill set. I’ve got the Joey Tribbiani three looks.
Did you practice looking intimidating in the mirror?
O’DOWD: I did loads of just trying to fucking stand up straight. The mundanity of some of the things I would give myself to do in preparation was astounding. I worked on my posture, and I did loads of boxing training before I took on the job, so that I could have a slightly different physicality. Stuff like that was cool.
When the idea of a Get Shorty TV series came your way, were you immediately intrigued, or were you unsure about it?
O’DOWD: It was a little of both. I didn’t have a relationship with it. I hadn’t seen it, best as I can remember. I’ve probably seen posters and stuff, but I hadn’t seen it and I hadn’t read it. To me, it was just a movie from the ‘90s. That’s as close as my relationship was. And I knew Elmore Leonard’s stuff a bit. Oddly, I’d read Be Cool in college. I don’t know why. I think I just found a copy of it somewhere. I really liked his writing, so I read some of his Western short stories, and his dialogue is great. I was a little reticent about taking it on because I thought the public would go, “Another fucking remake of something?!,” and I understand that. That’s a fair grievance. But, there’s so much television now. There are more original shows being made now than have ever been made before, so there’s going to be some old ideas remastered, and I think that’s okay. Attacking it from a place where you’re not using the same old characters is probably the best way to do it. Otherwise, there’s an expectation not only on the people portraying the roles, but the limited amount you can do with them. Taking the characters from the book out and maintaining the essence of the premise still leaves a lot of possibilities.
Had you ever wished you could play a character like this?
O’DOWD: It never occurred to me, to be honest. I like the idea of playing assholes or monsters, and I’ve done touches of that before. I did a limited series for BBC, called The Crimson Petal and the White, which was a Victorian drama. I’ve always been drawn to do those kinds of characters, but never a guy that uses his physicality to gain favor with people. That’s not something I’ve done before.
Are you curious about the kind of roles this will lead to next?
O’DOWD: I think I’m going to get offered everything that Liam Neeson turns down. That would still be brilliant. Bring it!
Is the physicality of this character fun?
O’DOWD: Some of it’s fun, but some of it’s hard. Whatever it is, it’s certainly not effortless. It feels, at times, effort-full. But, I feel like we’re sculpting something that could be really great. I genuinely feel that. I’ve gone into projects going, “I think this is good. I feel like this has got a lot of potential.” Opening up the sausage factory for people to look at is a great prospect, which is why I was drawn in, in the first place. I hope, as time goes on with the show, it can become even more satirical about Hollywood. I feel there is room for that on TV right now. I get to play a character that’s very much the fish out of water, so I can be that for the audience.
Somebody ends up dead, in order for this guy to end up with a script that he wants to get made into a movie. Does he get really into this business and find that this is his calling?
O’DOWD: I think it’s an interesting question that we raise, all the time, with this character. He has been saying, all along, that he wants to make this movie to get his wife back and to get them out of this place. And as the season progresses, you realize that that’s not the only reason he’s doing it. He likes it. He likes movies, but he also likes having some self-determination. He puts his relationship at risk to keep the dream going, as the season goes on. Success, in this town particularly, is absolutely intoxicating. I’ve seen people behave in ways that seem very far from how they would behave normally.
It so fun to watch the dynamic between Miles and Moreweather. What’s it like to have Ray Romano to play off of?
O’DOWD: It’s great! He’s a funny guy, and also he’s very self-effacing. He’s a lovely person to be around because he’s affably neurotic, but he’s a real gentleman, as well. He’s a fun person to be around, and his voice is so lovely to my ear, like a dog slowly waking up. We had a lot of fun. Also, he’s a fun actor to work with. He’s very alive in the scenes. Comedy people can be like that. They’re always present because they’re always looking for the funniest version of whatever the line is. Sometimes theater people, where scripts are sacrosanct, aren’t quite as present in scenes. That’s a massive generalization, but in my experience, I find that comedy people are great to improvise with and to do scenes with because they’re there.
Have you had any conversations yet about where this could go, in future seasons?
O’DOWD: We have had some, yeah. There’s no reason why this character can’t eventually run Hollywood. Not immediately, but this guy could be the head of a studio, the same as Ari Gold could, or whoever. It will be interesting to see if a hitman is potentially not ruthless enough to take over Hollywood. We’ll see. There’s a lot of ways it could go.
So, you feel like there’s enough life in him to keep exploring him for awhile?
O’DOWD: Oh, yeah! When you’re running around in the sun, you create more and more shadows. You’ve got all of these people suddenly coming from everywhere to get back at you, so the trail that he’s created will fall on him, and that will create even more trouble.
Do you think that will make him regret doing any of this?
O’DOWD: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know if regret is in his wheelhouse. I think he finds it like I did. When I first came to Hollywood, I didn’t care. If it all went horribly, who cares? This isn’t a real place. Who am I gonna piss off? I’m more worried about going to a high school reunion and embarrassing myself. If you go to Hollywood and piss people off, you’re never gonna fucking see them again. I feel like he’s got a little bit of that. He’s desperate, so there’s an energy that comes with that. But he’s fearless, in that the consequences aren’t daunting.
After playing a guy like this, do you want to play a character that’s very different and much lighter?
O’DOWD: Yes, and maybe in a different medium, like a play or something quite silly. I did a voice on Mary Poppins last week. It would never occur to me to do this, and then go, “I wonder what other crime movies are around.” I definitely want to do something very different. I’m actually doing a comedy next. It’s a movie that Judd Apatow is producing, called Juliet, Naked. It’s a Nick Hornby book, which will be a different kind of genre piece.
Get Shorty airs on Sunday nights on Epix.