From Chris O’Dowd, the semi-autobiographical comedy series Moone Boy (now available exclusively on Hulu) is about an 11-year-old boy named Martin Moone (David Rawle), who is the youngest child in the large, loud Moone family, in late 1980s Ireland. Helping Martin get through life, and survive school bullies, is his 30-year-old imaginary friend (O’Dowd).
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Irish actor Chris O’Dowd talked about how the show came about, the semi-autobiographical storylines, collaborating with Nick Vincent Murphy, how challenging it was to find the right child actor to lead the show, how he will happily go to any lengths for his own character, how important it was to make the show suitable for audiences the age of the young characters, and that they’ve already completed a second season and are about to start shooting a third. He also talked about how much he enjoyed the improvisational style of Christopher Guest’s Family Tree, his work on Thor 2, and that he always hopes to ensure that the next role he’s playing is different from the last. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
CHRIS O’DOWD: I did a little short film for Sky TV, and it was a very open brief that said, “Write a little short film about something funny that happened to you, as a kid at Christmas.” I had come across this photograph at home, of me in Santa’s grotto, and my crotchel area was looking very soiled. I asked my mom what had happened and she said, “Well, you pissed yourself because you were terrified of Santa Claus.” I had no recollection of that, but then as I started to think about it, I remembered my fear of Santa Claus. I just didn’t like the idea of a weird man in our house. Also, I used to get really shit presents, so it had no great pay-off because I was the youngest of five. So, that went well. We made the short and it was fun, and the network was happy with it. They said, “Would you be interested in writing a sitcom?” I think their idea was that I would write a show where I was the dad, or something like that, but that didn’t really appeal to me. But, I liked the character and the world that we created in that short, so I thought, “Maybe I’ll just expand on that,” and they were very up for it.
Since this is semi-autobiographical, did the storylines stem from specific aspects of your own life that you wanted to address and explore, or did you start with the character first, and then branch things out from there?
O’DOWD: I’d say it was probably the latter. The storylines came along, due to the desperate necessity to fill pages with words. I didn’t necessarily have any agenda or any kind of cheap therapy that I was trying to use the show for. It was more that I thought it would be a fun character, with this idiot kid, and I felt like I hadn’t seen that world on screen before. And then, all of the storylines were things that had happened, or were certainly based on stuff that had happened, that we then meandered with and tried to make funny. In terms of what’s autobiographical and what’s not, I like to think that all of the funniest stuff is what happened in real life, and the rest of it is just filler that I wrote.
How did you end up writing this with Nick Murphy?
O’DOWD: Well, he’s a mate of mine for maybe 10 or 12 years, since college, essentially. I had read some of his stuff. He hadn’t really had anything made before, but I liked his stuff. He’s from Ireland, as well, and a small town, so he knew what that world would be like. I thought it would be fun for us to do together, and it worked out great. He’s the structured one, and I’m just the hot mess. I never thought I’d refer to myself as a hot mess.
O’DOWD: I didn’t want a really young kid because it’s hard to find actors that would be good. I wanted someone who was pre-adolescent. We wanted to start off with someone where girls weren’t a part of his life. He’s someone who is still a child, but is on the verge. I think that’s a very interesting time. Also, for some reason, I remember stuff from that age, very well. I can’t remember my teenage years very well, so presumably, the show is going to get worse and worse.
Was it challenging to find the right actor to play Martin Moone?
O’DOWD: We saw a lot of kids. The one thing that I wanted was kids who hadn’t been on camera before. I’ve been at castings where they have, and they’re generally that smiley, happy kid with the teeth and the hair that I have interest in. I wanted somebody who probably hadn’t done that before. So, we went out to the country, to very small towns close to where I’m from, where there’s no show biz and did open casting sessions. I saw maybe 200 kids, and I was honestly worried, at one stage. I don’t think I had worried about the fact that the kid was very important to the show, until we saw so many terrible child actors. And then, David [Rawle] walked in and he was just great. He was shy, but he did sparkle when the camera was on him. There’s something about him. He’s a very sweet, very polite, very well-mannered kid, but he’s mischievous and very smart. I thanked my fortune when he came in because it changed everything.
Was it important to you that nobody ever really make fun of him for having an imaginary friend?
O’DOWD: Yeah. Once you do, then that’s the end of it. You almost resent the fact that he has an imaginary friend because you love him so much, as an audience member. It ends the joke. Also, you don’t want to see him being ridiculed. He has so many faults that the fact that he has an imaginary friend is the least of his worries.
As the imaginary friend, you play the banjo, dance and even wear ladies’ high heels. Was there anything that you weren’t willing to do?
O’DOWD: I get to play a lot in this, which is great. I would happily go to any lengths. We’ve done a second series and we’re about to start shooting the third series, and my role in it gets more and more ridiculous, just to fulfill my own fantasies.
O’DOWD: That was exactly it, to be honest. That was hugely important. It would have felt silly. I’ve got loads of nieces and nephews, and sometimes I watch shows with them and they find the show dumb. It’s made for them, but they find it dumb. It’s been so desensitized that it’s barely worth watching. I wanted to make a show for smart kids, and hopefully adults will watch it, as well.
This is the first time you’ve written your own show. Does it get easier, with each season, or does it get more difficult because you have to keep coming up with new things?
O’DOWD: I’m sure it’s different for everybody, but for me, what I found was that the second series was easier because we knew who we were writing for. We had written the entire first series before we had cast anybody. For the second series, when you know what actors you’re writing for and you can play to their strengths, and you know what jokes work and what’s funny, I found that easier. For the third series, I found it hard because I felt like we had used up all our good ideas. It challenged us to go to places that were a bit darker and a bit more surreal. I think it’s worked out great, but it was definitely harder.
Have you been able to allow yourself to enjoy the experience of making this show, or is it just a lot of nerves and pressure to get it made?
O’DOWD: At times. To be honest, with this show, we actually shot it in my hometown and shot some of it in my mother’s house. So, the fact that we could see all of these local people that would be very far away from anything in filmmaking, in normal circumstances, get to be a part of that world, I love that. The jokes are nerve-wracking and work and pressure, and all of that. But, just seeing people that I’ve known for 30 years get excited about a film crew was something that I loved.
You’ve become quite known for your comedic skills, but the Christopher Guest style of improvised comedy is different from regular comedy. How was the experience of doing that for Family Tree? Have you found that kind of comedy affecting how you approach comedy in other areas now?
O’DOWD: That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I actually haven’t done anything since that. We only shot it in January. So, it will be interesting to see, when I’m on set again. I loved doing it, and I loved working with Chris. You’re right, it’s totally different to other kinds of comedy. It’s so naturalistic, and it’s almost anti-punchline. You have to have a lot of faith in the director, when you feel like, “What I’m doing right now isn’t funny.” But, somebody else is looking at the bigger picture and they’re like, “But, the situation is funny.” It will be interesting. The whole improvisational part of it is scary because there’s so much in your hands. Also, just trying to get the tone right is tricky. It’s something that will probably play on my mind, for a long time.
With as big as the films are, how exciting is it to be a part of the Marvel universe with your appearance in Thor 2?
O’DOWD: I really don’t feel like I’m part of the Marvel universe, any more than the caterers. I’ll be surprised if my part even makes the movie. I feel ridiculous even answering questions about it.
Have you ever considered trying to take on one of these superhero characters, or a villain in a superhero universe?
O’DOWD: No, not really.
Is there any rhyme or reason to the roles that you decide to do?
O’DOWD: The only thing that I try to do is to make sure that the job I’m doing is different than the previous one. That’s all. There’s no big game plan, or anything. I feel like, if I just keep doing that, then I’ll be okay.
Moone Boy is now available on Hulu at www.hulu.com/moone-boy