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Interview: Chris O'Dowd does funny and serious in 'Calvary'

Chris O'Dowd talks about "Calvary," an Irish comedy-drama about a priest (Brendan Gleeson) under fire.

Chris O'Dowd  goes back to Ireland for the ensemble film "Calvary." Credit: Getty Images Chris O'Dowd goes back to Ireland for the ensemble film "Calvary."
Credit: Getty Images

Chris O’Dowd is best known for comedy, including his run on “The IT Crowd” and in “Bridesmaids” and “This is 40.” But though he’s been transitioning to drama — including his Tony-nominated turn in Broadway’s “Of Mice and Men,” opposite James Franco — he gets to do both sides in “Calvary.” The latest from John Michael McDonagh (“The Guard”), it features him as a cuckolded butcher in a village whose priest (Brendan Gleeson) has been told by a mystery man he’ll be killed in retaliation for the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal.

His initial reservations: “I remember when I learned that John Michael was going to do a film about the priesthood, I was a little wary. I had a very positive relationship with priests when I was young. I kind of presumed — erroneously, it turned out — that it was going to be a hatchet job on priests. When I read it I was so pleasantly surprised that that wasn’t the case. I would consider myself an atheist — or as John would call it, ‘a recovered Catholic.’ I felt it was very interesting to have a priest who is a hero in a story where organized religion is often the enemy.”

A priest at the helm: “The idea that Brendan’s character is somewhat ridiculed by the rest of the community was interesting. For centuries, people were made to feel small by their church. Now they’ve become the bullies. It’s almost like that thing where you’re bullied then you go home and you bully your kids, and then your kids bully somebody else.”

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His relationship to the setting: “We shot the film 20 minutes down the road from where I grew up. That kind of nihilism the characters feel I could recognize. Being brutally funny and brutally brutal is not something I had to think about.”

Chris O'Dowd shares the screen with Brendan Gleeson in "Calvary." Credit: Fox Searchlight Chris O'Dowd shares the screen with Brendan Gleeson in "Calvary."
Credit: Fox Searchlight

The film is agnostic about religion’s veracity: “Even though it’s about our relationship with the church, it’s not about if a god exists. It’s right to not come down on either side. Saying he doesn’t exist would have been as bad as John saying that he does.”

Researching cases of people abused by the Catholic Church: “I read a few cases. It’s harrowing. The disappointing thing is once you start looking for that on Google, it’s endless. It’s one of the reasons I’m delighted the film is coming out. There are so many incredible stories — tragic and harrowing stories that have never been told. That we can do one feels good.”

On the acidic humor of his director and his brother, playwright Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”): “They’re concerning the market on that, the McDonaghs. They’ve got an incredible sense for it. It’s almost like Beckett. The relationship between comedy and suspense is seen nowhere better at the moment than in the writing of the McDonaghs.”

He always wanted to work with Brendan Gleeson: “He’s a very sweet guy. He carries himself with such an integrity. He’s very open and very loose and always up for a joke. He has that kind of confidence where he doesn’t need to portray grandeur. But once the cameras go on he’s like a colossal. He has the map of the world and it can take you in so many different directions.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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