"The Sapphires"
TWC "The Sapphires"

Chris O'Dowd, the hilarious Irish charmer who shot to international fame after his starring role opposite Kristen Wiig in "Bridesmaids," hasn't paused for a second after becoming a comic hit stateside. The former "IT Crowd" star has become one of the most formidably dependable scene sealers in the Judd Apatow camp of actors and comedians with roles in last year's "This is 40," Jennifer Westfeldt's indie comedy "Friends with Kids," and a recurring role in HBO's "Girls" as Thomas-John, the slimy, insecure Wall Street husband of Jemima Kirke's Jessa. Somewhere in there he also managed to find the time to take the lead role in Wayne Blair's Australian musical "The Sapphires," which has been pleasing crowds on the festival circuit and will be released by The Weinstein Company on March 22nd.

The true story follows an aboriginal all-girl soul group as they face racism in 1968 and are ultimately selected to travel to Vietnam to perform for U.S. troops. O'Dowd plays their surly, drunken manager, and has been winning high praise for his performance from even those critical of the film. Indiewire sat down with him to talk about juggling dueling shooting schedules on "This is 40" and "The Sapphires," and his roles in upcoming films, such as John Michael McDonagh's follow-up to "The Guard," "Cavalry."

Obviously this is an adaptation of a musical, but at the same time your role seems perfectly suited for you; it's kind of the prodigal Chris O'Dowd role where you have this rascally Irishman who's also a dashing gentleman. I was wondering how familiar you were with the play or how much the role changed from the play to the film; did it just happen to be this perfect where the role called for you exactly?

I hadn't heard anything about the project before, neither the play or the real people, or any of that. I knew it was a true story when I was reading it, which was very attractive. And the role was slightly different on the page: he was an English guy, he was more stuffy and it kind of made sense to rough him up a bit and to-- that challenge of a guy being useless is much more fun than a guy whose just a bit inept. A guy who's actually self destructive is quite fun to play. So we probably made it a bit more like that. And I probably punched it up a bit and made it a bit funnier than it was originally written. I'm not sure in the play how big the part was. I think even reading the film script it was probably more of a secondary character and it kind of grew as time went on.

Chris O'Dowd In "The Sapphires"

Was he based on anyone?

As far as I know he was an amalgam of a few different people. So obviously the girls are very specifically based on the girls. They had a manger, but as the original Sapphires have since told me, he did not have a drinking problem. They had an Irish uncle, so we kind of put some of that into it.

Your character doesn't have many singing scenes, but do you have a musical background at all? Was the idea of being in a musical something that drew you to this?

I do love the music of the time and I think as you do with music you go through different phases, you listen to, you know, grunge or whatever. And at the time I was reading the script I was listening to a lot of Sam Cooke's gospel stuff and was really drawn into that. So it did feel kind of kismet that the film just kind of landed then. But I don't have a musical background. I do come from quite a musical family. I think all Irish people do to an extent. Everybody has a song in them. I only sing briefly in the film, and it's not something that I feel hugely comfortable with but I think what I lack in tune I definitely make up for in volume.

Had you played piano before?

No, I had to learn piano for the movie. I was actually the last one to get cast so we didn't have a lot of time to properly learn the piano, which would've been fun. I learned piano-by-numbers where I knew how to play two songs. And I knew how to play those songs but not why it was working.

Well, you do have a great keyboard face in the movie.

That, that I practiced more than anything.

Well, it's pretty legit. Very convincing.

Fake it 'til you make it. I watched quite a lot of videos of people actually playing piano. Which sounds weird. But in concerts and stuff. And that's all you really need to do. Closeups of hands doesn't really matter.

There's kind of a lot of firsts in this movie for you. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time in a movie where you're like running away from explosions and getting shot at. Though now you're in a McDonagh brother movie, so I suppose that could've changed.

Yeah, no explosions in that. That's like a priest movie. But yeah! I think I actually did some walking slowly through explosions in "Gulliver's Travels."

On page 2, O'Dowd talks about working on "This is 40" while simultaneously shooting "The Sapphires"...