- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Chris O’Dowd knows the value of hard work: Before he became a star in “Bridesmaids,” the actor lugged bricks up and down ladders at construction sites in London.

“I can understand being wanted for your body rather than your mind,” says the stocky, 6-foot-3 Irishman with a full bushy beard and a smile. Then he deadpans: “And I’ve found that in every role since.”

O’Dowd is actually now doing some heavy lifting on Broadway, playing Lennie to James Franco’s George in “Of Mice and Men.” He’s even walked away with a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway debut.

“I don’t know if it’s totally sunk in, if I’m being honest,” he says.

Franco and O’Dowd play two tragic migrant workers trying to make their way through the Depression. O’Dowd, who has an unspecified mental condition, beautifully conveys Lennie’s innocence, his tics and his frustrations.

Playing someone with mental challenges has been a huge challenge. “You don’t want to get that wrong,” he says. O’Dowd shaves his head once a week - between shows on Saturday - and has found himself crying backstage.

But O’Dowd will clearly never lug bricks again: His list of credits include a stint on HBO’s “Girls,” roles in films like “Thor 2” and “This is 40,” his own charming TV series “Moone Boy” and upcoming parts in “Calvary” and “St. Vincent De Van Nuys” with Bill Murray.

O’Dowd recently revealed to The Associated Press whom he based his Lennie on, why John Steinbeck is popular in Ireland and what Franco is really like.

AP: What’s a nice Irish boy doing in a quintessential American play?

O’Dowd: First of all, this is not an American thing. This is a universal story. Look, of course, it’s about chasing the American dream. I totally get that. But Steinbeck is really big in Ireland for that reason. Irish people have chased the American dream more than anybody else. Just look at the name of every pub in town. And I’m one: I’m chasing the American dream, selling my wares.

AP: Have you much stage experience?

O’Dowd: I would say I’ve probably done 30 or 40 plays, but mostly in college and in pubs, as you do when you’re working for free when you’ve finished drama school. It is slightly amateurish but it’s a great way to learn about an audience and how you are on a stage.

AP: Has the Broadway schedule taken a toll?

O’Dowd: I definitely have found it harder on my voice and my body than I was expecting. I always somewhat guffawed at the idea that it could be a tiring job to work three hours a day, but I’m going to the doctor twice a week with various bangs and bruises and swollen vocal chords. I feel like I’ve been through the wars.

AP: Did you base Lennie on anyone you knew?

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