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Actor Chris O'Dowd on what to expect from the second season of 'The Big Door Prize'


"The Big Door Prize" has reached the next stage.


CHRIS O'DOWD: (As Dusty) That's me. That's - (laughter). Hello, you handsome little devil. What are you doing?


O'DOWD: (As Dusty) I [expletive] knew it.


SIMON: The series, based on the novel by M.O. Walsh, has started its second season on Apple TV+, and we should mention Apple TV+ is an NPR funder. In "The Big Door Prize," a machine called Morpho appears mysteriously in a small town called Deerfield and invites those who enter its confines to glimpse themselves in another life, maybe in an avatar on a screen. Chris O'Dowd, Gabrielle Dennis and Josh Segarra are among the stars. Chris O'Dowd, the Irish actor who's also starred in "Bridesmaids," "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" and so many other productions, joins us now from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

O'DOWD: I'm delighted to be here. How are you, Scott?

SIMON: Just fine, thank you, and happy to be talking to you. What drew you to this project? I wonder if you were familiar with the novel.

O'DOWD: Well, I read the novel before I had read the scripts, and I thought that the premise was really interesting. It was in the midst of COVID, I suppose, when I read it. It really had the message of a reset that we were all going through - the idea that you can pluck this magic card out of a machine and it's going to arbitrarily - or, filled with some kind of knowledge, act as an oracle to lead you or guide you in a new direction, when everybody wanted a new direction, when everybody was sick to death of what they had in front of them, it was a very attractive proposition. And I enjoy that kind of character, who is trying to flow against this tidal wave of misinformation and madness and then gets caught up in it.

SIMON: Yeah. Help us get some insights into Dusty. He seems to be a happy family man.

O'DOWD: He's a local teacher. He's a kind of a stalwart in the community. He's an immigrant initially, came in late in his teens into this small American life from Ireland, and I think that means that he's very fond of the foundations that he's built. And the idea that this magic machine is going to rattle everybody so ungracefully as to completely destroy his home life, which is kind of what happens in the initial parts of this new season, he can't get over it. He can't understand why everybody would be so crazy.

SIMON: Yeah. Do Dusty and his wife, Cass, worry that their love - they got together when they were young - may also have held one another back somehow?

O'DOWD: I think there's a touch of that. It's a midlife crisis of a show and a midlife crisis of a character, and I think that both of these guys - hard question. You know, they got together in high school and now he's just turned 40, and they kind of wonder - you know, you have those friends sometimes where you're like, if we met now, would we strike up a friendship? And I think that happens in relationships, too, and it feels like maybe it's happening here.

SIMON: Yeah. What's it feel like to get into that machine?

O'DOWD: I like the buzz of it. It's always lovely to have a sit down, Scott, in an acting role. I've always found that reacting to...


SIMON: You're not leading any car chases or something? Yeah.

O'DOWD: (Laughter) I do some of my finest work sat. Even better when there's some action happening on a screen in front of you and somebody is like, now it's telling you this. I get to use all three of my acting phases.

SIMON: Speaking of action, I understand that there are people still talking about your performance as a goalkeeper in 1997 - and my Gaelic is not strong, although my mother was a Belfastian - in the 1997 Connacht Minor Football Championship...

O'DOWD: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: ...Against Mayo.

O'DOWD: Well, if they're still talking about it, Scott, it's because I'm telling them.


SIMON: But you were - I mean, do you still think about it? You were good, right?

O'DOWD: No. I mean, I was - oh, listen, I was a decent kind of a county footballer and then went to college and found drama and stopped going to training and went to rehearsals instead, and that was kind of the end of that. But I still love it as a sport. I've got young boys, and I'm trying to teach them it now.

SIMON: Looking back at this point in your life, what drew you into acting?

O'DOWD: I'm the youngest of five. I read somewhere that it's an extraordinarily high number of actors that are the youngest in their family, and I'm sure it's partially a thing of constantly wanting attention and it drawing you into the spotlight, but also I think that it means that the first few years of your life, when you're without words and then without reading, you're just watching, and so you're watching everybody else behave like adults. I think I'm still learning how to behave like an adult.

SIMON: (Laughter) Well, don't hurry it along.


SIMON: You're given a lot of recognition for doing what you do. Does "The Big Door Prize" invite all of us to wonder if there are roads not taken in our lives where we could have wound up in different places?

O'DOWD: It must be true that positive affirmation leads you in a certain way. Now, there's characters in our show that grab this card, and maybe they're a janitor at the school and they pull out karate, you know, black belt. If it's telling you explicitly, this is what you're meant to do, you're at least going to make some kind of an effort, and the positive push that it gives you, maybe it would make people think.

SIMON: Yeah. These are the cards that let you, in a sense, try out a different life.

O'DOWD: Yes. It's like a Zoltar machine type of a thing, and it spits out this card. And of course, it starts off as a triviality in the town, but the part of it that really hooked me in is that so many people went for it and that, down the line, maybe it becomes compulsory to use the machine. It can have an extraordinarily magnetic force, the idea of a device that acts as an oracle.

SIMON: I say this with respect for the people in the town. Why do the residents of Deerfield need Morpho, that machine, rather than their own imaginations?

O'DOWD: To need it and to want it, I mean, I don't think this is necessarily going to have a wonderful effect on their lives. It may be the worst thing that ever happens to the place. We just don't know, but interesting that the idea is engaging enough that they do follow on, and that's the part of it that draws me in.

SIMON: Yeah. Is part of the fun of acting to sort of imbibe the Morpho machine again? Is part of the fun of acting you can at least superficially try on other lives?

O'DOWD: Absolutely. I mean, you're spinning the wheel every time. Well, it's like, oh, now you're going to be a prince based in Sweden, and you're going to shoot all of that in Scotland.

SIMON: (Laughter).

O'DOWD: It's like one of those machines where there's different circles, or when you would pass - that game that you play with your kids, where everybody draws the feet, and then somebody else will draw the middle, and then somebody else will draw the head. And it feels like that's every acting job. This is going to be a comedy in New Zealand, like, nobody's going to get paid. That's the other thing (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah.

O'DOWD: Or this one's going to be great paid, and it's the wild new life and character every time.

SIMON: Chris O'Dowd is one of the stars of "The Big Door Prize," now in its second season on Apple TV+. Thank you so much for being with us.

SIMON: Chris O'Dowd is one of the stars of "The Big Door Prize," now in its second season on Apple TV+. Thank you so much for being with us.

O'DOWD: An absolute pleasure. Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.