Although most people may know Zach Woods from 'The Office', perhaps HBO's 'Silicon Valley', what becomes clear within five minutes of talking to him is that he bares absolutely no resemblance in personality to the characters he's played.
There is no trace of Gabe Lewis' vindictiveness from 'The Office' in his demeanour, nor does he have any of the maliciousness of Ed Webster from 'Veep'. Granted, that's acting, actors often find comfort in finding characters utterly distinct from their real-life persona, but it's especially pronounced here. Indeed, his background in the Upright Citizens' Brigade comedy troupe - which produced the likes of Amy Poehler, Donald Glover, Kate McKinnon - gives him an ability to think creatively about how he approaches comedy and characters.
For 'Downhill', Zach plays a young executive who's friendly with Will Ferrell's self-centred father and is invited - against all good sense - to join he and Julia Louis Dreyfus for one of the cornerstone scenes of the movie. "The experience of shooting that scene is so awkward, you feel such incredible tension because your body is dumb but your mind is... well, I won't say smart, but it's more sophisticated. Your body, when you're acting, doesn't know if it's real or not and it tenses up! So, when you're in the middle of this marital horror show, your shoulders are tense, your hands are sweaty, and you're looking for anything to dissipate to the tension!"
That tension is the key to 'Force Majeure', the original movie upon which 'Downhill' is based. So far, however, the reviews for the US remake haven't been necessarily positive and some of the complaints have centred on how similar they are. The distinction, for Zach anyway, is more on how Americans perceive awkwardness. "I think the experience of an American going through something similar is really distinct in the sense that Americans feel pressure to reach for each other. There's a sort of national understanding that when you suffer, you suffer privately. I heard another one that Americans are only allowed suffer in retrospect. So, in a sense, having a version of this movie where you have an American couple really hit the skids, and in front of another American couple, it has specific emotional qualities that I was eager to see."
In that spirit of vulnerability, Woods admits that in each character he plays, whether it's Gabe Lewis or Jared Dunn, he's looking for the emotional vulnerability. "Any time I'm playing a character that has unlikeable qualities, I always try to think about the point of view of what's the emotional vulnerability. Y'know, because, any time in my life where I've been at my worst, it's usually because I'm scared or I'm lonely," he says.
"Whatever ugly behaviour people exhibit," Zach believes, "it's coming from a place of yearning and terror and it's always interesting to unpack what's underneath that behaviour instead of just stopping there. It's helpful, as well, when we're reacting to people or looking at characters, this person is being difficult, but it's probably a function of their insecurity instead of their madness or their psychopathy. That's a helpful thing to remember, and movies help us to remember that by causing us to empathise with people we wouldn't normally empathise with - even if it's a dad running away from his family in an avalanche."
'Downhill' is in Irish cinemas this Friday.