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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British TV star Richard Ayoade is fast becoming a Hollywood name, but even as he makes his major US movie debut alongside A-list comic actors Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill in "The Watch," he is still coming to grips with his rising fame.
"The Watch," in theaters on Friday, follows four neighborhood vigilantes - Stiller, Vaughan, Hill and Ayoade - who try to keep their community safe from an alien invasion.
In recent weeks, Ayoade, 35, whose role in British TV comedy "The IT Crowd" made him a star overseas, has been thrust into the US media spotlight on eye-catching billboards with his three "Watch" counterparts. But the actor (whose name is pronounced eye-oh-ah-day) uses self-deprecating humor when discussing the huge promotional pictures of him and his co-stars, saying he must've been placed with them "for symmetry."
"I've never really been in a proper film, and I don't think they knew I hadn't been in a film before," Ayoade told Reuters.
"I think someone must have dropped out. Also, I'm always exceptionally cheap and (Stiller, Vaughan and Hill) are expensive, so they probably spent all their money," he joked.
While he may be a relative unknown in the US, Ayoade's distinctive afro hair, thick-framed glasses and clipped style of speech have been embraced by British audiences for his quirky comedic style in "IT Crowd," which enjoys a cult-like following.
"Cult is a polite word for unpopular, and niche is not something that attracts large investors," Ayoade said. "Hopefully after this, ('The Watch' cast) all learn to be a bit more niche. I think I can bring some commercial failure to their careers, which they're in need of."
London native Ayoade began his rise on TV in 2004 playing publisher Dean Learner in British comedy "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace," a spoof horror program that was based on Ayoade and Matthew Holness' stage shows.
After stints in "The Mighty Boosh" and "Man to Man with Dean Learner," the actor's career took a big leap forward when "IT Crowd" was launched in 2006 with Ayoade playing Maurice Moss, an overly intelligent but socially awkward bespectacled nerd.
More recently, he has broken with acting to mount his directorial debut with 2010 coming-of-age film "Submarine," which he adapted from Joe Dunthorne's novel of the same name. The independent film was received well by critics at festivals, ranking 87 percent positive on review site RottenTomatoes.com.
"It's depressing if you get bad reviews and weirdly unsatisfying if you get good ones because you don't believe them all. Most things I've done have had a mixture of bad and good," he said. "Inevitably, something will divide opinion on some level, and there's not much you can do about it."
After working on "The Watch," Ayoade jumped straight into his next project, adapting and directing Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella "The Double" with a cast of young stars including Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska. In fact, Ayoade seems as intent on a career behind the camera as in front of it.
"I'm really not an actor. I've been around actors and it's really hard what they do. Jesse and Mia are incredible actors, and I would not sully the term by including me amongst them," Ayoade said.
Despite his self-deprecating jokes, Ayoade made a good impression on his "Watch" co-stars. Stiller called him "incredibly talented" and Vaughan told Reuters he was "hilarious, just a really great guy, really smart."
However, Ayoade doesn't see himself moving to Tinseltown any time soon, blaming his inability to drive, calling the sunny weather "confusing and unsettling" and saying he lacked the ambitious drive often associated with Hollywood stardom.
"I went to a Catholic school so most ambition was beaten out of me at age seven. Ambition seems to be tied in with some revenge on the world, which I don't really have," he said.
Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte; Desking and Andrew Hay