WHEN TMZ’s Peter O’Riordan was first beamed onto TV screens last August, eyes widened and ears perked, around homes in the US as curious fans took to the internet to question the identity of the new “hot Irish guy”.
Almost four months later, the Cork native is fast becoming one of TMZ’s hottest commodities.
“I’m loving every minute,” admits O’Riordan, adding “I got to host the show a while back”.
Four years after graduating with a degree in politics from University College Cork (UCC), the 27-year-old finds himself scouting the hills of Hollywood for the latest celebrity gossip.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” O’Riordan told the Irish Examiner by phone from the TMZ offices in Los Angeles.
Originally from Ballincollig in Cork, O’Riordan landed a coveted position in a company which has redefined celebrity news.
“It’s an incredible organisation and an incredible team,” he says. “I am very humbled by the whole thing.”
Launched in 2005, TMZ takes its name from Hollywood’s “Thirty Mile Zone,” the designated area movie studios established to monitor rules for filming. The celebrity news organisation was founded by Harvey Levin, a TV producer, lawyer, legal analyst and celebrity reporter. Since its inception TMZ has broken some of the biggest celebrity news stories, such as the death of Michael Jackson in 2009.
“TMZ is the number one news broadcasting agency in the world of celebrity news,” says O’Riordan, the site’s only Irish employee.
“Aside from the TV show, we still are a news organisation so it is important we are number one,” he adds.
Testament to O’Riordan’s loquacious personality, he first impressed TMZ bosses while working in a supermarket in the same complex as the company. After initial recruitment talks, the UCC graduate landed a job.
“I would talk the hind legs off a donkey,” he laughs. “They took a risk and a chance with me. They didn’t have to do that and I am very grateful.”
O’Riordan made the move to Orange County in California, in October 2007, at the time reportedly following a girl he met in Hawaii.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was still kind of figuring everything out,” O’Riordan admits.
It wasn’t until the Cork man moved to Los Angeles in May 2010, that he got his first big break. “You hear stories of people walking their dogs and getting noticed. I was one of these random stories,” he said.
“I got spotted by a man called Sheraton Kalouria,” the current senior vice-president at Sony Pictures Entertainment.
This led to a part in the iconic American soap opera “All My Children”, as the yacht club bartender.
“I recorded probably 15-20 episodes in a year time span. I got to talk twice, the rest of the time I was just in the frame serving the good people of Pine Valley fake bevies,” says O’Riordan.
Committed to honing his skill, he enrolled in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and was granted a scholarship.
“You cannot just magically decide you want to become an actor,” he reflects.
When work on “All My Children” dried up, O’Riordan got a job working in the American supermarket Trader Joes and it was here TMZ executives picked him up.
Thousands of miles from his home in Cork, it’s clear the Irishman has a lot of pride in his home county.
“My Cork identity is very important as it is my core and everything I do has that “chancer” element to it,” he admits.
Judging from his reports on TMZ, it is this “chancer” wit that keeps viewers amused.
“The last time I was back was in April for my parents 25th wedding anniversary. I surprised my mom on Patrick Street, it was great!”
“The main thing I miss about Cork is the same thing that drives me nuts, I like the localisation of everything and the feeling of togetherness but at the same time it can be very annoying everybody knowing everyone’s business,” O’Riordan reflects.
When I inquire as to how he ended up in the US, his Irish sense of humour kicks in. “Well Molly, there are great things called planes nowadays,” he says, before laughing.
At six-foot, with blue eyes and brown hair, the former model has an ever-increasing fan base. With almost 5,000 followers on Twitter, it’s hard to believe he ever puts down his iPhone.
O’Riordan obviously has a big personality. But unlike some people living in LA, he has reason to be slightly cocky. While his chiselled jaw and outspoken nature may have helped along the way, a unwavering work ethic and drive to succeed played an essential part.
“I love to work,” he says. “I’m a workaholic and pride myself on my work ethic.”
“I’ve worked at everything from club promoter to bartender to rubbish collector to bank teller.”
Regarding American ears adjusting to his Irish tones, he says his Cork accent is both a gift and a curse.
“Some people claim that it’s fake and I’m putting it on, but for the most part people seem to be hypnotised by it, which is unusual seen as you can go to Cork city and be surrounded by “bois” and “likes” till the cows come home,” O’Riordan says.
So far the celebrity who impressed him the most is funnyman Jack Black.
“He was really cool when I interviewed him. You have a fear that the funny ones on screen will be (jerks) in real life but Jack was hilarious and really cool, polite and friendly,” he said, adding he is “a good role model for anyone.”
When I ask him about the invasive aspect of being a celebrity reporter he admits he agrees with Colin Farrell’s sentiment on being a well-known figure.
“People who say my job is an invasive way of getting information really have no scope or idea how media outlets run as a whole.
“I agree with Colin Farrell. If you embark on a career in entertainment you are always going to be in the public eye, you know exactly what you are signing up for when you become a celeb, you sign away your privacy and you are well compensated financially.”
For now the Cork man remains focused on his career with TMZ. Heading home to Cork for the New Year, he says he is looking forward to relaxing and catching up with friends and family.
“I’m very grateful for every opportunity that has come my way,” O’Riordan concludes, adding: “I’ll continue to work hard and remain focused, a combination that’s key to success in any arena.”
Late bloomer takes it all in his stride
WHO’S the hot new Irish staffer on TMZ?” says one internet forum poster, while another fan writes ‘Kiss him, he’s Irish. Just let him talk, who cares what he’s saying.’ Another smitten woman has established a Facebook page devoted to all things Peter-related, and his Twitter account has garnered over 4,200 followers over the past month.
Online reactions to TMZ’s latest Irish lucky charm are extremely positive, with an overuse of the words ‘hot’, ‘buff’ and ‘swoon’ to describe the 27-year-old newbie on Hollywood’s popular gossip show.
But aside from all that swooning, what’s the real O’Riordan like? Is he truly a Perfect Peter or is the Irish charm just for the cameras?
“With Peter, what you see is what you get. He’s terribly charismatic and people have always been drawn to him,” says his mother, Deirdre O’Riordan, 49.
“I know I’m his mother, but I’m also his harshest critic. Growing up with Peter in the house was fun. We were just very family-orientated and did everything together. He was a great kid and he never caused us one ounce of trouble.”
An only child, Peter is extremely close to his mother, a former drama teacher, and his father, Pat, 47, who works in a bank. He even went to University College Cork to study commerce, at the same time as his mother, who, having left school at 16, decided to return to university to complete a BA.
“We used to regularly meet on campus, and every Monday morning we’d have breakfast together. Or I’d get a phone call asking me for the loan of some money! He’d never snub me and he’d always introduce me to his friends,” says Deirdre, who is now working on her second Master’s degree.
A quiet child, O’Riordan joined the Monforts College of Performing Arts and starred in the lead role in his local secondary school’s production of West Side Story. But once he discovered rugby, he spurned acting in favour of the sporting life.
“He tried every other sport and he was absolutely awful at it. But he took to rugby like a duck to water,” says Deirdre.
With rugby as his number one priority, O’Riordan eschewed many of the traditional teenage pastimes.
“He was a bit of a late bloomer. He went to the [teenage] discos but he wasn’t all that enamoured of it. Peter’s Junior Cert night was spent upstairs with his best friend, with bottles of Coca Cola and orange, six packs of crisps and chocolate, and video games. It was the same with his Leaving Cert night. When he was playing rugby, he took it very seriously so they wouldn’t drink for the season when they were playing. And he was away a lot playing matches. He was nearly in college before he started going out,” says Deirdre.
“I’m glad he’s doing so well now. He went off to America with no job, nowhere to stay really, and he’s worked his back off since he went there,” she continues.
“I always had faith in him, I always believed he could do it, but certainly my family’s attitude would have been he had a degree and that he should get a proper job.
“I do miss him, but you get used to it. I think it’s important that you let your children go, that you let them off to do their own thing. When he gets home at Christmas, my house gets taken over by him and his friends.
“I admire him because he’s not afraid to stand up for what is right. He never followed the crowd and was always his own man.
“His grandfather, who died last year, taught him that. He would’ve been a big influence on him. My father would’ve been so proud of him now.”
Having moved to LA with his then girlfriend, O’Riordan is now newly-single and likely to attract plenty of female fans.
He takes all the female attention in hisstride, according to his parents.
“He’s not as vain as he could be. He doesn’t spend all day preening himself. If he was [vain], he’d be after getting a clatter off me long ago,” laughs his father, Pat.
“Peter’s realistic enough not to believe in all the publicity, which is good for him. He’s very solid. He has to know that if all of this was gone in the morning, that he has something at the end of it, like his family and friends. You really have to hang on to the important things, because it’s a very transitory business and it may not last forever,” says Deirdre.
“At the end of the day, to us he’s just Petey.”
His friends in Ireland concur.
“He’s a sound guy, great at rugby and he used to get all the girls — he even dated Miss Cork at one stage,’ says Michael, 29, one of his Cork friends.
“Peter’s one of the good guys, I was messaging him a few weeks ago and he never even mentioned the TMZ job, he was more interested in asking me what was going on in my own life.”
Handsome and humble, watch this space as O’Riordan’s star is on the ascent.
Or, as one hopeful internet lady put it — “Tá seisean go hálainn. An bhfuil cead agam obair ag TMZ freisin?’
* Claire Droney
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