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'There were a lot of geological arguments': Maeve Higgins and Will Forte on making the Irish supernatural comedy Extra Ordinary

Comedian Maeve Higgins plays a driving instructor who has supernatural powers.

Source: Movie Trailers Source/YouTube

YOU WON’T HAVE seen an Irish film like Extra Ordinary before. 

Think: A driving instructor called Rose (played by Maeve Higgins) who also has supernatural powers… but she doesn’t like thinking about them since the untimely death of her similarly gifted father. Then there’s Martin Martin (no, that’s not a typo), a widower who needs a bit of help from a woman like Rose. Oh, and then there’s Christian Winter, a one-hit wonder musician who lives in a big castle nearby and who has something dodgy up his large sleeves.

The supernatural comedy is the first feature by Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern from D.A.D.D.Y, the Irish production company. The two longtime creatives graduated in the 1990s from IADT in Dun Laoghaire, and first made their name making music videos for Irish bands like Warlords of Pez, Jape and the Chalets. This was at a time when making music videos was a big part of trying to make it as an Irish band, thanks to shows like No Disco. 

The pair moved into ads – you’ll know their SPAR christmas ad in particular, the one with all the trees. They dipped their toes into short films, before conceiving the idea for Extra Ordinary, which they pitched to Maeve Higgins the guts of a decade ago. Higgins, known as a comedian, Fancy Vittles star (alongside her sister Lily), and op-ed writer for the New York Times, is based in New York these days. She makes the perfect Rose – her dialogue feels perfectly pitched towards the self-deprecating, no-nonsense Corkonian.

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The other big star in Extra Ordinary is Will Forte – he of MacGruber, Last Man on Earth, Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation, and more.

When TheJournal.ie meets Higgins and Forte, we ask how they felt when they first saw the script. It’s a bit bonkers at times – did that appeal? “As soon as they told me about it, I was like ‘it is so funny’,” smiles Higgins. “A driving instructor, this lonely lady in the countryside who can talk to ghosts but who doesn’t want to be able to do that. I knew it would be gas, really and so I just wasn’t sure it would happen. And then they wrote a script and I saw the script and we made a little teaser thing. So gradually throughout the years we were tipping away on it. And then it became a real thing.”

It was a different story for Forte, though he too was smitten by the script. “I came late, I got on board about a month before we started, even three weeks,” he recalls. “I read the script, I was going to come to Ireland on vacation anyway, and then I read the script and it was so funny… and I said ‘oh this is fantastic, I gotta do it’.”

PastedImage-27264 Maeve Higgins and Will Forte

He adds: “After I read it there was something about it, it was written so specifically in parts, and there were so many subtle funny things and when I found out that the same guys who wrote it were directing it, I thought oh that is a good sign. That just showed how funny they were and they were going to capture all those moments that seemed like they were so specific. I felt like they know what they’re doing based on how well they wrote the script.”

Some of the language in Extra Ordinary is distinctly Irish, which made it a little tricky to market in the US. There’s a scene involving haunted gravel (Rose has the ability to spot when items are haunted, resulting in some great sight gags throughout the film), and at the SXSW premiere they packaged up little bags of ‘haunted gravel’ to give away to audience members.

Only there was a slight hitch. “But they don’t say gravel in the US,” points out Higgins. “So they were going around saying ‘enchanted pebbles from Ireland, do you want an enchanted pebble?’”

It’s at this point that Forte interjects, and we get a sense of how the two comedians must have rubbed along well together on set. “We did not get along the entire shoot – constant fights about rock names,” says Forte. Higgins nods as he mimics: “No, sandstone is not actually sand!”

“We would have a lot of geological arguments,” laughs Higgins.

What does she make of Rose, her character? “She’s like a normal woman who just happens to be able to… she has these talents where she can communicate with ghosts. But the rest of the time she’s like eating Crunch Corner [yogurts] while her lasagne is heating up and stuff,” she says. “Mike, one of the directors, is really like that: he’s like a lonely single woman.” We’re not sure what Mike Ahern would make of that, but our lawyers have been informed of this comment just in case.

Rose has a close relationship with her sister, Sailor, who’s played by the truly hilarious and warm Terri Chandler. Risteárd Cooper plays Rose’s dad, who we mainly see in flashbacks of his quirky TV show about paranormal abilities. Barry Ward’s turn as Martin Martin is surprising in the best way for a guy who’s starred in such serious films as The Maze – let’s just say in parts of this, he undergoes quite the transformation. 

While Higgins got to don very comfortable gear for her turn as Rose, Forte got to wear a pretty incredible wig, making him bear some resemblance to Chris de Burgh – though we can’t confirm if he was indeed the inspiration for Christian Winter. What was the rehearsal process like for this Hollywood star?

“My process was like I got together with Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Robert de Niro we just kind of workshopped it over a weekend what I was gonna do,” he jokes. “They’d Skype in and see what I was doing and give notes. And the directors weighed in as well.”

He gets serious for a moment: “The way [Loughman and Ahern] wrote was it was such a great script and so it was so easy to see what they were going for. And we certainly talked about but it was pretty clear what they were looking for so I got to go in and have a ton of fun.” 

At the end of Extra Ordinary, we’re left feeling that there’s the potential for even more of Rose and Martin’s adventures. Would they like to see it as an RTÉ TV show perhaps? They nod. 

“We’ll have to put that to Anne Doyle or whoever makes the decisions,” says Higgins. 

Extra Ordinary is in cinemas now.

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