Extra Ordinary is a horror-comedy from Irish filmmakers Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. In the film, comedian Maeve Higgins plays Rose, a driving instructor, and the daughter of a paranormal investigator, who can speak to ghosts. After a childhood incident involving the death of her father Vincent, she avoids supernatural contact. She’s reluctantly brought back to the practice, though, after being hired by Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a widower who needs to exorcise the ghost of his domineering wife from his home. At the same time, local one-hit-wonder musician Christian Winter (Will Forte) and his wife (Claudia O’Doherty) have their eyes on Martin’s daughter for use in a satanic ritual that might save Christian’s dwindling career.
The movie is full of entertaining turns from its talented cast, and also pays homage to inspirations as diverse as Evil Dead 2 and Raising Arizona. After the film’s premiere at SXSW, Ahern, Loughman and their cast discussed the appealing intersection of horror and humor, Ireland’s supernatural heritage, and their own phobias.
Why do you think horror and comedy are two genres that work so well together?
Mike Ahern: It’s two good things beside each other!
Barry Ward: Horror is ripe for parody, isn’t it? I’ve not seen many movies that combine the two, so I think it’s really fresh.
Mike: We consider [Extra Ordinary] more of a supernatural comedy than a horror film, I think. We both obviously love horror, but we didn’t want to do like a big slasher movie. We wanted it to be more spooky.
A lot of the hybrid horror-comedy that comes from the UK and Ireland, like Look Around You or Darkplace, feels like it has a really specific vintage sensibility, one that this film fits into. What would you say accounts for that aesthetic?
Mike: I think with Look Around You, there’s a specific BBC documentary style I guess that most people our age grew up with, and a lot of comedians like to parody. We adore Look Around You because it’s amazing. But that style of informational program, like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, does that too.
Enda Loughman: Garth Marenghi’s more of a parody of American horror, isn’t it?
Yeah, he’s like a Stephen King parody.
Enda: Actually, Vincent’s TV show [in the film] was meant to be inspired a bit by Garth Marenghi, you know, the way he hosts his own shows. Vincent was meant to be a bit like that kind of a character.
In Ireland we also have these shows about farming; there’s one called Nationwide that we actually refer to in the film, where they go around the country and visit local craftspeople and weird fairs. So, one of the things we started thinking about when we were making the film was Ghostbusters meets Nationwide, and what would that look like?
One of the movie’s defining characteristics is the innate awkwardness of the humor, and how it seems to arise so naturally from the performances. How much of that was already included in the script, and how much of it developed during filming?
Maeve Higgins: I always think that awkward is quite funny. And I think that we share that sense of humor, so it wasn’t hard to do that. It was really very natural.
Enda: We were passing the script back and forth a lot in the beginning, when we started writing it, and we kind of created it with Maeve’s voice in our heads. Maeve would take it and just make it that much better.
What background, or interest, did all of you have in supernatural stories before this, and what about that element of the story drew you to this film?
Barry: I think Ireland’s a very supernatural place. My family is crazy about the supernatural, which I think is why we took to Christianity so fervently. So, yeah, it exists. My mom steadfastly believes in fairies and fairy rings and reincarnation as animals, which sits very oddly with her Catholicism, which is devout. So it’s a crazy mix. I think this movie’s going to touch everybody in Ireland. Like, if they’re not crazy supernatural themselves, they’re related to someone who is.
Will Forte: I feel like we have the same mom. Patty? Is Patty Forte your mom?
Maeve: Claudia’s a witch, obviously.
Claudia O’Doherty: It’s true, I am a witch, I was born a witch … But yeah, I’ve always loved vampires, I’ve always loved witches, even just aesthetically, so then to get to be in a movie like this is really exciting.
Maeve: I’m very frightened of horror.
Claudia: You have to describe horror movies to her.
Maeve: Yeah, [Claudia’s] told me the stories of different horror films.
Claudia: I told her about The Human Centipede.
Maeve: The way Claudia describes things might actually be more frightening than the real thing.
Claudia: [Maeve] hadn’t watched Game of Thrones, so I described the Red Wedding to her, and then recently she did see it. Did you think my describing it …
Maeve: It was worse. Like what I was imagining … I watched it and thought, “Oh this is funny.”
But I think it’s good in the film because obviously, the directors know all these actual horror films, but they have my character … She hasn’t seen or doesn’t know The Exorcist or Ghostbusters, so they turn (my lack of knowledge) into a joke.
Barry, people are probably more familiar with your dramatic work, in films like Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall. This is a pretty different role and a really physically demanding one at times. What was that experience like for you?
Barry: It was physically much more challenging than other jobs, but the skillset you approach the work with was very similar. Also, in a way, I’m playing the straight guy. But once I agreed to do it, I couldn’t wait to do the role. It’s just brilliant on the page because he’s so likable.
Mike: Plus you’ve got like five characters to add on.
Barry: Yeah, there’s a lot of range to explore.
Will: I watched the movie last night for the first time, and what a hard role that is. Because you are essentially the straight man, but also comedy at the same time, while also maintaining the straight man, and that’s tricky. We all got to play versions of ourselves, and that was like … you pulled it off so well.
Will, your character is kind of a type that you play fairly frequently, someone who’s outwardly very confident, but inwardly very insecure and kind of pathetic-seeming. Is there a reason you’re drawn to roles like that?
Will: I just love that, because I feel like in a way it is me, like a lot of people kind of project this self-confidence, but inside you’re just scrambling to make it all work. It’s kind of fun to push the limits of that, and be this guy who summons evil spirits, but then to get into the car with [Maeve] and do a driving lesson and be terrified. Even the person you find the most mentally strong in the world has something they’re terrified of, and you don’t get to see their private moments of that, but they exist in every single person.
Claudia: I’m scared of rats.
Will: And before this, I would have followed you into any rat pit.
Maeve: And I’ve been on the subway with her! I didn’t know. You can never know!