Comedian, book writer, scriptwriter, and columnist, Cobh woman Maeve Higgins has many strings to her bow. Her ever-increasing and impressive resume has a new addition as her debut film opens in cinemas this week. Extra Ordinary is a supernatural comedy set in the unlikely world of Irish ghost hunters and has already won hearts and awards on the festival circuit.
Higgins plays Rose Dooley, a second-generation ghost hunter, who is reluctantly dragged back into the world of conversing with the dead by a widowed woodwork teacher played by Barry Ward. US actor Will Forte plays a singer-songwriter with a penchant for all things demonic.
The plot is a little on the crazy side, but its charm and humour have made this one of the best Irish comedies in years, but how did Higgins react when she first saw the outlandish script? “I think it is so funny and I think the idea of those people who are really normal, a driving instructor who is lonely, a woodwork teacher who is a widower, and all these insane things happening to them, I think you believe their life when all the crazy things start to happen.”
The film was a first for more than just Higgins, it is also the first time writer/directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman have worked on a feature. Being newbies together made life on set easier for Higgins as the trio learned to find their film feet. “I’ve known the lads for a few years so it was nice to be new together with people who you already know. We had a lot of fun learning new skills together. There was a scene where I had to slap someone and I had no idea how to make it look real but do it without actually hurting them. I asked the lads but they hadn’t a clue either. We had to figure out a lot as we went along.”
This first experience has proven to be an enjoyable one for Higgins. “They are really sound guys so I didn’t feel intimidated not knowing things. They were really open-minded and everyone was really kind about this being my first feature. They trusted me and I was able to trust them. Barry Ward has been acting for years so he was really helpful. It was a really good experience and I learned so much about what to do and what not to do.”
Higgins spends most of her time in New York but loved the chance to work at home on the film. With the Cork film industry on such a high at the moment, Higgins is proud of the work coming from her home county. “I love the The Young Offenders. I watched the film when I was home at Christmas and I become such a fan of it. I thought it was such a priceless idea to set so much of it in the [English] market. All of the actors are so funny and it’s so well written. It’s brilliant.”
Extra Ordinary also stars another Cork actor Siobhan McSweeney whose turn as Sister Michael in Derry Girls has won over audiences. The hit show is another of Higgins’s favourites.
“I love Derry Girls as well, it’s so funny. It was great to have Siobhan with us in the film. Derry Girls and The Young Offenders should collaborate. It would be brilliant.”
During Higgins’ time in New York, she has noticed a big change in the Irish film-making scene.
“It’s mad though. I left Ireland about five years ago and so much has come up. I love all of the women who are doing comedy here now and all of the young people. It’s so good to see so many people flourishing and making such good stuff. Thatis rare.”
The comedian believes that regional comedy can be universally funny.
“It’s funny too, I see so much humour and I think oh that’s just something me and my family would laugh at and then I think oh that is just a Cobh thing. I look a bit further and think that’s pure Cork, but it’s the same with Derry Girls. The more specific you are the more universal it is. I have seen Extra Ordinary do really well in America. Audiences really got it. I have watched people laugh at in Switzerland, and in Belgium where it’s won prizes. Even though it’s a very Irish film it works and that’s really heartening.”
Something is missing, however. Higgins says it’s time for a Cobh based film.
“There needs to be a Cobh film. The Haunted Cathedral, maybe the Haunted Heritage Centre? Something with the coffin ship exhibits where they come back to life?”
With Spike Island’s difficult history surely it is rife for a Higgins’s scripted horror?
“Oh my god, Spike Island would be perfect. When I was small, there was a story about a prisoner who managed to walk across from the island to Cobh during really low tide. A girl in my class told everyone that he came into her house and sat in her bedroom brushing his hair. We all believed her, it was so scary. That last bit couldn’t be true, like why would a prisoner go to all that trouble just to brush his hair in a schoolgirl’s bedroom? But the bit about the escape might have been.”
In Extra Ordinary, Higgins plays a driving instructor, but apparently, Higgins can’t drive. As the interview draws to a close and the driving issue comes up it appears that the film’s ghosts have come out to play. “Oh no!” she says “the line is breaking up; the ghosts are coming for me”. The comedian never stops working it would appear.
- Extra Ordinary opens in cinemas on September 13.