Extra Ordinary is hitting theaters this weekend. Get your tickets here!
While there’s been a lot of buzz over the return of a certain paranormal-investigation franchise later this year, a marvelously entertaining spirit-hunting saga sees release this week. Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s Extra Ordinary is a hilarious, utterly charming sleeper that has won over festival audiences with its story of Rose (Maeve Higgins), a driving instructor in a rural Irish town who has psychic abilities. Her late father used his own similar skills to become a ghost hunter with a cheesy series of video documentaries, but Rose has put that legacy behind her. Then she encounters Martin Martin (Barry Ward), who’s being haunted by the meddling, possessive spirit of his ex-wife, and decides to assist him, with a tentative romance developing between the two.
Ahern and Loughman, who had previously teamed on a number of short films, found inspiration for their first feature back in 2014, in a bit of clickbait. “It was an article about an old folks’ home that was being haunted, and it said that the ghosts were groping the old people at night,” Ahern recalls. “It was really silly, but it did mention that a ghost-hunting couple had become involved, and that they had really normal day jobs. I believe the woman worked in a bank, and her husband was a truck driver, and at night they would go out and help people with their little hauntings. There were only a couple of lines about them, but that started our brains working and we tried to figure out how they met, how the hell they knew they had these supernatural gifts that allowed them to hunt ghosts, etc. It got us thinking about how we could make a kind of romantic comedy about how people like that would get together.”
They didn’t have to look far when it came to filling their lead role. The duo wrote Extra Ordinary with Higgins, a standup comedian and longtime friend, in mind. “We’d always thought she was fantastic,” Loughman says, “so there was never any casting involved for that part; it was always going to be her. We sort of based Rose on Maeve’s standup persona, imagining what that character would be like in this part, and that made it a lot easier to write the script.”
Higgins, who brings a wonderful mix of warmth, conflict and determination to Rose, was in fact involved with the movie’s development from the beginning. “We were writing it for a few years,” Ahern says, “so we would share drafts with Maeve, and she would come back with ideas and bits of humor. It was a very easy process, and she definitely brought a lot to the script. When we were on set, we didn’t have a lot of time for improvising, because we had a really quick turnaround; we had only 25 days to shoot the whole film. But Maeve is one of the most quick-witted people I know, so she always had something to allow her to bring something of herself to it. You can see it in her performance; she just owns the role.”
As Rose tries to rid Martin’s home—and sometimes Martin himself—of his former spouse’s ghost, a more malevolent supernatural force invades his space and takes over his teenage daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman). We soon learn that this is part of a diabolical plot by has-been rock singer Christian Winter (Will Forte) to win back his former glory, and Forte gives Extra Ordinary a hilarious shot of vain, scheming juice in the part.
“We got Will on board just before we started shooting,” Ahern explains. “We had a list of people we wanted for Christian, and he was at the top. We managed to get him the script, and it just happened to be during a time when he was having a break from The Last Man on Earth and thinking of going on vacation, and our shoot fell into that period when he was off for a couple of weeks. He didn’t want to work on anything, and then he read the screenplay and loved it, so he said, ‘Oh, fuck it, I’ll just go to Ireland and do this as my vacation!’ We were over the moon; we had one Skype call with him, and he told us what he liked about the script and asked, ‘Is it going to stay like this?’ and we said yes. As soon as he knew that, he came on board. He’s one of the nicest guys ever, so it was a pleasure.”
The American Christian lives in an appropriately Gothic castle on the outskirts of town, though Loughman notes there’s an additional level of humor to his choice of dwelling. “We have this thing in Ireland, which is joked about a little in the movie—an artist exemption tax that came in in the ’70s or ’80s, where you could live there tax-free if you were a musician or a poet or a writer. During that period, lots of famous people moved to Ireland because of the tax break, and we had a lot of one-hit-wonder-type people and actors and so forth. So it wasn’t that crazy an idea that somebody like a semi-famous rock star would live in a small castle in Ireland, because we have a number of them. We thought at first that the part could be played by a real rock star, and we always wanted somebody who wasn’t Irish in the part.”
Christian’s wife Claudia, like Rose, is played by someone the filmmakers have known for some time—and was partners in crime with Ahern on a cheeky writing project. “We wrote that part for Claudia O’Doherty,” Ahern says, “who I knew from a couple of things we worked on a while back. I wrote a book with Claudia about 10 years ago, a fake nature book with made-up facts about pandas [laughs], and we wrote one about sharks as well, trying to trick the public into thinking they were real nature books. We thought she would be great as Christian’s wife, and we even named the character after her.”
When it came to the supernatural sides of the story, Ahern and Loughman found inspiration both locally and online. “We looked up a lot of Irish superstition,” Ahern says, “like all the stuff with the magpie—when you wave to a magpie, it’s supposed to be bad luck. That kind of stuff is very Irish, so there are a bunch of those little details in there. We also watched lots of YouTube clips, and what interested us was that if you search ‘haunting,’ it’s always footage of a chair falling over or a locker door in a school gym closing or something like that. It’s never a demon, or something that actually looks like a horror movie. So we felt like we’d love to build a world where it’s the opposite of Ghostbusters, in a way, where it all starts really small, like a bit of gravel or a pen moving, because the ghosts are so weak. Another idea we liked was that when you die, if you end up as a ghost, you’re not going to be this scary creature. You’re just yourself, stuck in another place, and you’re probably pretty boring, as most people are [laughs]. Those were the jumping-off points, and there was a lot of comedy we could build around those ideas.”
“We always wanted to have a gradual buildup to the bigger threat at the end,” Loughman adds. “Our idea was to start with the smallest possible hauntings, which is what you see in the opening sequence, where it looks like we’re on VHS tape and watching haunted gravel, and by the end of the movie it’s widescreen with an expensive look. It’s a big arc from the tiniest ghost to the biggest ghost, but it still holds true to the line of the spirit world that we’ve built throughout the movie.”
It’s a realm in which more explorations would be welcome, and Ahern confirms they’re not done with Rose and Martin yet. “We had such fun building the world and the characters,” he says, “and we’ve been playing with the idea of a TV show. We’ve actually been writing a structure for that and taking it out to people. So hopefully, if people would like to see more, maybe a studio will get behind it and we’ll get to do Extra Ordinary, the TV show—the further adventures of Rose and Martin. That would be fun.”